A large crowd of ex-South African President Jacob Zuma’s supporters gathered around his rural homestead in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province on Sunday, vowing to resist any attempt by the authorities to arrest him following his conviction on contempt charges.
The Constitutional Court on June 29 found Zuma, 79, guilty of violating its order to testify before a judicial panel that’s investigating graft during his nine-year tenure. On Saturday, the court agreed to consider Zuma’s application to review the judgment and scheduled a hearing for July 12. Its decision probably means that a Sunday deadline for Zuma to hand himself in to start serving his 15-month sentence no longer stands, although the court didn’t issue specific instructions in that regard.
Zuma’s backers, a number of who carried spears and sticks, marched in the streets outside his home in the village of Nkandla, where he’s spent most of his time since the ruling African National Congress forced him to quit in 2018 to stem a loss of electoral support. The sound of sporadic gunfire could be heard, but there were no immediate reports of violent clashes, injuries or arrests.
Zuma said he’d been sentenced to prison without trial and he had a duty and obligation to ensure respect for the judiciary wasn’t compromised by it issuing sentences that reminded South Africans of apartheid rule.
“I call on all my supporters to use peaceful means to protest against this injustice. I am not asking for sympathy but justice. My age and health condition and any other mitigating circumstances were not considered when the imprisonment was decided,” he told reporters at his homestead on Sunday. “If it was up to me, I would once again go to jail for my beliefs as early as today, whether I come out alive or not, but I have never operated as an individual and am therefore guided by views from my family and comrades.”
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, which coordinates the actions of the security forces, said it had stepped up its presence in KwaZulu-Natal because rules aimed at containing the coronavirus were being violated. Anyone who endangered people’s lives or organised or participated in public gatherings, which are banned, will face criminal charges, it said in a statement on Sunday.
The ANC’s top leadership postponed a meeting planed for the weekend to focus on quelling tensions in KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma has a strong following. There is a need for the African National Congress “to give clear and principled leadership to ensure the maintenance of the rule of law and to avoid any violence, injury, or loss of life,” the party said in a June 2 statement.
The government estimates more than R500 billion was stolen from state coffers under Zuma’s watch, and dozens of witnesses who’ve testified before an inquiry headed by acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo have placed him at the center of the looting spree.
Zuma, who spent a decade in prison for opposing white minority rule, reitterated allegations that Zondo was bias against him because they had had a close personal relationship — an allegation the judge denied — and said he had never refused to appear before his panel.
“Had Judge Zondo simply recused himself and allowed my submission to be made to somebody neutral, the people of South Africa would have heard my version as regards all the unsubstantiated allegations against me. All I am asking for is fairness and consistency,” Zuma said. ““I am not scared of going to jail for my beliefs. It will not be for the first time. I will be a prisoner of conscience.”