Ex-South African leader was allowed to wear civilian clothes and leave prison for one day
Former South African president Jacob Zuma was allowed to attend his younger brother’s funeral on Thursday after his application for compassionate leave for one day was accepted, prison authorities said.
Mr Zuma, 79, was allowed to wear a civilian outfit and mourn his brother, Michael, who died last week after battling an undisclosed disease for more than seven years. Michael will be buried in his home in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
According to reports, mourners stopped at the former president’s home before members of the Umkhonto weSizwe local military veterans association, who have been guarding Mr Zuma’s home since March, directed them to Michael’s house.
Mr Zuma is currently serving a 15-months prison sentence for failing to appear in front of a commission investigating corruption allegations during his term in office from 2009 to 2018. He defied the constitutional court’s order to testify before the commission. Mr Zuma later appealed to the Constitutional Court to rescind his sentence for contempt of court, arguing that errors were made in his conviction and sentencing. The court has not yet said when it will rule on Zuma’s application.
In the end, he decided to hand himself over to the authorities on 7th July to serve the jail sentence and has been incarcerated at Estcourt prison since. The prison is close to his rural home at Nkandla in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where funeral proceedings were expected to be held.
But soon after it emerged that Mr Zuma was in police custody, mass protests broke out, which quickly escalated to violent riots and looting sprees across Kwa-Zulu Natal province and the country’s economic heartland province of Gauteng.
The unrest killed 276 people and destroyed hundreds of businesses. Police are conducting murder investigations into 168 of the deaths, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, acting minister in the presidency, has announced. Although many people were trampled in stampedes at shopping malls when shops were looted, the police suspect that shootings and other intentional acts may have caused several deaths.
Many observers noted the massive influence the former president still enjoyed in the street in the wake of the angry reaction to his imprisonment. Mr Zuma himself is still considered by the authorities to be a “low-risk” prisoner, despite the devastating violence that came after protests by his supporters.
“As a short-term, low-risk classified inmate, Mr Zuma’s application for compassionate leave was processed and approved,” the department of correctional services said in a statement.
Eyewitnesses said on Thursday that around 10 am local time, Mr Zuma’s presidential security detail drove him to his brother’s home, where security measures were stepped up. Checkpoints were also seen hundreds of metres from the location of the funeral proceedings.