The Irish Times view on the jailing of Jacob Zuma

Although widely discredited, South Africa’s 79-year-old former president fights on

 A member of the South African Police Services  aims at looters amid sporadic looting and vandalism outside the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, East of Johannesburg, on Monday, July 12th, 2021. Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty

A member of the South African Police Services aims at looters amid sporadic looting and vandalism outside the Lotsoho Mall in Katlehong township, East of Johannesburg, on Monday, July 12th, 2021. Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty

 

Jacob Zuma was always going to go down fighting. And even in jail, although widely discredited, South Africa’s 79-year-old former president continues to do battle. In the courts he is challenging his contempt conviction, complaining of politically motivated persecution, while on the streets of Johannesburg and in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal his supporters have been clashing with police. Over the weekend 60 were arrested.

Zuma handed himself in to authorities last Wednesday from his Nkandla homestead to begin a 15-month sentence for defying an order of the constitutional court to give evidence at an inquiry that has heard damning evidence of high-level corruption by him and his political cronies during his nine years in power until 2018.

Rioters loot the Jabulani Mall in the Soweto district of Johannesburg on Monday, July 12th, 2021. South Africa said it was deploying troops to two provinces, including Johannesburg, after unrest sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma led to six deaths and widespread looting. Photograph: Luca Sola/AFP/Getty
Rioters loot the Jabulani Mall in the Soweto district of Johannesburg on Monday, July 12th, 2021. South Africa said it was deploying troops to two provinces, including Johannesburg, after unrest sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma led to six deaths and widespread looting. Photograph: Luca Sola/AFP/Getty

His supporters have sought to cast his imprisonment as an extension of his legacy as a freedom fighter, including a decade in jail on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela. Successfully rallying allies on the left, his persecution is also said to reflect opposition to his support for a radical economic programme which seeks to increase black wealth through measures like the seizure of white-owned land.

Rampant corruption

The belated attempts by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to curb rampant corruption – a change of approach that brought President Cyril Ramaphosa to power – have riven the party. However, it is not clear if Zuma allies, many of whom have quietly gone over to Ramaphosa, will have the strength to mount an effective challenge at next year’s national conference where a party leader will be chosen.

Twenty seven years after apartheid was overthrown, the party remains dominant electorally. But the government, which includes Zuma allies, is hugely challenged by persisting high levels of unemployment and crime, a deadly third wave of coronavirus, historic inequality, and the shoddy delivery of basic services like water and electricity. Facing up to those challenges will only be possible if the ANC continues to stand by the rule of law and to shake off the Zuma legacy.

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