In this file photo taken on May 26, 2021, former South African president Jacob Zuma arrives ahead of his corruption trial at the high court in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on May 26, 2021. South Africa's top court on June 29, 2021 found former president Jacob Zuma in contempt of court following his refusal to appear before a graft panel. (PHILL MAGAKOE / POOL / AFP)
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's highest court sentenced former President Jacob Zuma to 15 months in jail on Tuesday for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry, and gave him five days to appear before police.
Zuma failed to appear at the inquiry led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in February, and the inquiry's lawyers approached the constitutional court to seek an order for his imprisonment.
"He has depleted all his (legal) options because there is no higher court to appeal to. The constitutional court is normally the last stop," Amanda Gouws, a professor of political science at the University of Stellenbosch, said.
"They have finally said 'enough is enough'," she said.
Zuma, 79, was ousted in a move orchestrated by allies of his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2018. Since then, he has faced determined legal moves aiming to bring him to book for alleged grand corruption during and before his time in office.
Zuma failed to appear at the inquiry led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in February, and the inquiry's lawyers approached the constitutional court to seek an order for his imprisonment
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These include the so-called Zondo commission, but also a separate court case relating to a US$2 billion arms deal in 1999, when Zuma was deputy president.
The Zondo inquiry is examining allegations of high-level graft involving three Indian-born businessmen, the Gupta brothers, during Zuma's period in power from 2009 to 2018. Zuma denies wrongdoing and has so far not cooperated.
Commenting on a 21-page letter that Zuma sent to the country's chief justice in which he claimed to have been treated unfairly, judge Sisi Khampepe said: "His attempts to evoke public sympathy through unfounded allegations fly in the face of reason, and are an insult the constitutional dispensation for which so many women and men fought and lost their lives."
She added: "If his conduct is met with impunity, he will do significant damage to the rule of law."
A spokesman for Zuma told local television channel eNCA that Zuma's lawyers would study the constitutional court judgment before issuing a statement.
The allegations against Zuma include that he allowed businessmen close to him – brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta – to plunder state resources and influence policy.
The Guptas, who also deny wrongdoing, left South Africa after Zuma's ouster.
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President Ramaphosa has been trying to restore investor confidence in Africa's most industrialised nation. However, he has faced opposition from a faction within the governing African National Congress (ANC) party that is still loyal to Zuma.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe told a televised briefing that the party did not want to comment on the merits of Tuesday's judgment but that its National Executive Committee would reflect on it this weekend.
Mabe said the ANC had encouraged members, including Zuma, to attend the Zondo commission. "We felt it provides an opportunity to deal with whatever blight that would have engulfed our own government," he said.