Speed Reads

From hero to 'zero'

Former South African President Jacob Zuma turns himself in to start 15-month prison term

Jacob Zuma, the South African liberation hero who served as president from 2009 to 2018, turned himself in to police early Thursday, right after a midnight deadline set by the Constitutional Court for his arrest on contempt of court charges. "President Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order," the Zuma Foundation tweeted as a convoy left Zuma's compound in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. "He is on his way to hand himself into a Correctional Services Facility."

The Constitutional Court in late June ordered Zuma to spend 15 months in prison for refusing to testify in a judicial investigation of alleged widespread corruption during his presidency. Zuma's lawyers had filed a flurry of legal challenges to keep him out of prison, and hundreds of his supporters had gathered at his home, vowing to prevent police from arresting him — though they left on Sunday, The Associated Press notes

Along with the corruption charges from his presidency, bolstered by damning testimony from former Cabinet officials and executives at state-owned companies, Zuma faces trial for separate allegations that he accepted bribes in an arms deal when he was deputy president in 1999, charges he denies but that have already sent his financial adviser to prison. Zuma also denies the corruption charges from his presidency. 

Zuma, 79, spent 10 years in jail at the Robben Island prison that also held Nelson Mandela and other opponents of apartheid, the brutal white segregationist government that ruled South Africa for much of the 20th century. When Zuma was released in 1973, he left South Africa but continued his work with the African National Congress, the ruling party since South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. Zuma was among the ANC officials who brokered the political settlement that ended apartheid.

"It is very disappointing to see a man who has done so much for the country, a liberation hero, now reduced to zero," Lesiba Teffo, lecturer in politics at the University of South Africa, tells AP. "This is a man who fought hard for the liberation of this country, but like many African leaders in our continent, he fell at the altar of money."