Ex-South African leader Jacob Zuma leaves prison due to ill health

Zuma, who was ousted in 2017, served less than two months of a 15-month sentence for contempt of court

Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, has been released from prison on grounds of ill health after serving less than two months of a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court.

Zuma, who was ousted in 2017, was jailed in July for refusing to comply with an order of South Africa’s highest court to appear before a judicial inquiry probing allegations of extensive corruption during his nine years in power.

The jailing of the former president was a significant victory for his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, who leads a moderate and pragmatic faction of the ruling African National Congress party.

The decision to release Zuma is likely to provoke widespread anger, and further concerns about the rule of law in South Africa. It will also intensify accusations that the ANC, which has been in power since 1994, systematically prioritises its interests over those of the nation.

The court decision to jail Zuma led to the most severe violence since the end of the apartheid regime 27 years ago.

Investigators believe the wave of looting and protests, which killed more than 200 and caused massive damage across a swath of the country, was deliberately provoked as part of a broader strategy by political supporters to force a pardon for Zuma or even the collapse of the current government.

Hundreds of shops were looted, factories destroyed, warehouses razed, clinics vandalised and ports disabled.

Official statements have stressed that the former president, 79, is being treated like any other citizen.

“Medical parole placement for Mr Zuma means that he will complete the remainder of the sentence in the system of community corrections, whereby he must comply with a specific set of conditions and will be subjected to supervision until his sentence expires,” a statement from the department of correctional services said.

The department’s spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, said that Zuma was still in hospital but could go home to continue receiving medical care. He gave no details on Zuma’s illness, his parole conditions nor whether his health had deteriorated since surgery.

Last week, a trial of Zuma on corruption charges dating back to the 1990s was postponed once more because of the former president’s claims of ill health.

Zuma’s supporters say the anti-apartheid fighter is the victim of a witch-hunt orchestrated by political opponents.

The Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson, Mzwanele Manyi, said it welcomed the decision of the parole board and a more detailed statement would be issued after consultation with Zuma’s legal team.


Jason Burke in Johannesburg

The GuardianTramp

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