South Africa’s highest appeals court has ruled that former President Jacob Zuma must return to prison, saying his release from a contempt of court sentence last year on medical parole was unlawful.
Zuma lost his appeal Monday to remain on medical parole. The 80-year-old has been serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of court since July 2021 for refusing to appear before a national inquiry on state graft during his tenure.
Zuma’s arrest last year sparked protests from his supporters that spiralled into widespread unrest and looting, mainly in his home province of KwaZulu Natal and the country’s economic hub of Gauteng. But Zuma spent less than two months behind bars, having swiftly been granted medical parole for an undisclosed illness.
That decision was reversed by South Africa’s highest court last December. But a lengthy legal battle against the ruling means Zuma avoided a return to prison until today.
South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the High court’s ruling that medical parole was granted “unlawfully” for having considered factors that were irrelevant to qualifying. But the appeals court did not uphold the High court verdict that his time served on medical parole should be nullified, which would have resulted in Zuma serving the full 15 months behind bars.
Instead, the court ruled the national commissioner of correctional services could decide whether the former president’s time on parole would be subtracted from his sentence. If allowed, Zuma would serve no additional time in jail for the contempt of court.
Zuma’s party, the ruling African National Congress, have yet to release a statement on the ruling. South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party called on the commissioner to stick with the initial ruling from the High court so Zuma would “serve his sentence like any ordinary South African.”
Zuma could still fight the decision by appealing to the Constitutional court, which initially ruled him guilty of contempt.