Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has insisted that former president Jacob Zuma will not receive special treatment while incarcerated at the Estcourt correctional centre in KwaZulu-Natal Midlands for at least part of his 15-month jail term.
“The incarceration of the former president is administered under the Correctional Service Act, without any favouritism. We are guided by the act. He will be treated like any other offender,” Lamola told a media briefing on Thursday.
Zuma was arrested in the early hours of Thursday morning, and handed over to the correctional facility in Estcourt.
Last week, the 79-year old former president was found in contempt of a Constitutional Court order, which summoned him to appear before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture earlier this year. Constitutional Court Justice Sisi Khampepe sentenced him to 15 months’ imprisonment.
After Zuma failed to hand himself over to the police by a Sunday deadline, the minister and national commissioner of police had until midnight on Wednesday to arrest him, as per the apex court order.
On Thursday, Zuma began serving the first day of his sentence at Estcourt, where he will be housed in a hospital section of the 512-inmate-capacity facility and will undergo 14 days of isolation, in line with Covid-19 regulations.
“The former president is not getting any preferential treatment: he will be treated like any other inmate,” Lamola said. “All security arrangements of the president will be taken care of by correctional services. There won’t be any bodyguards or special security designated for the president.”
The minister stressed that this was not a moment to celebrate or for triumphalism, but one that called for restraint and humanity. Lamola also assured South Africans that the former president would be treated with dignity during his incarceration.
“The situation is that there is a ruling of the Constitutional Court, and we all have to respect the ruling. Any criticism of this judgement should be factual and also aimed to construct. It must be fair and based on the law,” he said.
Lamola told the media outside the correctional centre that he had seen the former president, who appeared to be in good spirits.
“I can confirm his stay has been administered and processed in this facility. I told him that, I will tell the nation he is in a good space and safe. He will be assessed by our medical team to determine the conditions of his incarceration. I hope the South African Military Health Services will continue to deal with his health issues, to ensure that they are attended to in the manner they deserve,” he said.
Lamola said authorities would now await the Pietermaritzburg high court ruling on Friday on Zuma’s application to stay the Constitutional Court order for his arrest.
“We don’t know what the judgment will be, we will cross that bridge when we get there. We are going to observe and obey and be guided by what the court says,” said Lamola.
He also clarified why Zuma was at Estcourt and not Durban Westville prison as many people had earlier expected.
“The warrant of committal was not for Durban Westville prison. It does not state that he must be incarcerated in Westville. He had a choice to either go to a facility in Johannesburg or here in KZN,” said Lamola.
In terms of section 73 of the Correctional Services Act, the commissioner decides where they believe an offender will be best placed, Lamola said, adding that the Estcourt facility made sense because it was near Zuma’s Nkandla home.