Jacob Zuma is South Africa’s First Former President to be Jailed
In what has been an unprecedented past two weeks for South Africa, former President Jacob Zuma finally handed himself over to the police last night. Just as the clock struck midnight, Zuma’s convoy arrived hastily at the Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, so that he could begin serving his 15-month sentence after the Constitutional Court found him in contempt at the end of last month.
Prison authorities at Estcourt have confirmed that Zuma has indeed been admitted to the correctional facility and is currently being in kept in isolation as per the facility’s COVID-19 regulations. The obvious question now on everyone’s mind is of course: what happens next? Well, Zuma and his legal team are now waiting for July 12, when the Constitutional Court will hear their application for a recession. This is set to be an interesting case as a recision appeal is almost always a difficult, if not impossible one, legally speaking.
Professor Pierre de Vos, a constitutional law expert and scholar, writes the following on the matter:
“It is a guiding principle of the common law that once a judgment is given in a matter it is final. It may not thereafter be altered by the judge who delivered it. The reasons for this rule are twofold. First, once a court has pronounced a final judgment, it becomes functus officio and no longer has authority to deal with the matter. The second reason is the principle of finality of litigation as it is in the public interest that litigation be brought to finality.”
Over the past two weeks, Zuma asserted that he would not be handing himself over to the police, that his arrest was “unlawful” and even likened the courts to those of the Apartheid era. While the police had been deployed to his Nkandla home to arrest a major crowd of Zuma supporters who were flouting COVID-19 regulations, they eventually withdrew citing that they “feared bloodshed”. Thus, there was great skepticism that the rule of law in South Africa would actually prevail.
The African National Congress (ANC) has issued a statement where it says: “Without doubt, this is a difficult period in the movement, and we call upon our members to remain calm and respect the decision taken by former president Jacob Zuma to abide by the rulings of the court.”
Naturally, Zuma’s imprisonment has left the country somewhat divided. While some have celebrated the fact that not even a former president is above the law, many of Zuma’s supporters have expressed disappointment and dismay.