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Zuma’s jail pardon sparks high fives from ANC, thumbs-up from Madonsela, rage from DA

Zuma’s jail pardon sparks high fives from ANC, thumbs-up from Madonsela, rage from DA
Former president Jacob Zuma will not be required to complete his prison sentence. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Some celebrated, some consented, but others have expressed dismay with a promise to challenge. These have been the deeply conflictual responses to the decision to give former president Jacob Zuma a get-out-of-jail-free card. He effectively served just two months of a 15-month sentence. But if the IFP has its way, former correctional services head Arthur Fraser may be next in the firing line.

The much-awaited decision on whether former president Jacob Zuma would return to prison to complete his 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court or be given special parole was always going to be a divisive, serious bone of contention.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Authorities ‘ready for any eventuality’ as Correctional Services boss to announce Zuma’s prison fate on Friday morning

The 81-year-old Zuma arrived at the Escourt Correctional Services at 6am on 11 August, 2023 — ostensibly to complete his sentence as the court ordered — only to be told that he must go back home. As a low-risk prisoner, he had instantly become a beneficiary of what amounts to a presidential pardon and his sentence, like those of more than 9,000 other prisoners, has been remitted.

Read more in Daily Maverick: No more prison time for Zuma after Ramaphosa rubber-stamps ‘remission’ – here is the reasoning

After serving two months of the 15-month sentence, Zuma was released on medical parole in 2021 by former correctional services head Arthur Fraser, whose decision was challenged in court by the opposition Democratic Alliance, Hellen Suzman Foundation and other NGOs and this challenge was upheld by the courts up to the Constitutional Court.

So, when the under duress and bespectacled Makgothi Thobakgale, the National Commissioner of Correctional Services, announced on Friday morning that Zuma had been re-admitted to the Escourt Correctional Services facility only to receive a special presidential pardon, social media, with everyone from ordinary people to politicians and analyst ventilating their views — ranging from supportive to outburst of outrage — on the issue.

Estcourt Correctional Centre, Jacob Zuma

The Estcourt Correctional Centre where former president Jacob Zuma began serving his sentence for being in contempt of court in 2021. (Photo: Supplied)

Good times for some

Perhaps the most hilarious of the reactions came from Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, who posted several tweets as the announcement of her father’s fate was still underway. In one, she posts a video with her and her father embracing each other, with the former president singing sarcastically, “Free At Last” and both of them laughing it off.

Tebogo Khaas, a respected senior chartered accountant, a political and social commentator and businessman, said it was just like a walk in the park for Zuma.

“A special, drive-thru correctional services treatment for Jacob Zuma. How convinient!” he tweeted.

There might not have been a commission of inquiry into State Capture at all had Thuli Madonsela, in her capacity as Public Protector, not directed former president Jacob Zuma to establish such a commission as one of the remedial actions contained in her final report, “State of Capture”.

Thuli Madonsela, the former Public Protector, said she supports the decision to remit Zuma’s sentence on the grounds of his health and the concept of Ubuntu.

Political fallout

In an interview with eNCA, Glynnis Breytenbach, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow justice minister, called the whole thing a “charade” or “mockery of the whole justice system in South Africa”. She claimed the whole event was pre-planned not only to benefit Jacob Zuma and prevent him from going to jail but also to save the face of both the national commissioner, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola and President Cyril Ramaphosa, saying all of them would “wash their hands and say they have performed their duties and complied with the law”. 

She said President Cyril Ramaphosa has once again failed South Africans by choosing the party over the country.

“It [the decision] sets a very dangerous precedent for South Africans…It is not the end as Zuma is still to face a number of other legal challenges…..this is not something we are going to let lie,” she said, indicating that her party will study the entire process before taking a final decision on what to do next.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Wounds of injustice continue to fester in KZN on tense second anniversary of July riots

In July 2021, when Zuma was arrested at his home in Nkandla and imprisoned at the Estcourt Correctional Centre, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng erupted in an orgy of violence, looting and arson. This resulted in the deaths of more than 350 people and cost the economy more than R50-billion. Several people were arrested for allegedly coordinating and inciting the violence. Some are facing trial but the alleged ringleaders are still at large.

Herman Mashaba, leader of ActionSA, said his party also “rejected with contempt” what it termed President Ramaphosa’s “political solution” to Zuma’s incarceration conundrum.

“This move makes a mockery of the criminal justice system in South Africa by demonstrating once again that President Ramaphosa puts the ANC first and the country second. The criminal and civil justice system relies on the principle of ensuring that there are consequences for unlawful acts. [Former] President Zuma knowingly and deliberately defied our Apex Court, and publicly demonstrated his disdain for the legal system. Instead of affirming the supremacy of the Rule of Law in South Africa by ensuring that Zuma accounts for his actions, President Ramaphosa’s government has bent over backwards to allow him to evade the consequences of these actions.

“Today South Africa faces some of the highest murder and rape rates in the world, with the Thabo Bester matter being a case study in how dysfunctional our criminal justice system has become. As a party based on the Rule of Law, ActionSA will fight to restore this cornerstone of our Constitution and ensure that the justice system is an effective deterrent to unlawfulness,” Mashaba said in a statement.

Jacob Zuma convoy

Archive photo of Jacob Zuma’s convoy arriving at his homestead of KwaNxamalala in Nkandla, when he was permitted to attend the funeral of his late brother Michael Zuma, who passed away in 2021. (Photo: Supplied)

Decisions, decisions

Minister Lamola admitted that those who took the decision — including the correctional services and the Presidency — also considered the potential of unrest similar to July 2021 into cognisance during their deliberations.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC welcomed the decision, saying that the issue was a political hot potato that could have far-reaching implications.

“We are happy that finally this matter which divided society has been put behind us. We are alive to the reality that those opposed to the ANC and the enemy of the people of this country used this matter to divide the ANC and to cause social instability. On this day we reiterate our commitment to rebuild the unity and renew the soul and fibre of the ANC, restoring it to its founding values of dedication to servicing our people with honesty and dignity, respect and humility.

“We wish to express our revolutionary appreciation to the ANC structures and the people of this province for remaining calm over the past month.  We thank them for heeding our call, in terms of exercising restraint and for allowing leadership and those entrusted with a responsibility to manage this delicate matter to do so in line with the laws of the country,” said ANC KZN provincial secretary, Bheki Mtolo.

He added: “On the 13th July 2023, we stated that because we are in a Constitutional Democracy, the Department of Correctional Services had to be allowed to study the judgement and ventilate its decision publicly.  We further pointed that the freedom-loving South Africans of all racial groups, adopted among others, a clause in the charter that stipulated: “Imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance”.

The Inkatha Freedom Party said while it welcomed the release of Mr Zuma, it wanted an investigation focusing on how and why Fraser decided to defy the recommendations of the parole board and instead come to the determination that Zuma must be released prematurely.

Mkhuleko Hlengwa, IFP national spokesman, said: “While we welcome that the decision to release former President Zuma closes the door to more possible unrest, we wish to state clearly that it should not be considered a precedent. Lawlessness and violence — or the threat of violence — must never outweigh the need for justice, accountability, and consequences for one’s actions.

“It is our hope that we can now close this very painful chapter in our nation’s history — which culminated in the devastating and destructive riots and unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in 2021 — and move forward as a country. We, therefore, believe that further investigation of this irregular decision by the then-National Commissioner is needed,” Hlengwa said on behalf of the IFP.

Mpumelelo Zikalala, a Durban-based legal analyst, said despite the outcry over the decision, both the Department of Correctional Services, Minister Lamola and the President seemed to have covered all their legal tracks.

“The Commissioner can say I have complied with the Supreme Court of Appeal decision by accepting the offender into the correctional facility and said to the offender that you are now eligible for a special parole that was granted by the president. Legally, the parties can only challenge the rationality of the President in awarding the special remission at the time when Mr Zuma was supposed to resume his sentence,” Zikalala said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Confucious Says says:

    WOW!!! Madonsela was ok with that??? Something is amiss…

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Very disappointing, but maybe she knows something we don’t. Perhaps the brain transplant he reportedly had in Russia didn’t work, like the previous ones, so he still doesn’t have a clue about anything. Maybe Zapiro’s showerhead is interfering with the incoming signals. Or perhaps he actually does have a terminal disease – rank stupidity.

      I do hope though, that the IFP manage to corner that heap of sh1te Fraser and get him into court to explain how on earth he managed to let Msholozi free without killing himself laughing at the rest of us.

    • Johan Buys says:


      Sometimes, you need a practical hat.

      I don’t believe any sane person wanted to see a rebound of the senseless violence of 2021 unless they were on a Schadenfeude & whiskey & whatever trip. An elegant solution was required and imho it was achieved.

      That said, if former prisoner zuma steps out of his lane again : justice must come down like a tonne of bricks. I believe a deal was struck and former prisoner zuma weighed his life outside prison above his “martyr” status inside.

      That is the the prime difference between former prisoner zuma and say Nelson Mandela. Chalk and cheese.

      • Easy Does It says:

        The DA chose not to negotiate with those perpetrating violence because you don’t negotiate with criminals. If fear of violence becomes the arbiter of our decisions we expose ourselves to another way of criminals getting their way. Under apartheid and democracy, the army has Ben used to calm the storm and if that is the length we have to go to to enforce the law then let the rule of law prevail and keep zuma in jail.
        I believe that the decision to release zuma was based on not fracturing the fractured anc any further. The state of the country is secondary.

        • Rob Wilson says:

          If you won’t negotiate with criminals, who will they speak to?

        • Roelf Pretorius says:

          If it was all about not fracturing the ANC any further and nothing more, then the IFP and Thuli Madonsela would not have backed it up. Furthermore, professor Madonsela has not just had every exposure to SA law that exist, but she grew up in an ubuntu community & family, AND she was intimately involved in the writing of the SA Constitution. So maybe we should be less reactive and more open to what she had to say. After all, Zuma is not a threat to the state or any of us any more; but the same can’t be said of Arthur Fraser, Ace Magashule, Brian Molefe, Malusi Gigaba, DD Mabuza, Tom Moyane ect. . . . Maybe greater focus should be on getting them to account for what they have done.

      • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

        Pragmatism vs equality before the law. I’m sure you could spawn a whole utilitarian philosophy convention.

        While I’m a pragmatist by nature, I’m not sure I agree with you in this instance.

        Justice must be seen to be done as exceptions prove the rule.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Yes my thoughts exactly!

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “Minister Lamola admitted that those who took the decision — including the correctional services and the Presidency — also considered the potential of unrest similar to July 2021 into cognisance during their deliberations.”

    Bunch of cowards, then. Well OK, don’t get peed off if it’s brought up time and time again and thrown back in your faces. Or faeces thrown in your faces, take your choice.

    • Anthony Sturges says:

      Agree …. doesn’t say much for the ANC Government’s security and intelligence apparatus, does it? Sad day when the government, indirectly, admits to being incompetent and unable to protect (govern) the people that elected them. Is the security of the ‘proletariat’ not one of the foundations of a ‘democratic’ government?

  • Leon Groenveld says:

    Beautiful article, especially given the implicit, but mostly quite explicit, threats of violence should things go against ” the people “. And we have already witnessed what ” the people ” are capable of.

    Most tragic though is this: ” Imprisonment shall only be for serious crimes ( tick ) against the people ( tick ), and shall aim for re-education ” ………..( here I’m getting increasingly confused: are we talking about re-educating the perpetrator ( Zuma ) or the people? If Zuma, I fear that is a lost cause… ” not vengeance.”

    We clearly have a very liberal and civilised justice system, decidedly not yet suitable for the demographic it serves, and therefore sadly not focused on ” vengeance “.

    Vengeance being the operative term most appropriate in this case.

  • Dillon Birns says:

    For once, I agree with the IFP. We should first understand why Fraser released Zuma – whether it was by incentive, coercion, or self-preservation. Only after that can we discuss whether Zuma should finish his 15-month sentence. Remember, Zuma’s trial for the charges related to state capture hasn’t happened yet. If we find proof here that he has the ability (and intention) to manipulate the justice and law enforcement systems, we’ll be better prepared and informed for any similar attempts at those trials.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Ramaphosa normally avoids any decision making. On the odd occasion when he resorts to it, it usually is wrong.

  • Grenville Wilson says:

    Again, is anyone feigning surprise???

  • mongetane says:

    That’s strange if not confusing coming from you, Madonsela ,it seems history has a short memory.

  • andrew farrer says:

    can the judge in the arms deal case make it mandatory that he serves x-time before being eligible for any kind of parole?

  • Robert Frey says:

    For a man on the street to have a criminal record can be a real problem!
    Zuma has now a criminal record and I wonder what this means for him?
    Or is he now cleared of that as well!
    I can’t imaging having a criminal record! I would be ashamed and embarrassed!
    In my part of the world we call them “Schlitzohr”!!

  • Vas K says:

    In ANC, like in any other decent mafia, the crooks are looking after each other. That is a given. What is rather offensive is the president insulting public’s intelligence by his pathetic efforts to make his actions look like something other than a crook’s bailout.

  • Leonhard Praeg says:

    Dear prof Madonsela. What an utterly shameful invocation of Ubuntu – yet again, invoked opportunistically, to let another of Africa’s Big Men off the hook. By your logic, every domestic abuser and child rapist should be let off the hook because “we” have Ubuntu. When will people understand that Ubuntu is not about being nice and forgiving, but first of all, to be held accountable and responsible for the community that they’re part of? As former PP, a legal expert who should understand that a presidential pardon is as a-legal as an invocation of Ubuntu properly understood, I expected something more from a person who famously stated that “you whisper in the ear of power”. Instead, with this endorsement you descended into the lowest common denominator of Afro-kitch at the precise moment when you should have weighed in with your usual subtle gravity. I am disgusted.

    • Derek Jones says:

      I agree with you Leonhard. The ANC has a different agenda to South Africa’s needs. That is the truth we need to understand and remember.

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    cr must have made this decision to ensure that he will get similar treatment, by precedent, when he is found guilty of his crimes . He should be charged with having no ba11s and yet calling himself a man.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I am at times confused / irritated by the DM comments.

    Put your strategy hat on (for a minute is all). Would you rationally choose to put a clown in jail to prove a point so that maybe 50,000 people can cause untold harm to 50,000,000 people and giving oxygen to his scorched earth policy? Rather put him in a box as a convicted felon on parole. It would help a lot if the media stopped referring to him as “former president” and adopted “former prisoner”.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Pragmatism vs equality before the law. I’m sure you could spawn a whole utilitarian philosophy convention.

      While I’m a pragmatist by nature, I’m not sure I agree with you in this instance.

      Justice must be seen to be done as exceptions prove the rule.

    • Rainer Thiel says:

      Agreed, another same-old same-old tirade. In my view, trying to keep the old swine in jail would have set the country alight yet again. I just wish Arthur Fraser was not untouchable. I believe he is the real prime evil. Also, I think mixing Zuma in within all the other 9,000 remissions entirely dilutes the issue, takes the wind out of it.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if plans had already been in place to deal effectively with any potential violent reaction to Zuma being required to return to prison rather than clearly letting him go to his grave laughing all the way there because he has proved himself to be above the law?

  • Peter Doble says:

    Well at least no one is left gasping at the governing party’s ability to find loopholes! It does however beg the question whether the country actually needs laws and the judiciary at all. The leadership’s example is that every individual can act with impunity – as long is it is not a serious crime – so justice will never be seen to be done.
    Alarmingly there are strong parallels between Zuma and Trump, so perhaps SA is adopting the massive failings of the USA and plunging down the same undemocratic drain.

  • William Kelly says:

    Until Ububtu is formally defined and clarified as a part of our legal system, it has no place in justifying an excuse for clemency for a sick old man, despite the wrongs inflicted on countless other sick old people by same. I cannot fathom how Ubuntu works because it means different things to different people and in this case, I am afraid, does it most harm in being used to defend the indefensible. The harm caused by Zuma by defying the law such as we have it is incalculable and the infringement on a sick old man is entirely justified, as evidenced by the ruling made. That is the system we have, that we all agreed on, and that is the system that must be applied. If you don’t agree with it, pleaese, by all means, use the avenues available to you in a democratic country and change it. But do not cite Ubuntu as a prop to support the rot. It is not appropriate.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Nobody in the ANC has any integrity. I thought R Lamola was its shining star. He is now part of the gangster party serving his bosses. They lie and minipulate without shame thinking the public is stupid. Disappointed in Hlengwa from the IFP, he also seemed to be in search of justice. What a disappointment in all ways. Is Madonsela now going for Nobel Peace price?. What about ubuntu for us law abiding taxpaying people. What a disgusting outcome. DS

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    And Zondo….?

  • Nick Steen says:

    Madonsela’s logic is somewhat questionable. To say that an 80 year old should not be incarcerated is one thing, but to say the government was at fault in the first place, when it was a “State Capture Cadre” that illegally released him, is missing the point, and to not qualify her comment that while not incarcerating Zuma may well be Ubuntu, the subterfuge with which it was done and the “fire pool” type lies that were told by Lamola leads one to question whether “Ubuntu” is a notion that only spreads as far as those politically well connected

  • James Webster says:

    There have always been suspicions about Madonsela and she just confirmed them with her betrayal of every South African citizen. South Africa has now become a banana republic with the banana eating ANC sitting on the top of the dung heap. The whole point of the law is to do the difficult things, to contain the difficult people, to take the difficult decisions, not to cower and do the popular banana thing.

  • James Webster says:

    Ubuntu has been, is and always will be a puerile, frivolous pseudo-philosophy that was concocted, not codified, by people who felt intimidated by the multitude of western philosophies. They cooked it up so they would have a bastion against western thought, it was brewed in a decade or less unlike western ideologies which matured over hundreds of years. Ubuntu can not be taken seriously because no-one in this country actually practices it, they all talk about it, they all lionise it but they don’t practice it. Ubuntu’s precepts are facile, it is a joke that everyone pretends to take seriously.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      I do think that under Apartheid, the majority enjoyed a spirit of Ubuntu- more as a way to survive than just altruism! Rather like the Brits during WW11 – the hardships of the time forced them to dig deep and share the limited resources to survive.
      Ubuntu no longer exists – its dog eat dog and only the politically connected end up with the spoils!
      If Ubuntu reappears, ironically it will be with the new marginalised minority who will have to fight to collectively protect what has taken 300 years to build!

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    A bit disappointed in Thuli Madonsela. Surely Ubuntu would require the perpetrator to admit wrong doing and show at least a little remorse to society?

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    I only have a superficial understanding of the concept / philosophy of Ubuntu. It’s not something that is integral to my culture. I would not wish to dismiss something that is fundamental to the beliefs of others simply because of my own ignorance. I seek then not to criticize but to better understand
    I heard Prof Thuli yesterday in an interview with John Perlman where she explained that the African justice system was premised on the ‘restorative’ as opposed to the ‘penal’ That the principles of Ubuntu are enshrined within & have been upheld in judgements by our Constitution.
    I would imagine that for Ubuntu to find meaning & expression it would need to be premised on the sincerity of all parties. That the absence of sincerity (by either or both parties) negates the principle?
    I guess this is the difficulty I have! Can we claim Ubuntu to have triumphed when the principles supporting Ubuntu have not been respected?

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    Let’s just kick the the useless old coward to the curb, forget his name and move on. If he had not been so evil
    he would have been a laugh a minute at best. Get the ones who are still stealing us blind.
    And as for Cyril, maybe his buddy could organise a back bone transport when he is in Russia for his next boot licking session.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    I feel that, despite the wish among many of us that Zuma serve his full sentence, there is merit in Madonsela’s opinion!
    We must accept that the courts have shown that nobody is above the law, and should take care that our position is in line with the bards opinion from the Merchant of Venice. Recall the lines “The quality of mercy is not strained, etc”!!!!
    In this case we lose little and gain much from the decision, I propose?

    • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

      I kind of agree with you. Let’s forget about him as a person, not what he has done to the country, it cannot be undone. Let’s rather concentrate on those who are dangerous to the future of the country and do our best to get rid of them in time.

  • Henning Swanepoel says:

    “On this day we reiterate our commitment to rebuild the unity and renew the soul and fibre of the ANC, restoring it to its founding values of dedication to servicing our people with honesty and dignity, respect and humility”

    What a joke…the ANC has been nothing but dishonest and treats none of its people with dignity respect or humility…it is the Party and its comrades first and how much they can screw over the people of South Africa!

  • Alan Salmon says:

    I actually agree with Madonsela on this – Zuma is 81 years old and there is nothing to be gained by pushing an old man back to prison for contempt. The risk of further unrest is avoided as well.
    However, he must still face charges for the arms scandal – let him spend his retirement in court forever !

  • Joe Irwin says:

    How any political party with any ethics or morality can consider a coalition with the ANC is ridiculous.

  • Vincent L says:

    All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than other!

  • Johann Olivier says:

    This whole charade is not that different to the Trump-imbroglio. I guess Africa is not that different. And, generally speaking, there are rules for politicians & rules for the rest.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Strange that Zuma’s motor cavalcade had not returned home after dropping him off to serve his remaining sentence. clearly they knew what we all found out afterwards. what a whitewash!

  • Eric Reurts says:

    If I were a cynic, which I am, then I would wonder about the complete abscence of advance warnings related to “public anger” upon JZ return to jail. Nothing from the otherwise very vocal children, nothing from the JZ foundation, nothing from the RET faction. I then wonder if they all knew how this would unfold. Surely not, the public can’t be the last to know? Surely??

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Thuli is correct and I agree with her. As a DA supporter and member, it worries me that the DA is often not pragmatic enough and this is the essence of politics. Whilst Zuma has demonstrably destroyed our country nothing will be gained now by sending him to person for disobeying an instruction from the Zondo commission – the alternative would probably be widespread violence.

  • Glyn Fogell says:

    I think that the point has been made. He did return to prison. He now has a criminal conviction to his name. So long as the other non-violent offenders who qualify for remission are also released soon, everything will appear to be above board.
    Pick your battles. He has yet to stand trial for his role in the Arms Deal case as well as any charges brought in terms of the Zondo Commission findings. The Stalingrad Defence seems to be grinding to a gradual halt as case after case is lost or fails to be added to the court roll. We can only hope that his terminal medical condition doesn’t prevent him finally answering the charges and having the day in court that he kept demanding – and avoiding.

  • Trevor Thompson says:

    Right in terms of the law?
    Right in terms of the offence?
    Right in terms of precedent?
    Right in setting example?
    Right in terms of building a nation?

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