By Tim Cocks
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s ex-leader Jacob Zuma on Friday asked the country’s top court to annul his 15-month jail sentence for failing to appear at a corruption inquiry, saying it was excessive, unjust and might kill him if he catches COVID-19 in prison.
The constitutional court sentenced Zuma to 15 months in jail on Tuesday for failing to appear at the corruption inquiry led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in February.
He was given five days to appear before police, but it was unclear whether he will go willingly. His supporters have gathered in his home town of Nkandla to resist his arrest.
In an affidavit submitted on Friday, Zuma said going to jail would put him at great risk.
“I am a 79-year-old man who suffers from a medical condition that constant and intense therapy,” he said, not elaborating.
“My state of health (is among) many reasons I should not be imprisoned … in the context of the a deadly pandemic (in) which people in my circumstances are … at the highest risk of death,” he said.
Since being ousted by his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2018, Zuma has faced several legal manoeuvres aimed at bringing him to justice on allegations of grand corruption during and before his time as president.
These include Zondo’s inquiry and a separate court case relating to a $2 billion arms deal in 1999, when Zuma was deputy president.
Zuma also called the sentence a “political statement of exemplary punishment”. He has maintained all along that he is the victim of a political witch hunt, and that Zondo is biased against him.
The Zondo Commission is examining allegations of high-level graft involving three Indian-born businessmen, the brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta, during Zuma’s period in power from 2009 to 2018. Allegations against Zuma include that he allowed the Gupta brothers to plunder state resources and influence policy. He and all three Gupta brothers have denied any wrongdoing.
“The constitutional court must reconsider its orders that completely strip me of so many of my guaranteed constitutional rights,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by David Gregorio)