Zuma could be out of jail in 4 months says Justice Minister

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South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, who has been in police detention since Wednesday night as he starts a 15-month prison sentence for contempt, will be eligible for parole after around four months, the justice minister said.

Zuma turned himself in to police overnight to begin his jail term for defying a court order to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption while he was in power from 2009 to 2018. The inquiry is led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The ability of authorities to bring Zuma to book has been seen as a major test of the rule of law in post-Apartheid South Africa, and experts said the former president’s legal options for avoiding jail were fast running out.

Zuma will be held in isolation for 14 days in line with COVID-19 protocols, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said on Thursday, outside Estcourt Correctional Centre, eastern South Africa, where Zuma was being held.

Read Also: Zuma jailed 15 months for court contempt

“This is not a moment of celebration or triumphalism, it is a moment of restraint and to be human,” he said, promising to treat Zuma like any other inmate.

Zuma, 79, has already launched legal challenges against his sentence, asking the court to cancel it on a number of grounds, including that he has been unfairly treated and that he might catch and die from COVID-19 in jail.

“There are no grounds for such an application,” Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, told Reuters by telephone.

Zuma’s efforts would only work, he said, “if there was an obvious error of fact in the judgment which is not the case (or) the applicant did not participate through no fault of their own, and in this case Mr Zuma deliberately opted not to,” Naidoo said.

The court will hear his application on Monday