South African Court Orders Ex-President To Jail For Contempt

South Africa's former president Jacob Zuma has been sentenced to 15 months behind bars.

South African Court Orders Ex-President To Jail For Contempt
Michele SpatariI / AFP / AP

South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma has been found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 15 months in prison for defying a court order to appear before an inquiry probing wide-ranging allegations of corruption during his tenure from 2009 to 2018.

Zuma was not in court for the ruling on Tuesday and has been ordered to hand himself over within five days to a police station in his hometown of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province or in Johannesburg.

If Zuma fails to turn himself in within five days, South Africa's minister of police and the police commissioner have been ordered to take him into custody within three days.

This is the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president has been sentenced to prison.

"Finally, Zuma will find himself where he belongs - behind bars," said opposition politician Herman Mashaba in reaction to the sentence. 

"This is indeed a victory for all South Africans that have become gatvol (fed up) with those who have looted our country with impunity," Mashaba, former mayor of Johannesburg and leader of the ActionSA party, said in a statement. "The judgment is equally a victory for the rule of law in South Africa, once again serving to highlight the independence of our judiciary. This is a central pillar of our hard-won democracy."

South Africa's apex court, the Constitutional Court, ruled that Zuma defied an order by the country’s highest court by refusing to cooperate with the commission of inquiry, which is chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

"The Constitutional Court holds that there can be no doubt that Mr. Zuma is in contempt of court. Mr. Zuma was served with the order and it is impossible to conclude anything other than that he was unequivocally aware of what it required of him," said acting chief justice Sisi Khampepe.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.