South African President Cyril Ramaphosa granted clemency to thousands of non-violent offenders, including his predecessor Jacob Zuma who was convicted of contempt of court.
(Bloomberg) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa granted clemency to thousands of non-violent offenders, including his predecessor Jacob Zuma who was convicted of contempt of court.
Zuma, 81, was readmitted to a prison in Estcourt in eastern South Africa early Friday morning, and freed after less that two hours once administrative processes had been completed, Makgothi Thobakgale, the national commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, told reporters in Pretoria, the capital.
Zuma’s incarceration in 2021 triggered the worst riots in South Africa since the end of White-minority rule, leaving 354 people dead and thousands of business destroyed. South Africa’s top court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison that year for failing to appear before a probe into allegations of corruption during his tenure, but he served less than two months behind bars before he was released on medical parole.
The cost of hedging against rand weakness dropped sharply after the decision was announced, suggesting traders are positioning for a rebound in the currency. Sentiment toward the rand has been dampened by a violent taxi strike in Cape Town this week that left five people dead, and there had been concern that Zuma’s re-imprisonment might trigger renewed unrest.
Read more: South Africa Dodges Socio-Political Risks, Rand Set for Rebound
The main opposition Democratic Alliance said the decision to release Zuma raises questions about the equality of governing African National Congress politicians and other citizens before the law, and that it is considering legal action to challenge it.
“This is a monumental insult to each and every South African,” the party said in a statement. “The precedent has been clearly set. If you are a senior ANC member, you will never be held accountable for your crimes under President Cyril Ramaphosa or any ANC government.
The initial decision to free Zuma was taken by Arthur Fraser, the then-head of the prisons department and the country’s former top spy, who claimed that he had sought to avert further upheaval and denied that his close relationship with the ex-president had played any role in the decision.
While the Supreme Court of Appeal found that Zuma’s early release was unlawful, it didn’t specify whether time he spent under house arrest should count in lieu of his sentence, leaving that for Thobakgale to determine.
An inquiry led by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo laid out a web of graft that stretched from the national power and rail utilities to Zuma and his cabinet.
Yet just a handful of arrests have been made in South Africa so far, and businessmen Atul and Rajesh Gupta who stand accused of working hand-in-glove with Zuma to steal from state coffers couldn’t be extradited from the United Arab Emirates. Zuma and the Gupta brothers have denied wrongdoing.
Zuma is due back in court next week for a separate corruption trial he’s facing that’s related to a state arms deal. He’s denied wrongdoing.
–With assistance from Robert Brand.
(Updates with market reaction in fourth paragraph, opposition comment from fifth.)
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