Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.
Former South African President Jacob Zuma, charged with contempt of court, was arrested Wednesday night in what many are calling the most significant moment for the rule of law in modern South Africa.
Zuma turned himself in to authorities Wednesday after they had indicated that he would be arrested Wednesday at midnight had he not voluntarily surrendered. He was jailed on a charge of contempt of court for failing to show up to a corruption inquiry.
The story of Jacob Zuma’s charges and consequential arrest have seized national attention in South African as the former president initially refused to comply before eventually handing himself in. A monumental development for the state of its rule of law, South Africa had previously never seen a former president jailed.
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While some South Africans have stayed loyal to Zuma and even protested in the streets for his liberation, many have declared the former president’s jailing a victory for accountability and for the rule of law.
The arrest and imprisonment of Jacob Zuma signals hope that justice and the rule of law in South Africa will be applied fairly and equally. It potentially represents a victory for the strength of the South African constitution to administer justice and accountability.
South Africa’s first post-apartheid and democratically elected president Nelson Mandela once told the judges of the constitutional court, “We expect you to stand on guard not only against direct assault on the principles of the constitution but against insidious corrosion.”
Many of Jacob Zuma’s critics hold that he has done immeasurable damage to South Africa’s constitution, weakening institutions and giving little regard for its system of justice. Throughout his political career, he has been implicated in numerous scandals and controversies. He is currently facing extensive charges of corruption, racketeering, fraud, and money laundering for his misuse of power while in office.
The imprisonment of the former president indicates that perhaps South Africa’s constitution, judicial system, and institutions still stand strong despite years of corruption and corrosion. While the nation of South Africa has been through a great deal, the prioritization of the rule of law gives hope that justice will triumph.
As South African looks toward the future, there is hope of living up to its post-apartheid vision of justice and equity so long as constitutional accountability is consistently administered.
Zuma was sentenced to a 15-month prison term for defying a court order to testify about corruption allegations. He currently faces many other charges for corruption and misuse of public funds in office.