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Decades legal combat with South Africa’s Zuma

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Former South African president Jacob Zuma removes his eyeglasses as he addresses the media in his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal on July 4, 2021. – South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, ordered to surrender himself to start a 15-month jail term for contempt, said on July 4, 2021, he would not be doing so by the court-set deadline. “No need for me to go to jail today,” he told journalists at his Nkandla homestead in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where hundreds of his supporters are camped outside in solidarity. (Photo by Emmanuel Croset / AFP)


South Africa’s former President, Jacob Zuma tumultuous decades-long clashes with the judiciary system took an unprecedented turn on Thursday as he began a 15-month sentence.

Zuma becomes the country’s first democratic leader to be jailed. This follows a ruling which saw the politician, formerly nicknamed the “Teflon” leader, finally held accountable for contempt, a mild offence compared to some of massive scandals he has faced.

He was previously convicted for trying to overthrow South Africa’s apartheid government and served 10 years in Robben Island prison, alongside the revered Nelson Mandela.

But the new democracy wasn’t the end of his legal entanglements.

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Antiviral shower
In 2006, he was acquitted on charges of raping the 31-year-old HIV-positive daughter of one of his former comrades.

He shocked the world when he told the court he had showered to supposedly avoid contracting the virus after having unprotected sex with the woman.

The ignorance of the claim led to wide mockery and embarrassment for the charismatic figure, and was further highlighted after local cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro published a caricature of Zuma with a shower nozzle fixed atop his head.

Private home upgrades
Ten years later, a top court found that the then-president had acted against the constitution by using millions of dollars of state funds to renovate his private residence.

The rural Nkandla where he spent his last days as a free man this week — was refurbished in the name of “security upgrades”.

Some of the features included a chicken coop and a swimming pool, alleged to be a fire-fighting facility — coined ‘fire pool’– a cattle enclosure, and an amphitheatre.

Lawmakers who inspected the compound said the shoddy work did not match the costs.

Captured state
A 2016 report by the then anti-corruption watchdog, Thuli Madonsela found Zuma had gained personally from the improvements to his home and the constitutional court ordered him to pay back the cash. The judges accused him of failing to respect and uphold the constitution.

As the Nkandla debacle built to a climax, its place in the headlines was overtaken by a new scandal, known as Guptagate.

The scandal involved the president’s allegedly corrupt relationship with a wealthy family of Indian immigrants who built a business empire in mining, media, technology and engineering. He is accused of allowing the business family to influence senior appointments in government.

Arms deal

Another case that has followed Zuma over the decades, is a bribery scandal from 1999. Zuma’s next court appearance is on July 19.

The former head of state was accused of receiving bribes from European arms manufacturers to influence the choice of weaponry bought in the deal.

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Jacob Zuma
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