/ 13 July 2023

Zuma back to jail

Safrica Politics Corruption Trial
Former South African President Jacob Zuma. (Photo by Themba Hadebe / POOL / AFP)

The constitutional court on Thursday denied the commissioner of correctional services leave to appeal the appellate court ruling that former president Jacob Zuma’s release from prison on medical parole was unlawful.

The court said the application bore “no reasonable prospects of success”.

The supreme court of appeal (SCA) held in November last year that the decision by former commissioner Arthur Fraser to grant Zuma medical parole early in his 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court was in breach of the Correctional Services Act and unconstitutional.

“Mr Zuma, in law, has not finished serving his sentence,” the court said. “He must return to the Estcourt Correctional Centre to do so.”

The appellate court ruling upheld that of justice Elias Matojane in the high court in December 2021.

The SCA and the high court concurred that the remedy was for Zuma to return to prison. 

However, the appellate court differed with Matojane in that it said it should be left to the department of correctional services to determine whether the 13 months he has spent on medical parole would count towards the completion of his sentence.

Matojane had upheld an argument by the Helen Suzman Foundation that, should Zuma’s time on medical parole count towards the serving of his sentence, he would “unduly benefit from a lesser punishment than that imposed by the constitutional court” when it sentenced him to prison

Responding to the constitutional court’s decision, the department of correctional services said it “is seeking legal advice and will comment further in due course”.

Zuma was sentenced to prison by the constitutional court for defying its order to comply with a summons to testify before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

Fraser granted him parole despite advice from the Medical Parole Advisory Board that Zuma did not qualify for early release.

The SCA rejected Fraser’s argument that the recommendation of the board was not binding on him, but merely one of the factors he had to weigh up, along with the prisoner’s medical reports, in deciding whether to grant medical parole.

“The board’s recommendation holds sway,” it said.