Jacob Zuma: Deadline looms for South African police to arrest former president
An unprecedented legal drama is gripping South Africa, as former President Jacob Zuma urges the courts to block a midnight deadline for police to arrest him.
Mr Zuma, 79, was forced to resign in 2018 after nine years in power.
Last week South Africa’s Constitutional Court sentenced him to a 15-month jail term for contempt of court, after he failed to attend a corruption inquiry.
It’s unclear whether police will stand by the Wednesday deadline.
In theory, the veteran leader should be in the hands of prison authorities by midnight local time (22:00 GMT), having already refused to hand himself in on Sunday.
But on Tuesday his lawyers approached the High Court in Pietermaritzburg to halt the arrest, and the judgement isn’t due until 11:30 local time on Friday.
Before the hearing on Tuesday, lawyers for the police told the Constitutional Court they would pause the arrest order given the “unique situation presented by the developments and the legal matrix involved”.
That could see them wait to detain Mr Zuma until his legal options have run out.
However, others are emphasising that the arrest warrant still stands.
Police Minister Bheki Cele told South African news website News24 he believed the police were being thrown under the bus by South Africa’s courts, and that they had “muddied” a “very clear” judgement by allowing Mr Zuma’s legal bids to continue. Appeals to Constitutional Court judgements are not normally allowed.
Asked if he himself could be in trouble if he failed to carry out the arrest warrant, the minister replied: “I’m not prepared to be charged for contempt of court.”
His spokesman added on Wednesday: “If we don’t hear anything from the Constitutional Court – which we haven’t heard so far – we have until midnight tonight to execute the order.”