In a case that has left the country agog, South Africa’s police minister on Monday said he was awaiting court instructions on whether to arrest ex-president Jacob Zuma, who has been given a 15-month jail term for contempt.
The country’s top court last week convicted Zuma for contempt and ordered him to turn himself in by end of Sunday to start his sentence. If he failed to do so, the police would be told to arrest him within the following three days.
But Zuma on Friday lodged a last-ditch application to halt the execution of the arrest order. The application will be heard in a high court on Tuesday.
“The police were given the timeline of Wednesday 12 midnight,” Police Minister Bheki Cele told reporters on Monday.
“We hope that we will be getting the clarification, because when we were given the instruction there were no other legal activities taking place,” he said.
In responding documents to the court, the investigators slammed Zuma’s move as a further bid to jam the judicial machinery.
His application was “a continuation of a pattern of abuse of the court process,” they said. “Courts should not entertain such abuse any longer.”
Zuma, 79, has separately pleaded with the Constitutional Court to reconsider and rescind its order to jail him. That challenge will be heard on July 12.
Zuma’s case has transfixed South Africa, despite a raging coronavirus pandemic that has made it the worst-hit country on the continent.
New daily infections hit record highs of 26,000 cases at the weekend, fuelled by the contagious Delta variant.
Supporters have rallied outside Zuma’s rural home at Nkandla in Kwa-Zulu Natal, defying a nationwide ban on all gatherings.
– ‘Treasonous’ –
Hundreds of followers converged at his home on Sunday, dressed in the regalia of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party regalia or in traditional Zulu warrior costumes.
Wearing a black shirt embroidered with ANC colours, a maskless Zuma defiantly addressed the crowd before breaking into his signature song, the liberation struggle anthem “Awlethu Mshini Wam,” which translates to ‘Bring me my machine gun.’
Despite the breach of Covid regulations, police did not intervene to disperse the crowd.
Cele said they had decided to act cautiously, in the belief that as many as a hundred of the supporters had firearms, and there was a need to avoid “bloodshed”.
A Zulu elder and opposition politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 92, lambasted the crowds congregating in the midst of a pandemic as “the greatest irresponsibility of all” adding what was going on in Nkandla was “treasonous”.
“With all due respect for the sympathy people may have for Mr Zuma’s plight, challenging the state and risking lives is unacceptable,” said Buthelezi.
– ‘Apartheid-type rule’ –
Speaking from Nkandla on Sunday night, the defiant Zuma did not hold back, lashing out the judiciary once more.
“I’m very concerned that South Africa is fast sliding back to apartheid-type rule,” he told the crowd.
“I am facing a long detention without trial,” he said. “Sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sentencing me to death.”
His nine years in power were stained by scandal and allegations of graft, ending disastrously in 2018 when he was forced out by the ANC and replaced as president by Cyril Ramaphosa.
Despite his notoriety, Zuma commands support among many grassroots ANC members, who recall his sacrifice in the struggle against apartheid, in which he spent 10 years in prison on Robben Island.
Fearing a deepening internal rift, the ANC’s national executive committee postponed a scheduled meeting at the weekend and was to hold special talks on the Zuma crisis on Monday.
Analyst Oscar van Heerden, who is also deputy vice-chancellor of University of Fort Fare, said Zuma’s case will “deepen the cracks within the ANC. Currently there are many fractions, not just factions”.
But he expects the party’s talks to conclude with a declaration along the lines of “we are all equal before the law,…we support the ruling of the Constitutional Court” and encourage Zuma to adhere to the prescripts of the law.