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Jacob Zuma hands himself over to authorities to start jail term

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He had earlier been found guilty of contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to return to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where witnesses have implicated him in corruption.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma has handed himself over to authorities to begin his 15-month prison sentence, ending a tense standoff between his armed supporters and the police.

Zuma turned himself over to the authorities on Wednesday just minutes before the midnight deadline ended for the police to arrest him.

He is accused of enabling the plunder of state coffers during his nearly nine-year stay in office from 2009 to 2018.

The Constitutional Court had given Zuma until Wednesday to hand himself in or face arrest by the police, but he was adamant that he had been unfairly treated.

On Tuesday, Zuma’s legal team put in a last-ditch attempt to get the High Court to rescind the Constitutional Court ruling.

The High Court will rule on the matter on Friday, but law experts concurred that there was a slim chance of any success, as the High Court could not overrule the apex court.

A convoy of vehicles was reported leaving Zuma’s rural Nkandla homestead compound about 45 minutes before the police were supposed to arrest him despite the blockade, which was led by his son Edward.

Edward had repeatedly told the media for the past few days that police would pass the gate and arrest his father only if they killed him first.

In a terse statement just before midnight on Wednesday, the Jacob Zuma Foundation confirmed that he was on his way to prison, but did not give any further details except to say that a full statement would be released later.

South African Police Ministry spokesperson also confirmed this a few minutes later in a tweet: “the Police Ministry can confirm that former President of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma was placed in @SAPoliceService custody as in compliance with the @ConCourtSA judgement.”

In confrontational scenes at his residence for the past few days, there were tense standoffs from which police had to retreat when scores of armed Zuma supporters blocked the entrance to his home.

Some fired shots into the air.

There was huge public outrage that the supporters were breaking current COVID-19 lockdown regulations that prevented public gatherings and required compulsory masks.

Police Commissioner Bheki Cele later said that police had withdrawn to avoid bloodshed.

Zuma is expected to be incarcerated in special facilities due to his old age and having unspecified health conditions.

Legal experts said that he could serve out only three months of his sentence before being allowed out on parole.

Zuma had on Sunday said that sending him to jail during the COVID-19 pandemic at his age would tantamount to a death sentence.

“Sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic at my age is the same as sentencing me to death.

The death sentence was declared unconstitutional in South Africa in 1995,” he said.

Various witnesses at the commission have implicated Zuma in corrupt activities, especially because of his alleged close relationship to the three Indian-origin Gupta brothers – Atul, Ajay and Rajesh – who are now wanted for looting the country’s state and parastatal coffers of billions of rands.

The Gupta family is believed to be in self-exile in Dubai, with South Africa having initiated the extradition process to return them for trial.

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