South Africa’s police say they will not make any move to arrest ex-president Jacob Zuma, who has been handed a 15-month jail term for contempt until he has fully exhausted his legal battle against the sentence, a document showed Tuesday.
Zuma has mounted a two-pronged last-ditch attempt to avoid jail after the Constitutional Court, the country’s top judicial authority, slapped him with the sentence last week.
He was told to turn himself in by midnight on Sunday, failing which police would be instructed to arrest him within the following three days.
On Friday, Zuma, 79, rushed to court seeking to halt the execution of the arrest order. His application is due to be heard on Tuesday in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
He has separately pleaded with the Constitutional Court to reconsider and rescind its jail order. That challenge will be heard on July 12
In a letter seen on Tuesday, lawyers for the police have written to Constitutional Court saying they will pause on the order to arrest Zuma given the “unique situation presented by the developments and the legal matrix involved.”
“Out of respect (for) the unfolding litigation processes, (the police will) hold further actions they are expected to take in terms of the honourable court’s orders in abeyance, pending the finalisation of the litigation,” the letter says.
Zuma was ordered to be jailed for disobeying a court order to appear before a commission probing massive state corruption under his nine-year tenure.
In a show of solidarity, hundreds of maskless supporters have descended on his rural home in Nkandla, in southeastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province, in blatant violation of Covid-19 restrictions that have banned gatherings.
On Sunday Zuma defiantly declared he was prepared to go to prison, even though “sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sentencing me to death.”
A former fighter against white-minority government in South Africa who spent 10 years in prison Robben Island, Zuma comparing the country’s’ judiciary to “apartheid-type rule”.
“I am facing a long detention without trial,” he said.
The Zuma case has fuelled tensions within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), where the former president still commands much support among the grassroots.
The ANC on Monday condemned the crowds gathering in Nkandla but said it understood why Zuma was exploring every possible channel.
“No one wants to go to jail… I think that (ex-) president Zuma is exploring every legal avenue that is available to reduce or to remove the custodial sentence that has been put on him,” said its deputy secretary-general, Jesse Duarte.
“In the view of the ANC, we respect the rule of law, we believe that the judiciary must be left to make its own decisions,” she told reporters following a special meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee on Monday.
“We would hope that comrade Zuma’s court application will be successful,” she added.