In a surprising turn of events, South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma has been released from prison following a remission of non-violent offenders granted by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Jacob Zuma had originally been sentenced to 15 months in prison in June 2021 for refusing to testify before a panel investigating financial corruption and cronyism during his presidency. The sentence was met with mixed reactions, with some applauding it as a necessary step towards combating corruption, while others criticised it as politically motivated.
Zuma began serving his term in July 2021, leading to protests that escalated into violent riots and looting, resulting in the loss of many lives and extensive damage to public and private property. These events were some of the most devastating in South Africa since the country’s transition to democracy.
However, after just two months in prison, Zuma was released on medical parole due to an undisclosed health condition. This decision sparked controversy, as an appeals court later ruled that his release had been unlawfully granted and ordered him to return to the Estcourt Correctional Centre in KwaZulu-Natal province.
Following the court’s decision, Zuma reported back to jail on the morning of his release, only to be released again within an hour under a “remission process” aimed at alleviating overcrowding in prisons. The justification for this decision, as stated by the national commissioner of correctional services, Makgothi Thobakgale, was administrative processes that Zuma had undergone upon his admission into the system.
The news of Zuma’s release has reignited public debate and raised concerns about the integrity of the justice system in South Africa. Many citizens question whether there is fairness and equality before the law, as it appears that influential individuals can evade the consequences of their actions.
Critics argue that Zuma’s release undermines the rule of law and sends a message that those in positions of power are above the law. They believe that this decision will further erode public trust in the justice system and perpetuate a culture of impunity.
On the other hand, supporters of Zuma argue that his release is a reflection of his deteriorating health and the need for compassionate care. They assert that it is important to prioritise human rights and uphold the principles of justice and fairness.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s role in granting the remission remains a subject of scrutiny. Some view his decision as a politically motivated move aimed at appeasing factions within his own party, the African National Congress, and preventing further unrest. Others see it as an attempt to demonstrate compassion and provide Zuma with an opportunity for medical treatment.
The Constitutional Court dismissed the appeal from South Africa’s prison service regarding Zuma’s conditional release. As a result, ex-president Zuma was ordered to return to jail on Friday as per the court’s ruling. Currently, he is at home and discussing the situation with his legal team, according to Mzwanele Manyi, a spokesman for Zuma’s foundation.
In April, the justice minister initiated the exploration of special remission measures. This process is expected to lead to the release of over 24,000 inmates, with about two-thirds of them currently under correctional supervision and parole. By releasing these individuals, overcrowding in prisons will be alleviated. This overcrowding poses a direct threat to inmate health, security, and management while also potentially fueling gangsterism-related issues.
A ‘Monumental Insult’: Zuma’s Release Sparks Outrage in South Africa
The release of former South African president Jacob Zuma from prison has sparked outrage and condemnation from the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. In a statement, the DA called the decision a “monumental insult to each and every South African”. This move has ignited a debate on whether Zuma is being held accountable for his actions or if he is being given preferential treatment due to his status as a senior member of the ruling African National Congress.
Glynnis Breytenbach, the DA’s shadow justice minister, expressed her disapproval of the decision, stating that it had nothing to do with overcrowding and everything to do with preventing Zuma from facing accountability. She argued that the precedent has been set that senior ANC members will never be held accountable for their crimes.
Zuma, a prominent figure in the ANC and the country’s former president, was forced out of office in 2018 amid corruption allegations. Despite these allegations, he remains popular among grassroots ANC members, particularly those who view him as a hero of the anti-apartheid movement. However, his release from prison has reignited concerns about corruption within the ANC and its impact on the upcoming elections.
As the ANC’s popularity wanes due to discontent over corruption, power cuts, and high unemployment rates, polls suggest that the party may see its vote drop below 50 percent in the next election. This decline in support could be attributed to the perception that senior ANC members, like Zuma, are not being held accountable for their actions. This lack of accountability undermines the public’s trust in the party and raises questions about the effectiveness of their governance.