NKANDLA, South Africa — Ignoring efforts to defuse a tense standoff, former South African President Jacob Zuma told hundreds of supporters gathered outside his rural estate that he is appealing the 15-month prison sentence and his impending arrest by police.
South Africa’s top court, the Constitutional Court, last week sentenced Zuma to prison for defying a court order that he should testify before a commission investigating allegations of rampant corruption when he was president from 2009 to 2018. Several witnesses, including former Cabinet ministers and top executives of state-owned corporations, have testified of Zuma’s wrongdoing, including allowing his associates, the Gupta family, to influence his Cabinet appointments and lucrative state contracts.
Zuma did not turn himself in to authorities within five days, as the court ruling had ordered, and now faces arrest by police.
Hundreds of Zuma’s supporters, including some who traveled more than 400 kilometers (250 miles), gathered outside Zuma’s sprawling Nkandla compound, in rural KwaZulu-Natal province, vowing to prevent any attempts to arrest Zuma.
Top officials of the ruling African National Congress party have gone to KwaZulu-Natal to try to reduce tensions and to encourage Zuma to comply with the court orders and avoid any violent confrontations.
Zuma’s supporters remained defiant Sunday. Clad in ANC regalia bearing Zuma’s portrait and T-shirts with the question in Zulu “Wenzeni uZuma?” (“What has Zuma done?”) They sang songs praising Zuma as a hero of the 1980s struggle against white minority rule, known as apartheid.
The supporters defied South Africa’s COVID-19 regulations, in which wearing masks is compulsory and all social and political gatherings are prohibited.
Addressing his supporters, Zuma reiterated that he is not afraid of being jailed since he had been imprisoned before, being incarcerated by the apartheid regime for 10 years on Robben Island.
“I am not afraid of going to jail. I went to prison fighting for freedom and rights and it looks like I will have to start from scratch and fight for freedom again,” said Zuma in the Zulu language.
“There is nobody who can come and take these rights away from me just because they think they understand the law. Those I fought for this freedom with would turn in their graves,” said Zuma.
Zuma has launched several court actions to avoid imprisonment. On Friday, he filed an application with the Constitutional Court to rescind his sentence, which the court will hear on July 12.
“We have written to the Constitutional Court and applied that this sentence be rescinded or reduced, and we have now been given a date to go and state our case,” said Zuma.
On Tuesday Zuma will apply for an interdict to stop the police from arresting him, his foundation has announced.
Zuma’s supporters say they want the sentence to be dropped completely.
Ngrayi Ngwenya, an ANC member from Mpumalanga province, said he had come all the way to Zuma’s home to show his support.
“We are here to support Jacob Zuma because he has done a lot for this country and he has not been treated fairly by the justice system,” said Ngwenya.
Another supporter, Sibongiseni Bhengu, said he and other supporters gathered at Zuma’s homestead to try to prevent police from arresting him.
“We want to make it clear that Zuma is not going to jail,” he said. “They will have to go through us first.”