Former South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday lambasted judges who sentenced him to 15 months in prison this week for running away from a corruption probe, comparing them to leaders of the white minority in the apartheid he fought.
Zuma spoke at his home in Nkandla, where hundreds of his supporters, some of them armed, gathered to prevent his arrest.
“The fact that I have been blasted with a punitive prison sentence without a trial should come as a shock to anyone who believes in freedom and the rule of law,” Zuma told reporters. “South Africa is rapidly returning to the apartheid regime.”
The Constitutional Court on Tuesday convicted Zuma of contempt of court for failing to appear at a hearing in February of the inquest led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
On Saturday, he agreed to hear his challenge to the prison sentence, suspending it until the end of a hearing on July 12.
The conviction was seen as a sign of the downfall of Zuma, once revered as a veteran of the fight against the white minority regime, since he embarked on a presidency plagued by multiple corruption scandals and corruption between 2009 and 2018.
Earlier Sunday, gunshots rang out through Nkandla, as some of his supporters fired their guns into the air, while others danced with spears and cowhide shields – the traditional weapons of the Zulu nation of Zuma.
“I fought and went to jail, so there must be justice and the rule of law. No honest person can accuse me of being against the rule of law,” Zuma told reporters.
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The former president’s legal woes have divided the ruling African National Congress between his camp and that of his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma bowed to pressure to resign and cede to Ramaphosa in 2018. He has since been investigated for corruption allegations dating back to and before his tenure as president.
The Zondo Commission is investigating allegations that he authorized three Indian-born businessmen, Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta, to plunder state resources and influence government policy. He and the Gupta brothers, who fled to Dubai after Zuma’s ouster, deny any wrongdoing.
Zuma also faces a separate legal case involving a $ 2 billion arms deal in 1999 while he was vice president. He denies the charges.
On Sunday, the former president reiterated his opinion that he is the victim of a political witch hunt and that Zondo is biased. He said Zondo had treated him “unfairly and with partiality,” Zuma said.
The 79-year-old has asked the court to quash the sentence on the grounds that it is excessive and could expose him to Covid-19, which “would put him at the highest risk of death”.
He said at a press conference on Sunday that he had not been vaccinated.