/ 6 August 2023

Announcement on Zuma’s possible return to jail will be made this week

Jacob Zuma 22 (1)
Former president Jacob Zuma. File photo

The department of correctional services said on Friday it will within the next week announce its decision as to whether former president Jacob Zuma needs to serve any remaining time of his prison sentence for contempt of court.

“The department of correctional services is able to confirm that it has received representations from relevant parties on the incarceration term for the former president, Mr Jacob Zuma,” it said.

Correctional services commissioner Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale will now consider the input, legal framework and the implications of the supreme court of appeal ruling in November that Zuma’s release on medical parole was unlawful and that he must return to prison.

“Commissioner Thobakgale is to make his decision on or before 10 August 2023 and it will be communicated publicly,” the department said.

The constitutional court three weeks ago denied the department leave to appeal the appellate court’s confirmation of high court ruling that former prisons commissioner Arthur Fraser broke the law in authorising his release two months into a 15-month sentence. Fraser overruled the medical parole board which said Zuma did not qualify for release because he was not terminally ill.

But unlike the high court, which held that he must serve the remainder of the sentence, the supreme court of appeal left the remedy to the discretion of the current commissioner.

“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,” it said.

“It is a matter to be considered by the commissioner. If he is empowered by law to do so, the commissioner might take that period into account in determining any application or grounds for release.”

If this is permitted by law, Zuma could be asked to return to prison purely for the completion of administrative processes necessary to formalise his release. 

The department has obtained three legal opinions on whether the Correctional Services Act does allow the commissioner to take into account time spent on medical parole, though it was not lawfully granted.

Although it has yet to resolve the dilemma, its reluctance to recommit Zuma to prison is apparent in the fact that it sought to take the appellate court ruling on appeal to the constitutional court. 

It asked for submissions from the Democratic Alliance and the Helen Suzman Foundation, which went to court to challenge Fraser’s decision, and from Zuma last week. He has spent the past weeks in Russia for medical treatment, according to his spokesperson.