Former South African president Jacob Zuma lost a court bid on Friday to overturn his arrest for contempt, days after turning himself in for a 15-month jail term, in a case that has tested the post-apartheid nation’s rule of law.
“The application is dismissed,” the presiding judge said.
The constitutional court last week ordered Zuma jailed for refusing to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption during his nine years in office from 2009. Though he turned himself in on Wednesday night, Zuma has challenged his sentence.
The constitutional court will hear his challenge, which hinges partly on his allegedly frail state of health and risk of catching COVID-19, in a separate case on Monday. But Friday’s high court judgment means he must stay in jail until that hearing is concluded.
“Mr Zuma’s concerns about his health are not supported by any evidence,” the Pietermaritzburg high court judge said.
The ruling came less than an hour after the high court in Johannesburg dismissed an application by Ace Magashule, the secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC), to have his suspension over corruption charges in a separate case set aside.
Both politicians’ proceedings are regarded as a test of South Africa’s ability to enforce the law fairly — even against powerful politicians — 27 years after the ANC ousted South Africa’s white minority rulers to usher in democracy.
For Zuma, the jail order has been viewed as the most dramatic chapter yet in his journey from a respected anti-apartheid activist to a politician tainted by charges of corruption, which he denies.
As a member of the ANC when it was a liberation movement, Zuma was jailed by South Africa’s white minority rulers for his efforts to establish a state that would treat citizens equally.
Zuma’s reluctant submission to criminal proceedings, and Magashule’s suspension, signal a victory for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to consolidate power over his fractious party. Magashule is aligned with Zuma’s ANC faction, which has been the most potent internal force opposing the president.
“The oxygen of the loose alliance that makes up [Zuma’s] faction within the ANC is slowly being extinguished,” political analyst Daniel Silke said.
Zuma’s supporters, however, back his claim that he is the victim of a political witch hunt.
An hour before the ruling, a Reuters photographer saw a group of protesters shouting “Zuma!,” burning tires and blocking a road leading to Durban, the main city of Zuma’s KwaZulu-Natal province.
The corruption inquiry is examining allegations that Zuma allowed three Indian-born businessmen — Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta — to plunder state resources and peddle influence over government policy.
He and the Gupta brothers, who fled South Africa after Zuma was ousted, deny wrongdoing.
Zuma also faces another case relating to a $2 billion US arms deal in 1999, when he was deputy president. He denies the charges.