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Suspense as South African police await new orders on Zuma’s arrest

South Africa’s police minister on Monday was awaiting court instructions on whether to arrest ex-president Jacob Zuma, who has been given a 15-month jail term for contempt of court.

Zuma lashed the jail sentence yesterday as he addressed supporters who are camped outside his home
Zuma lashed the jail sentence yesterday as he addressed supporters who are camped outside his home

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 execution of the arrest order. The application will be heard in a high court on Tuesday.

“We hope that we will be getting the clarification, because when we were given the instruction there were no other legal activities taking place,” Police Minister Bheki Cele told reporters on Monday.

In responding documents, the investigators slammed Zuma’s latest attempt to evade jail as “a continuation of a pattern of abuse by of the court process”.

“Courts should not entertain such abuse any longer,” it said.

Zuma, 79, has also pleaded with the Constitutional Court order to reconsider and rescind its decision to jail him. That challenge will be heard on July 12.

Despite a raging coronavirus pandemic with new daily infections peaking at record highs of 26,000 at the weekend, Zuma’s case has pre-occupied the continent’s worst-hit country.

Crowds of supporters have rallied outside Zuma’s rural home in recent days, defying all Covid-19 restrictions imposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to curb the spread being fuelled by the highly-contagious Delta variant.

All gatherings are banned except for funerals, but hundreds supporters in ruling African National Congress (ANC) party regalia and traditional Zulu warriors converged outside Zuma’s Nkandla home in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Without a mask and wearing a black shirt embroidered with ANC colours, Zuma addressed scores of mask-less chanting supporters before breaking into his signature liberation struggle rendition Awlethu Mshini Wam, which translates to ‘bring me my machine gun’.

– ‘Treasonous’ –

Police did not disperse the crowds at Nkandla and the minister said they understood that around 100 of the supporters had firearm and acted circumspectly to avoid “bloodshed” or another Marikana scenario.

He was making reference to the incident in 2012 where police brutally broke up a wildcat labour strike leading to the loss of 34 lives — the worst massacre since the end of apartheid in 1994.

A Zulu elder and opposition politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi, 92, lambasted the crowds congregating in support of Zuma in the midst of a pandemic as “the greatest irresponsibility of all” adding that 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.

Speaking from Nkandla on Sunday night, Zuma vowed he would not hand himself to the police by the set deadline because of the pending court applications.

There is “no need for me to go to jail today,” he told reporters giggling. “They cannot accept papers and expect me to go to jail,” he said, referring to his legal challenge of the sentence and arrest order.

The defiant politician has repeatedly attacked the judiciary and did not hold back from lashing out again.

“I’m very concerned that South Africa is fast sliding back to apartheid-type rule,” he said.

“I am facing a long detention without trial,” he added. “Sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sentencing me to death.”

Zuma’s 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 Ramaphosa.

Despite his notoriety, he 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 with anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

The party’s national executive committee which postponed its scheduled meeting his weekend, was expected to hold special talks on Monday with Zuma’s run-in with the law on the agenda. AFP