South Africa’s constitutional court has sentenced former president Jacob Zuma to 15 months in prison for contempt of court following his refusal to appear appear at an inquiry into corruption while he was president.

The judge ordered the former president to hand himself in within five days. If he fails to do so, police will be ordered to arrest him and ensure he is “delivered to a correctional center,” Judge Sisi Khampepe said.

The Constitutional Court’s majority found Jacob Zuma guilty of failing to obey its order in January that he attend to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo‘s state capture inquiry for questioning.

The majority decision by seven justices, with two justices opposing, said there was no other option but to sentence Zuma to a term behind bars. Because there was no chance, by his own public comments repeatedly made, that he would obey the Court, citing his statements the he would rather go to jail.

Zuma had repeatedly reiterated that he would rather be imprisoned than to cooperate with the commission or comply with the order made.

The former President is the first to refuse to testify. And he had argued that he is not legally obliged to do so, saying that Zondo harbors a personal war against him. The judge however dismissed the argument as baseless.

Mr. Zuma also faces additional legal troubles. He is being charged with 16 other charges of racketeering, corruption, fraud, and money laundering.

Zuma did not only fail to show up but also ignored the high court’s contempt proceedings.

The Tuesday decision was announced in a courtroom in Johannesburg, with limited attendance due to the rise of coronavirus infections in the country.

The constitutional court can do nothing but conclude that Mr Zuma is guilty of the crime of contempt of court…This kind of recalcitrance and defiance is unlawful and will be punished. I am left with no option but to commit Mr Zuma to imprisonment, with the hope that doing so sends an unequivocal message… 

Judge Sisi Khampepe said.

The 79 year old former president has in many ways become the most powerful representation of government leadership gone astray.

And speaking for nearly an hour as she laid out the majority decision of the Constitutional Court, Justice Sisi Khampepe offered unrelenting criticism of Mr. Zuma, saying that his attacks against the court were unprecedented.

“Never before has the judicial process been so threatened,” she said, reading from the 66-page majority decision.

By Wanjiru Mbaru

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