South Africa court says Zuma should be returned to jail

Decision to release former president on medical parole deemed unconstitutional

Former head of state Jacob Zuma has been ordered back to prison by a South African court. The court ruled that a decision taken in September 2021 to release Mr Zuma on medical parole was “irrational” and “unconstitutional”.

In December last year the Gauteng high court ruled the then national commissioner of the department of correctional services, Arthur Fraser, had unlawfully granted Mr Zuma medical parole after he had served two months of a 15-month sentence for refusing to obey a court order.

Mr Zuma (80) was found to be in contempt of court after ignoring an instruction from the constitutional court to testify at an inquiry investigating public sector corruption during his nine-year presidency.

In February 2018 the country’s fourth post-apartheid leader was removed from office by the ruling African National Congress party over allegations he facilitated widespread corruption when in power.


On Monday the supreme court of appeal dismissed applications by Mr Fraser and Mr Zuma to have the high court’s judgment set aside.

“In other words, Mr Zuma, in law, has not finished serving his sentence. He must return to the Estcourt Correctional Centre [in KwaZulu-Natal province] to do so,” the court said in its judgment.

However, it stopped short of stating how long Mr Zuma must stay in jail, saying this was for the correctional services commissioner to decide.

“Whether the time spent by Mr Zuma on unlawfully granted medical parole should be taken into account in determining the remaining period of his incarceration is not a matter for this court to decide,” the court stated.

The department of correctional services responded to the development by saying it will study the ruling. Last month it released a statement saying Mr Zuma had completed his sentence while on medical parole.

There are fears that an attempt to return Mr Zuma to jail could spark violence. His imprisonment in July 2021 was followed by a week of riots and looting in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces that left at least 350 people dead and damaged hundreds of businesses and properties.

Mr Fraser had tried to use the civil unrest and Mr Zuma’s need for ongoing medical attention to justify his parole, even though the medical parole advisory board had advised he did not qualify for it.

The Democratic Alliance, one of the organisations that applied to the courts to have Mr Zuma returned to prison, welcomed Monday’s ruling. “It is crucial now that the commissioner of correctional services does the right thing. Zuma must be made to serve his sentence like any ordinary South African would be made to do,” the country’s main opposition party said.

Following the appeal court’s ruling Mr Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, defiantly tweeted: “Oksalayo [the fact of the matter] ... We Are Not Going Back!!!”.

Mr Zuma has yet to respond to the ruling.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

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