JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s police minister was yesterday awaiting court instructions on whether to arrest ex-president Jacob Zuma, who has been given a 15-month jail term for contempt of court. 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 today. “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 yesterday.
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 fueled 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 colors, 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’.
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.”
Interpol ‘red notice’
Meanwhile, South African prosecutors yesterday announced a key step in their bid to extradite Indian-born brothers who were allegedly at the center of a massive web of corruption. The three Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – are at the center of a long-running probe into the embezzlement of state assets under Zuma.
In a statement, the prosecution authority’s chief investigator, Hermione Cronje, said Interpol had issued a “red notice” against two of the brothers, Atul and Rajesh. Red notices are a global alert enabling law enforcers to arrest a person sought for prosecution or serving a sentence and detain them pending extradition.
The three brothers are at the center of a 2016 graft report by South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog, which claims they paid bribes in exchange for massive state contracts and influence ministerial appointments. They fled South Africa shortly after a judicial commission started in 2018 and are suspected to be in the United Arab Emirates. Last month South Africa said it was close to finalizing an extradition treaty with the UAE.
The third brother, Ajay, who is not named in the red notice, is part of a separate case, Cronje’s office said. His siblings Atul and Rajesh Gupta are being sought in connection with a 25-million-rand ($1.76 million) contract paid to a Gupta-linked company, Nulane Investments, to conduct an agricultural feasibility study, it said.
The red notice also applies to Atul Gupta’s wife, Chetali. In 2019, the US Treasury slapped sanctions on the Guptas, effectively freezing their assets under US jurisdiction, and forbade Americans – particularly international banks with any US operations – from transactions with them. – AFP