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Faith Nyasuguta

South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma, who has officially finished serving a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court, must return to jail after his conditional release last year on health grounds was contrary to the law, an appeal court has ruled.

The former head of state, 80 years old, was convicted in June 2021 for stubbornly refusing to testify before a commission investigating graft under his presidency (2009-2018).

His imprisonment the following month sparked an unprecedented wave of violence and looting, in a tense socio-economic context, leaving 350 dead. Weeks later, he was released for health reasons and placed under judicial supervision.

The Supreme Court of Appeal “considers that Mr Zuma’s conditional release on medical grounds was contrary to the law“, in a decision of which AFP obtained a copy.

The prison service boss had granted parole against the advice of the institution’s medical committee. The medical experts had considered that Zuma “does not meet the required conditions”.

Zuma’s state of health remains largely opaque. According to multiple medical reports cited in the court of appeal’s decision, he suffers from blood pressure problems, high blood sugar levels and severe colon damage.

Jacob Zuma /The Citizen/

The appeal court noted that the head of the prison service was not justified in going against the opinion of the medical panel. As a result, “Mr Zuma, by law, has not finished serving his sentence. He must return to the Escourt Correctional Centre” (KwaZulu-Natal, south-east).

The decision follows an announcement by prison authorities last month that Zuma, who has appeared in public several times, dancing and singing to his supporters, would be finishing his sentence.

Despite a string of scandals, he is still seen as current president Cyril Ramaphosa’s biggest political rival. With less than a month to go before the conference of the ruling ANC party, a crucial event for Mr Ramaphosa’s future as head of the country, Jacob Zuma has repeatedly tried to destabilise him by questioning his probity.

The ANC is set to meet on December 16 to decide whether or not to invest Ramaphosa for a second term in 2024. Elected on a promise to stamp out corruption, he has been hampered by a scandal surrounding mysterious bundles of cash discovered during a break-in at one of his properties.

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Faith Nyasuguta

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