Officers at Nkandla police station, where former president Jacob Zuma was to hand himself over, said they had dreaded the possibility of arresting their prominent resident.
FORMER president Jaco Zuma, who was expected to report to Westville prison on Sunday to begin serving his sentence, has been thrown a lifeline … for now.
The postponement of Zuma’s incarceration may have averted a bloodbath as thousands of his supporters, some armed with machine guns and knobkieries, created a wall around his Nkandla homestead and vowed to prevent his arrest.
Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison by the Constitutional Court earlier this week. He was found guilty of being in contempt of court when he failed to appear before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
In a last-minute attempt on Friday, Zuma’s lawyers filed an appeal which was granted on Saturday.
In his appeal application, Zuma outlined the reasons why he should not be jailed. Among them was that, given his age of 79, he was ill and at high risk of getting the coronavirus.
According to his affidavit, he also said that he was broke.
On Saturday, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear Zuma’s side in mitigation of why he should not be sent to jail.
The secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector, including Organs of State, who brought the application against Zuma, will have to file their answering affidavit by Tuesday. The case is set to be heard next week Monday, July 12.
A source close to the commission of inquiry said that legal heads were already preparing the paperwork to oppose the matter.
He said that contrary to popular belief, “the matter was not as clear cut, and there was no victory yet, but that it would all play out in court from Monday.
Anton van Dalsen, legal counsellor for the Helen Suzman Foundation, which is also a respondent in the case against Zuma, said they were aware of the application and were considering their position.
Officers at Nkandla police station, where Zuma was to hand himself over, were meanwhile also relieved. They said they had dreaded the possibility of arresting their prominent resident.
A high-ranking police officer, who spoke to Independent Media on the condition of anonymity, said they were hoping it won’t get to the point where they get instructed to act against Zuma.
“Given the prominence of the former president and his support, it will be a mammoth task to execute any task against him. We enjoy a good relationship with the former president as his security is provided by our members. So, we would not like to be in a situation where we will have to act against him,” said the police officer.
He said they had not received any instructions from the commissioner despite monitoring the situation outside Zuma’s home, where his supporters have gathered throughout the week.
“We are familiar with the president’s home. We do routine patrolling. Should he hand himself over, we will hand him over to the correctional service,“ he added.
If Zuma ends up going to prison, he will serve his sentence at Durban’s Westville prison.
In response to the state of readiness to receive Zuma, Singabakho Nxumalo, spokesperson for the Department Correctional Services, said the system was clear in terms of how an inmate is to be admitted, assessed and classified.
“It does not matter who is to be brought to us, the system must treat them the same and ensure all regulations are followed,” he said.
While Zuma was in long “consultations” for the better part of the day on Saturday, his support gained momentum outside his home.
Shortly after the court’s decision, at around 3pm, the former president came out of his home to greet his hundreds of supporters made up of Amabutho (Zulu regiments) and Umkhonto we Sizwe military veterans (MKMVA), who have been converging in Nkandla since Friday. He walked through the crowd in an open space where a mobile stage had been erected.
He waved to the cheerful crowd but did not speak to anyone. He was escorted back to his compound, where he had a day-long consultation with KZN ANC leaders, including Premier Sihle Zikalala. Suspended secretary-general Ace Magashule arrived in the afternoon.
The premises around Zuma’s homestead was a hive of activities, with singing, ululating and parading.
A series of motorcades were the order of the day, carrying ANC members coming as far as Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
Hawkers, including ANC regalia merchandisers and fast food stalls, made the most of the opportunity to sell their products to the supporters.
The MKMVA strictly controlled the entrance to Zuma’s home, screening every vehicle entering the property.
Although police could be seen patrolling, there was no enforcement of the lockdown regulations.
Zuma’s close neighbour, who spoke highly of him because of his generosity towards his neighbours, said police should “leave him alone”.
Marriam Khumalo, who referred to Zuma as her brother-in-law as she shared the same surname with Zuma’s first wife, said Zuma was a retired man and not to be bothered.
“What do they want from him? He gave up his position as the president. How are we going to survive without him? He has been assisting us with a lot of things. They must leave him alone,” she said.
Bhekithemba Mdlalose, who shares a long relationship with Zuma’s family, vowed that Zuma would not set a foot in prison.
“My family has had close ties with the Zuma family since they arrived in this area. They are generous people who always help people here. I will defend him until his last day,” said Mdlalose.
Zuma’s eldest son, Edward, briefly addressed the crowd, maintaining his stance that his father will never go to prison.
Zuma’s foundation said he would address his supporters at 6pm on Sunday.
– Additional reporting by Lethu Nxumalo and Mervyn Naidoo.