South Africa top court sentences Zuma to 15 months imprisonment

South Africa’s top court has found former president Jacob Zuma guilty of “contempt of court” effectively sentencing him to 15 months in prison. 

In a majority decision, South Africa’s Constitutional Court arrived at the conclusion that Zuma was guilty of ‘contempt of court’ for his refusal to appear before a graft panel.

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As part of a decades’ long trial, the ex-president is facing several charges of graft, fraud, and money laundering - which he has pleaded not guilty to. His legal woes are tied to a $5 billion purchase of patrol boats, fighter jets, and military gear from some European arms companies. This was in 1999 when he deputized Thabo Mbeki. He also faces charges of accepting bribes from French defense giant Thales. All along Zuma has maintained he is a victim of a politically-driven witch hunt originating from a faction of the ANC. 

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In his statement, judge Sisi Khampepe pointed out that he was “left with no option” even going further to equate the significance of the ruling as “an unequivocal message”. 

Zuma, now 79, was forced to resign in 2018 after being ejected by the ruling party ANC. Due to immense public pressure, he set up an inquiry before he was ousted from office. In July 2019, he made his first public testimony then walked out accusing the commission’s chair of bias. 

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Zuma appeared in court in November but left before he could be questioned. The commission's chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo then requested the Constitutional Court for intervention. Despite this, Zuma has repeatedly failed to appear and even addressed a letter to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, saying he was being subjected to “judicial hostility” and “humiliation”.  

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The Guardian reports that most of the alleged corruption under investigation involves his association with three wealthy Indian brothers, the Guptas, who acquired lucrative government contracts and even had the influence to choose cabinet ministers. 

Zuma has been succeeded by Cyril Ramaphosa, a wealthy tycoon and labor activist, who has led a spirited effort against corruption. He took over as the country’s president after a bitter internal struggle within the ANC ruling party. Recently, there has been public anger over corruption involving huge sums of corruptly issued government contracts issued for emergency supplies aimed at combating the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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South Africa has witnessed a resurgence in Covid-19 cases prompting the introduction of new restrictions. This new surge is synonymous with what's happening in other parts of the globe and is linked to the Delta variant, public fatigue, and weak countermeasures. 

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A 14-day ban has been placed on all indoor and outdoor gatherings, along with the sale of alcohol, restaurant dining, and travel to and from the areas that were worst hit. In a public announcement, the president moved the lockdown to level 4. Gauteng accounts for 60% of all new cases prompting a ban on leisure travel in and out of the province.