South Africa’s former President Mr Jacob Zuma has been sentenced to 15 months in prison by top court for contempt of court following his refusal to appear before graft investigators.
Judge Sisi Khampepe declared, “the Constitutional Court can do nothing but conclude that Mr Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court,”.
79-year-old Zuma, is accused of enabling the plunder of state coffers during his nearly nine-year stay in office.
“This kind of recalcitrance and defiance is unlawful and will be punished,” Khampepe said.
“I am left with no option but to commit Mr Zuma to imprisonment, with the hope that doing so sends an unequivocal message… the rule of law and the administration of justice prevails.
“The majority judgement orders an unsuspended sentence of imprisonment for a period (of 15 months),” she announced, ordering Zuma to hand himself over within five days”.
The commission of inquiry is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
The panel, set up by Zuma himself, followed pressure over mounting scandals, shortly before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
But Zuma, however, only testified once, in July 2019, before staging a walkout days later and accusing the commission’s Zondo of bias.
The accused then ignored several invitations to reappear, citing medical reasons and preparations for another corruption trial.
He presented himself again briefly in November but left before questioning, and Zondo was urged to ask the Constitutional Court to intervene.
Most of the grafts investigated by the commission involved three brothers from a wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative government contracts and were allegedly even able to choose cabinet ministers.
Zuma presently faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand, then the equivalent of nearly $5 billion.
At the time of the purchase, Zuma was president Thabo Mbeki’s deputy. He is accused of accepting bribes totaling four million rand from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales.