Jacob Zuma’s medical parole declared unlawful

Former South Africa president to be returned to prison to finish 15-month sentence

Former president Jacob Zuma’s medical parole has been declared unlawful by a South African court, which ordered he be returned to prison to finish a 15-month sentence for contempt of court.

The time Mr Zuma has spent out of prison since his release on September 5th for an undisclosed medical condition should not be counted towards the fulfilment of his sentence, the Pretoria high court also ruled on Wednesday.

“It is hereby directed that the third respondent [Zuma] be returned to the custody of the department of correctional services to serve out the remainder of his sentence,” the judgment said.

Mr Zuma (79) was released from a prison in KwaZulu-Natal province for an undisclosed medical condition by a senior correctional services official even though the medical parole advisory board had declined his application.


National commissioner of correctional services Arthur Fraser has since defended his decision to release Mr Zuma, saying he feared civil unrest would occur if the former president's health deteriorated while in prison.

However, Mr Fraser refused to hand over Mr Zuma’s medical records to the Pretoria high court while the case was being heard. He maintained he could not as they were classified.

Mr Fraser served as director-general of South Africa’s State Security Agency during Mr Zuma’s presidency between 2009 to 2018, but he has denied their relationship impacted his decision on the release.

The controversial former president was sentenced to 15 months in jail in June for being in contempt of court, after he refused to obey a constitutional court order to appear before an inquiry to answer questions about public sector corruption during his time in office.

Violent protests

Mr Zuma handed himself over to police in early July to begin his sentence after a tense public stand-off with authorities at his Nklandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal.

But a few days after his jailing, violent protests erupted in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces that led to a wave of mass looting and murders. More than 300 people died in the unrest and hundreds of businesses were destroyed.

The Democratic Alliance party, which approached the high court to have Zuma’s parole overturned, has described the ruling as a victory for ordinary citizens, saying it confirmed the law is applied equally to everyone.

"We appeal to Mr Zuma and his supporters to respect the rule of law and to accept this judgment without resorting to further violence and protest," party leader John Steenhuisen said in a statement on Wednesday.

Mr Zuma’s lawyers have sought leave to appeal the high court’s full ruling, saying there is “objective evidence” that he is terminally ill. As a result, their client is unlikely to return to prison anytime soon.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa