Jacob Zuma is free. In a surprising turn of events, the former South African President, who was ordered to return to prison on Friday morning, was released just two hours later. news24 reports that this swift reversal occurred due to his eligibility for a remission of sentences that President Cyril Ramaphosa announced for more than 9,000 low-risk offenders.
Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola and National Commissioner Makgothi Thobakgale made the decision public to send Zuma back to prison during a briefing. This decision followed the Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling that Zuma’s medical parole, granted in September 2021 by former national commissioner Arthur Fraser, was unlawful.
While Zuma would return to jail, President Ramaphosa concurrently unveiled the plan to release 9,488 low-risk prisoners to alleviate overcrowding in the country’s prisons. This unexpected move ultimately led to Zuma’s release.
According to Thobakgale, Zuma entered the Estcourt facility, where he had initially started his sentence. He underwent the same remission process that applied to other prisoners, resulting in his release.
Lamola clarified that the president’s decision to effect remission was due to addressing nationwide prison overcrowding. Zuma’s release was part of this larger effort, not a special exemption. He also noted that the decision’s constitutionality was grounded in Section 84(2)(J) of the Constitution.
The justice minister affirmed that Zuma, among other inmates, would benefit from being released to correctional supervision. He expressed confidence that the decision would withstand judicial scrutiny.
President Ramaphosa’s rationale for the mass release of prisoners was because of the alarming overcrowding rate in South African prisons, with occupancy reaching 143%. This situation poses significant threats to inmate health, security, and rehabilitation programs.
Zuma’s initial imprisonment in July 2021 triggered widespread unrest, causing more than 300 deaths in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The prospect of his return to prison had raised concerns about a resurgence of violence.
In June 2021, the Constitutional Court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in jail for contempt after he refused to appear before the State Capture Commission of Inquiry. The court’s ruling left it to Thobakgale to determine whether Zuma’s time on medical parole should be considered time served.
Despite this complex legal saga, Jacob Zuma’s release underscores the delicate balance between justice, political considerations, and societal stability.
Picture: Twitter / CrimeBusterKe
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