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Zuma’s days of freedom may be numbered as ConCourt upholds ruling that he must go back to jail

Zuma’s days of freedom may be numbered as ConCourt upholds ruling that he must go back to jail
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

Former President Jacob Zuma should return to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. That is the upshot of a Constitutional Court ruling on Thursday which rejected the prisons commissioner’s application for leave to appeal against a previous rejection from the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Former President Jacob Zuma has been a free man for just under two years — but his days of liberty may be numbered.

There are “no reasonable prospects of success” in appealing against a ruling that he should return to prison after being unlawfully released early on medical parole in September 2021, ruled the Constitutional Court on Thursday.

The application had been brought on behalf of the National Commissioner of Correctional Services, previously found to have erred in releasing Zuma after just two months of imprisonment. The apex court did not hear arguments in the matter, with a 10-judge Bench dismissing the prisons commissioner’s application in just one paragraph.

Correctional Services had approached the Constitutional Court after Zuma was smacked down by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in November 2022. But Thursday’s ruling means that the SCA’s findings now hold.

The critical passage from that November judgment reads as follows:

“Once the order in this appeal is handed down, Mr Zuma’s position as it was prior to his release on medical parole will be reinstated. In other words, Mr Zuma, in law, has not finished serving his sentence. He must return to the Escourt Correctional Centre to do so.”

Arthur Fraser’s gift to Zuma revoked

The Department of Correctional Services said on Thursday that it was seeking legal advice on the matter.

Current prisons head Makgothi Thobakgale was not the man responsible for the decision to release Zuma after serving just eight weeks of a 15-month sentence for contempt of court, stemming from Zuma’s refusal to cooperate with the Zondo Commission.

It was his predecessor, former spy boss Arthur Fraser — also the architect of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala misfortune, or at least the revelation thereof — who chose to free Zuma.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Jacob Zuma lauds Arthur Fraser for saving him from ‘death itself’ in jail and averting ‘national stress’

Zuma began his sentence at the Estcourt Correctional Centre on 8 July 2021. Fraser released him on 5 September 2021 — despite the fact that the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board had decided just three days earlier that Zuma did not qualify for medical parole.

Evidence heard by the courts shows that the board found that although Zuma suffered from “multiple comorbidities”, his treatment was “optimised” and “all conditions” had been “brought under control”.

The board concluded: “From the available information in the [medical] reports, the conclusion reached by the [board] is that the applicant is stable and does not qualify for medical parole”.

When Fraser released Zuma regardless, he said in a statement that the Estcourt Correctional Centre did not have the kind of specialised capacity to care adequately for Zuma’s conditions and that the former president’s life would be placed at risk through his continued incarceration there.

Fraser also noted that Zuma’s imprisonment “occasioned a unique moment within the history of Correctional Services, where a former Head of State of the Republic of South Africa is incarcerated whilst still entitled to privileges as bestowed by the Constitution”.

Three successive courts have now thrown out Fraser’s reasoning: the high court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and now the Constitutional Court.

The message, legally speaking, could not be clearer: Fraser was wrong to release Zuma, and the remainder of Zuma’s sentence technically remains to be served.

Length of remaining term: a complicating factor

But in upholding the SCA’s findings on the matter, the Constitutional Court has also upheld the SCA’s verdict that ultimately the determination as to the “remaining period of [Zuma’s] incarceration” is one for the prisons commissioner to decide.

“Whether the time spent by Mr Zuma on unlawfully granted medical parole should be taken into account in determining the remaining period of his incarceration, is not a matter for this Court to decide. It is a matter to be considered by the Commissioner,” the November 2022 ruling held.

“If he is empowered by law to do so, the Commissioner might take that period into account in determining any application or grounds for release.”

It is not quite clear currently whether this could mean that prisons boss Thobakgale would be now entitled to decide that Zuma has, for all intents and purposes, concluded his sentence nonetheless.

In other words, Zuma’s return to orange overalls is not quite a foregone conclusion.

Two years on, fears of violence remain

The timing of the Constitutional Court ruling is, at least from one perspective, rather unfortunate.

It is two years almost to the week since the original ruling that Zuma be locked up for defying the Zondo Commission precipitated tremendous violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

A spate of recent truck burnings has sparked fears that something similar could be brewing currently; a fear exacerbated by the persistently reckless tweeting of Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Open Letter: Dear Duduzile Zuma, do you understand the horror that your call for ‘another unrest’ will wreak?

Earlier this week, Zuma-Sambudla tweeted in response to a video of a truck burning: “We See You! July Never Fails Us!”

Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the truck attacks are linked to pro-Zuma sentiment, or connected with the events of July 2021.

But the prospect of the former president’s return to jail cannot help but stoke the memories, still raw, of the carnage that accompanied his first prison sojourn. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Maybe the ‘Intelligence’ will be better prepared this time? Unlikely, but maybe?

  • Bill Gild says:

    A sound judgement, in my opinion.
    The only question remaining now is whether Zuma will be arrested and returned to prison ro serve out the reminder of his term

    • Rob Scott says:

      I very much doubt it and if he is I would suggest that all law loving citizens take up arms to protect the country from the rapacious Zuma supporters to ensure that 2.2 of the 2021 riots do not happen again. It is clear that the government cant and wont step up to protect its citizens.

      • Gazeley Walker says:

        Zuma is now, reportedly in Russia seeking medical help as he is “unwell”. This according to Jimmy Manyi. Running because he had prior notice of this adverse outcome and avoiding any possible adverse consequences?

        • Bill Gild says:

          No doubt, but I suspect that the ANC/SACP knew about the adverse opinion well prior, and hussled him off to his “homeland”.

      • Joe Irwin says:

        This man’s passport should have been surrendered until his case was finalised.
        Now that his fight against serving his time in prison has been lost he is suddenly ill and has to go to Russia for health reasons.
        Next stop Dubai?

  • Bill Gild says:

    The security forcs need to be on high alert now, as the Concort’s refusal to allow Zuma to appeal the SCA’s judgement might very well precipitate yet another spasm of violence by Zuma’s supporters.

    Should SAPS/correctional services not act on this latest judgement, we might as well say farewell to t0 the rule of law in South Africa, and prepare to enter a new and dangerous phase in this county’s future.

  • Bill Gild says:

    How the Department of Correctional Services handles the ConCourt’s decision will settle the question of whether the rule of law still lives in South Africa.

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    Can we start putting people like Arthur Fraser in jail now, please? If there were some consequences for those who deliberately ignore the law so as to benefit their buddies, perhaps we’d see less of this ‘comradeship’.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    It will be interesting to see how the Government responds to intimidation in the form of fear of repetition of the July riots? Will the SAPS disappear again or will they man their posts this time?

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    In my opinion, Zuma’s daughter appears to be as uneducated and unprincipled as her father – apple doesn’t fall far from the tree it seems!

    • Henry Henry says:

      What legal advice do they need? This passage is clear:
      “Once the order in this appeal is handed down, Mr Zuma’s position as it was prior to his release on medical parole will be reinstated. In other words, Mr Zuma, in law, has not finished serving his sentence. He must return to the Escourt Correctional Centre to do so.”

  • David Katz says:

    No evidence does not mean that this is not an orchestrated event. SAP has still not found any leaders from the previous insurrection and charged them.

    • Sue Hutchings says:

      And they never will find them and charge them. Actually they probably know who they are but they’ll never be charged, arrested and convicted.

  • Richard Owen says:

    if SA is ever to get past the corruption of the Zuma years, then Zuma needs to be sent back to prison, possibly with his buddy Arthur Fraser, if Fraser broke the law in releasing Zuma.
    As South Africans sit in the darkness of stage 8 load shedding, they should obtain a better understanding of what Zuma did to the nation.

  • Johan Buys says:

    prediction engine says:

    50% chance former prisoner Zuma will develop a new illness

    50% chance many trucks and buildings will be looted and burnt.

    • Graeme de Villiers says:

      Ha, chatGPT for Dummies 🙂
      We know for SURE that part 1 will come to pass. Part 2 is already underway, with more smoke about to appear on the horizon.
      Part 3 is the regular pondscum to crawl out from under their rocks to incite and object and blame apartheid.

      • Graeme de Villiers says:

        … and right on cue, have just read that the poor old man is currently in Russia seeking medical treatment! You cannot make this stuff up. Clearly he knew this was coming and did a runner on Monday! What are the chances he comes back?

  • Confucious Says says:

    And take your Shakey friend with you!

  • William Dryden says:

    Why this B with an Itch Zuma -Sambudla has not been prosecuted for her incitement of her followers to destroy infrastructure is beyond any reason. What are the NPA and SAP frightened of, send her to jail with her father JZ at least she can help keep his cell clean and his bed made for him.

  • Gazeley Walker says:

    And then I read in News 24 that Zuma is in Russia seeking medical care as he is “not well”. Obviously he was tipped off about the court’s decision, and as always, has pulled another Zumerist stunt to avoid any consequences, like returning to jail.

    • Ken Kesner says:

      Zuma has overlooked the fact that Russia is involved in it’s “special military operation” and he could be drafted as a foreigner well within the Russian age criteria of 18- 100. Poetic justice says he goes to the “meat-grinder” and we can all breathe a sigh of relief!

  • Brian Doyle says:

    A very good and sound Judgement. However “Intelligence” services should be on alert as opportunists may try the same stunt as they did 2 years ago

  • Kevin Schaafsma says:

    Why was it too difficult for the ConCourt to determine that time spent outside of prison on UNLAWFULLY granted medical parole cannot be taken into account to determine how much longer Mr Zuma must serve in prison? This is not difficult law to determine. But what’s going to happen now is that if Mr Zuma is ordered back to prison he will bring an urgent court application and if he’s not ordered back the DA will bring a court challenge for this issue to be judicially determined. Clearly something unlawful (like the BS medical parole) cannot be given credence, but if Mr Zuma is ordered back to prison he will be granted an interdict pending all appeals all the way back to the ConCourt for this issue to be decided. So that will be another 3 to 5 years. And then, no doubt, another door will be left open for Mr Zuma to start another legal challenge. If you can’t see that this is a joke, you’re blind. Mr Zuma is not going to jail.

    The corruption case will take 20 years to finally get through all of the appeals and all of the other interlocutory applications and proceedings at every turn. And if he is finally found guilty and finally sentenced to jail when he’s 95 years old, he will get pardoned by President Malema on the grounds of his age and because no apartheid president went to jail.

    Just give it up now and leave Mr Zuma, the same way the ANC just left Mr PW Botha and many others after their middle fingers to the TRC.

    • Scott Gordon says:

      Sound arguments , did JZ just leave or was he summoned ?
      Putin payback ?
      ” We had a deal ‘ , you failed . Putin does not forgive and forget .
      Assume have all his blood work on file .
      All the talk of prosecutions is moot , if he comes back !
      Give him 2-3 years at best , no outright assassination this time . Might go after the family after .
      Yes the ANC wants NHI , as an ex CEO , you get the best here .
      Why go to Russia ? Check out a retirement ‘ dacha ‘ ? A bit cool out there , better than a gulag 🙂
      Latest from Russia , “Due to unforeseen complications , Mr J Zuma , died overnight ”
      Nuff said ?

  • Kevin Schaafsma says:

    Mr Zuma won’t return from Russia until the Minister of Correctional Services says that the time spent on medical parole will be taken into account and that Mr Zuma has effectively served his sentence and the matter is closed. The DA will then challenge that and that will take 5 years.

    • Bill Gild says:

      Undoubtedly, yes! A rogue government is what we have, and it will end very poorly for all….

    • Paul T says:

      I think Zuma spending the rest of his days in Russia to avoid arrest in SA would be a satisfactory outcome. Freezing his ass off hiding from the law, far away from SA is just the kind of station Zuma deserves. At least we won’t have to pay for him anymore.

  • Andrew Mortimer says:

    Zuma knew this was coming. It seems he has run away to Russia… Coward…

  • Bill Gild says:

    Zuma will never see the inside of a prison.
    And SA will never know what the rule of law looks like.
    The ANC is an abomination, and SA is sliding (ever more rapidly) toward failed state status.
    There were simply too many terribly naive individuals (and overseas governments) during the move to democracy.

  • roland davies says:


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