Former president Jacob Zuma. (Michele Spatari / AFP)
Former president Jacob Zuma’s foundation confirmed on Friday that he is in Russia, a day after a constitutional court decision made clear that he must return to prison.
The spokesman for the foundation said he travelled there last week for medical reasons, adding: “He will be returning to the country once his doctors have completed their treatment.”
The foundation had on Thursday declined to disclose Zuma’s whereabouts “for security reasons”.
This was after the constitutional court denied the commissioner of correctional services leave to appeal the appellate court ruling that Zuma’s release from prison on medical parole, some two months into a 15-month sentence, 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 correctional services 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.
But 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.
It therefore gave the commissioner leeway to decide that Zuma need not spend another day in prison. But this discretion is subject to the provisions of the relevant law.
The court said: “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 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.”
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.
The department was on Friday still considering its options.
Zuma was sentenced to prison by the constitutional court in early 2021 for defying its order to comply with a summons to testify before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.