Zuma likely to get ‘special treatment’ in jail, say prison and legal experts

He’ll be eligible for parole after a quarter of his sentence, which means he’ll be behind bars for just less than 150 days

Legal and correctional services experts say Jacob Zuma will undoubtedly be given 'special treatment', given his age, his high profile and any possible health issues he may have.
EVER DEFIANT Legal and correctional services experts say Jacob Zuma will undoubtedly be given 'special treatment', given his age, his high profile and any possible health issues he may have.
Image: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

One hundred and forty-four days in jail. That’s the minimum former president Jacob Zuma can serve of his 15-month sentence before being considered for release on parole.

And while conditions in SA prisons are generally considered bad, legal and correctional services experts say he will undoubtedly be given “special treatment”, given his age, his high profile and any possible health issues he may have.

Zuma has no legal options left to avoid going to prison, barring a speedy presidential pardon, says Prof Lukas Muntingh of the University of Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute.

He said correctional services had a policy to deal with high-risk and high-profile offenders to protect them.

For example, he said, the “Station Strangler” Norman Simons, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1995, was housed in a separate building in a single cell at Drakenstein Prison for his own safety from the prison population.

“My guess is they will detain him [Zuma] in a hospital cell or in a hospital section. He is not a young man anymore. He may or may not have health issues. And he has to be protected against Covid-19 infection.

“The department has a general obligation to ensure safe custody. If something were to happen to him it would be a very difficult situation to explain.”

Muntingh said because Zuma received a sentence of less than 24 months, he would be entitled to parole after serving a quarter of his sentence. That would be in October this year.

“I would think the department would want to get rid of him quickly,” he said.

Criminal advocate Paul Jorgensen described the Constitutional Court’s ruling as “bold”.

He said Zuma had no legal options now.

“The Constitutional Court has ruled and that’s it. There is nowhere to appeal. His lawyers could bring some sort of application regarding his health, but it would have to go back to the Constitutional Court and I don’t think that is realistic.”

Jorgensen said there were “prisons and prisons” in SA. Some were less overcrowded than others and prisoners were treated better.

“When determining which centre to send him to, officials would have to consider his age, the crime he has been convicted of and the fact that he is the former president who might not be safe mingling with the other inmates.

“He will definitely be treated more respectfully. And will most certainly get a bed to sleep on.”

Jorgensen said going to prison could affect his criminal case because it would impede his ability to prepare for the trial.

“While correctional services put a rosy picture on it, it is very hard to consult properly in prison.”

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