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No more prison time for Zuma after Ramaphosa rubber-stamps ‘remission’ – here is the reasoning

No more prison time for Zuma after Ramaphosa rubber-stamps ‘remission’ – here is the reasoning
Former president Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla residence on 4 July 2021. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Former president Jacob Zuma will not be required to complete his prison sentence, the Correctional Services Department has decided. This is despite the Constitutional Court dismissing Zuma’s application last month for leave to appeal a Supreme Court of Appeal ruling that he must return to prison to finish his 15-month sentence. Zuma is among almost 10 000 prisoners who are due to be granted remission, with overcrowding of prisons cited as a primary factor.

The national commissioner of correctional services, Samuel Thobakgale, announced on Friday morning that former president Jacob Zuma has been released on remission. Zuma is said to have handed himself over on Friday morning and underwent administrative processes before being released. 

He was among a total of 9488 prisoners who are due to be released on remission, according to Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, who also addressed a media briefing when the announcement was made. Overcrowded prisons was a factor in the decision to release the prisoners, he said, also noting that “the remission of sentences is a crucial aspect of our justice system”.

The commissioner explained that they have upheld the Supreme Court of Appeal order to take Zuma into custody as the former president was processed into their system, only for his sentence to be placed under remission.

“Although the SCA and the high court both consider the decision of the then National Commissioner as unlawful, Mr Zuma was not discharged (released), but he was placed under community corrections where he continued serving his sentence, under strict conditions. Parole in South Africa is a form of punishment which is served by an inmate within the system of community corrections in terms of Chapter VI of the Correctional Services Act of 1998. When Mr Zuma left from a medical hospital upon placement on medical parole, he was continuously under community corrections serving his sentence. He was never a free man with effect from 8 July 2021.

“In compliance with the SCA Judgment, Zuma did report back at Estcourt Correctional Centre. A consideration has been made as per legislation, including processes that were already unfolding in the management of correctional services. The administrative procedures have ensued and Mr Zuma has been processed accordingly,” he said.

Remission of sentence is when the President uses the powers vested in him by the Constitution and the Correctional Services Act to grant a remission, which effectively means cutting the sentence short. It also fast-tracks the dates upon which an inmate will be placed on parole, subject to meeting set criteria. 

Thobakgale explained that it had taken the department months to deal with the matter. The process had started in April and in May the technical team assessed the impact of the remission. The proposal was submitted to President Cyril Ramaphosa for his approval. Ramaphosa is said to have rubber-stamped the remissions on Thursday.

He noted that this process was not exclusively undergone for Zuma and that there would be other prisoners who would also be released on remission. By close of business they would be able to release statistics of how many remissions have been processed. 

The lead-up

Friday’s decision was precluded by a series of events. Zuma had refused to participate in the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations State Capture after several witnesses had placed him at the centre of these allegations.

Chairperson of the commission, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, petitioned the Constitutional Court which on 29 June 2021 sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison and ordered him to hand himself over to the police within five days, after finding him in contempt of court.

When Zuma defied order he was arrested on the cold night of 7 July 2021 and taken to prison. 

After serving only two months of the 15-month sentence, Zuma was released by controversial former correctional services chief Arthur Fraser, whose decision was challenged by the DA and NGOs, and the Supreme Court ruled in November that Zuma’s release was unlawful. 

In its ruling, the SCA said: “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. 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.”

Zuma’s arrest had major consequences for the country and led to the July 2021 riots. This was a wave of civil unrest that occurred in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces from 9 to 18 July 2021, sparked by the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma for contempt of court.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Jacob Zuma speeds out of Nkandla and into custody at Estcourt Correctional Centre

Zuma was arrested in his homestead in Nkandla and taken to the Estcourt Correctional Services Centre to start his sentence. His supporters then began organising themselves on social media networks and other platforms, calling for a complete shutdown and demanding his immediate release.

At the time, the country and many parts of the world were in the throes of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and associated economic hardships and some analysts say the Zuma’s supporters rode a wave of resentment of the time.

A major turning point in the ensuing riots came with the torching of about 25 trucks and trailers, including one car carrier on which new BMW cars were gutted by fire on the busy N3 highway near the Mooi River toll plaza. Tow-truckers spent more than two days removing the burnt “carcasses”.

The riots spread throughout the province and into Gauteng, resulting in the deaths of more than 350 people and wholesale destruction of property. The economy suffered more than R50-billion in damages from a few days of mayhem.

Although most of the places that were burnt down have since been refurbished, there are some places that are still a grim reminder of that period and thousands of jobs were lost and those who lost those jobs are still suffering.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Business and communities still struggle to recover from July 2021 while alerts issued to avoid another insurrection

There have been fears – partly fuelled by threats by some of Zuma’s supporters – that similar kinds of violence or even worse should be expected in South Africa should the authorities move on him again. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    What a joke,this country has become a joke

  • Nicol Mentz says:

    Sadly not all are born equal!

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Disgusting, frankly. One law for us citizens (badly and arbitrarily applied) and another for the Teflon elite.

  • Hidden Name says:

    Strange that the comment function thinks there is a url in plain text which doesnt even contain a forward slash…

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Same thing happened to me yesterday. And I’d written such a nice comment…

      But hadn’t copied it before hitting the ‘Post’ button and couldn’t remember what I’d typed so gave up!

    • Peter Holmes says:

      The whole DM comments policy need to be overhauled, but no one at DM is prepared to listen. Look at a site like News 24. Comments appear instantly, and a subscriber can flag (report) a distasteful comment and the moderators will take it down if needs be. On the dM, there is the ridiculous “peer review” process (I simply press the green button three times; I don’t read the comments I’m reviewing. Then, a comment or reply appear four fours after posting is pointless. Finally, there should be “like” “dislike” option on vomments. Again, DM, please look at News 24 and learn.

  • Howard Sw says:

    100% predictable – the only question was how it was going to be packaged. Score = Zuma (10) : Justice System (Nil)

  • John Hepton says:

    You didn’t really think that Zuma would complete his sentence in jail?

  • Bick Nee says:

    Proof that no cadre will ever face prison in SA. Small fish will be sacrificed for appearances, but the big boys will always walk.

  • Senzo Moyakhe says:

    I’ve been bedridden by the ‘flu over the past 3 days. Needed a laugh just to lighten the mood. Thank you ANC!

  • Confucious Says says:

    It’s simply unbelievable how transparently corrupt the ANC is! Or is it really unbelievable? Zuma and Shaik deserve incarceration!

  • Kenneth Arundel says:

    Just imagine the chaos if he was incarcerated again. Mo such thing as judgement day for our politicans. Sad but true

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Can a failed state fail again? well SA proves it can. nothing but a vote gathering ploy for KZN and believe me they will use this when electioneering. the others being let out can thank Zuma.

  • Henry Henry says:

    Banana republic stuff.
    We’re back to “firepool” explanations.
    It’s really, as Thamm tweeted, “the dog ate my homework” type of excuses.

  • Cheryl Siewierski says:

    Teflon Jacob does it again. I hope, Dear Cyril, you at least got your pound of flesh from the Zuma faction for that deal with the devil.

  • Stephen Gant says:

    What I would like to know is what the terms were for his “medical parole”?
    How is it that he was entitled almost free movement in this time (including trips to Russia) while he was still under this parole? Was he restricted in any way during this time?

  • James Miller says:

    If only the ANC were as creative when it comes to solving the country’s many problems. Looking forward to their solution when Zuma is convicted and sentenced in the Arms Deal trial.

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    If this is not final proof that cr and the anc shoved their middle finger at Zondo and the constitutional court and SCA nothing will ever awaken the voters. cr has no ba11s!

  • Denise Smit says:

    This is State Capture 2, with CR in place of JZ and R Lamola in place of Arthur Frazer. It also helps the ANC that in this the state capture detail of Zuma and the Guptas and the hollowing out of all SOE institutitions is forgotton. And we forget that we are sitting in the dark, we have no trains, no effective ports, a captured police, no state intelligence because of the actions of Zuma and the Guptas. Denise

  • Hilary Morris says:

    A young man who worked for me (taking over from his father who worked for 23 years), was wrongfully arrested, charged, sentenced to 6 months for a crime in which he was NOT involved. Mistakenly transferred to Drakenstein after the 6 months, where he remains. Despite all attempts, NOTHING has helped. Will he be released I wonder. Absolutely sickening that our former president, a clear criminal, is treated like bloody royalty, while a young innocent man has had his life destroyed by the incompetence this president created throughout our country. Disgusting!

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    In the end it is probably the optimum outcome for the country’s prevention of violence. Remember that all USA Presidents at the end of their term grant pardons, and many of these are for far worse offences than disregarding a summons to appear before a commission of enquiry.

  • Vas K says:

    I hope that the other 9487 qualifying inmates were released with the same incredible efficiency. Or is it the case of the biggest criminal comes first?

  • Paul van Cittert says:

    The ANC using the constitution as a piece of toilet paper once again.

    • Alan Exton says:

      Rhamaposa is a spineless socialist with no respect for the Constitution. Equally so for the Constitutional Court, the Highest court in the land. He swore allegiance to the Republic yet upholds nothing. He is a Racist by enforcing the BEE policy only to steal from businesses that do not belong to him in order to enrich the ANC elite cadres and to benefit the cANCer party. This President only considers the Cadres and his Russian Comrades. Zuma is a convicted criminal with no respect for the law and a court dodger to keep himself out of jail where he belongs. Rhamaposa knows this and sets him free in the name of the ANC. Ramaphosa now attempts on a daily basis to destroy this great country. I hope you and the ANC sink to the bottom of the Ocean in 2024 and it is very possible. Many of your “Our People” have had enough of you.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Maybe some of the emotions are overdone and we should listen to the more level-headed experts. Especially prof Thuli Madonsela is an expert in just about every aspect of SA society that matters in this case. Her opinion that it is time we let this case go can’t be ignored according to me; fact is that Zuma has at last entered a jail for some time, the first time in SA history that it happened to a former State President, and also that that was not for a violent crime, while too many violent crimes are not being processed properly and those perpetrators are getting away with it. We should start to focus on those again; it of course include those who instigated the 2021 unrest. And of course Zuma still has the charges of corruption to face, which is more important that this story.

  • Philip Machanick says:

    Only in South Africa can we follow the letter of the law while to all appearances breaking the law.

    Or: is this Ramaphosa asserting his superiority to Zuma by only freeing him of jail after he has been allowed to squirm?

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