Jacob Zuma, the former President of South Africa, handed himself over to the police late on Wednesday night, diffusing a potentially explosive standoff between his supporters and law enforcement agents.
The Constitutional Court on June 29 sentenced Zuma to 15 months in jail for contempt stemming from an inquiry into alleged “state capture” by businesspeople linked to him during his time as leader of the country between 2009 and 2018.
The ex-president had sought to sidestep the incarceration order, and his supporters had vowed to form a human shield around Zuma’s residence to stop the police from arresting him. Though he was forced out of office by internal party rivals, Zuma retains considerable support in the country and there were fears that his backers would have violent clashes with the police.
A deadline for him to hand himself over to authorities was set for Wednesday midnight, and Zuma complied at the last possible minute.
A Hail Mary by his lawyers to the acting chief justice requesting that his arrest be suspended until Friday, when a regional court is to rule on his application to postpone the arrest was made. The lawyers asked for a directive to stop the police from arresting him, claiming there would be a “prejudice to his life”.
But the Supreme Court late on Wednesday and rejected the request. Zuma launched two other court proceedings to avoid arrest after his sentence last week.
Police Ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba confirmed Zuma (79) was in custody. Earlier in the evening, the Jacob G Zuma Foundation said the anti-apartheid icon would hand himself in.
The foundation statement said: “Dear South Africans and the world. Please be advised that President Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order. He is on his way to hand himself into a correctional services facility in KZN.”
BBC’s Nomsa Maseko, who was outside Zuma’s home on Wednesday, noted that there was a large police presence outside the property, including armed officers and a paramilitary unit.
A delegation of senior officers is believed to have spent several hours inside the residence negotiating with the former president over his arrest. A convoy of cars, one of which was carrying Zuma, was then seen leaving the house at high-speed shortly before the midnight deadline for his detention.
Zuma’s daughter, Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, tweeted that he was “still in high spirits” as he made his way to the police.
“He said that he hopes they still have his same overalls from Robben Island … We salute dad!” she wrote on Twitter.
Zuma spent 10 years in jail on Robben Island for opposing apartheid. He was the ANC’s intelligence chief in the anti-apartheid struggle.He has always insisted that his legal troubles are the result of a political conspiracy. Zuma has pleaded not guilty to 16 charges of corruption involving US$5 billion in a separate matter. – Agencies