Former president Jacob Zuma turned himself into prison early Thursday to begin serving a 15-month sentence for contempt of the country’s highest court, officials said.
Prison authorities confirmed that Zuma “has been admitted to start serving a 15 months sentence at Estcourt Correctional Centre” in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
It is the first time a former president has been jailed in post-apartheid South Africa.
His turning himself in after days of refusing to do so brought an end to an impasse that had gripped the country, which is also battling a brutal third wave of Covid-19.
The sentence handed to Zuma by the Constitutional Court last week for snubbing anti-graft investigators also set a benchmark for the continent, by jailing a former head of state for refusing to respond to a corruption probe.
Police had earlier on Wednesday warned they were prepared to arrest Zuma by a midnight deadline to enforce the ruling, unless the top court instructed otherwise.
But in the end the former leader decided to make his own way to prison.
Just minutes before the deadline expired, his foundation tweeted that Zuma had “decided to comply with the incarceration order” and hand himself to a correctional facility.
A convoy of cars believed to be carrying Zuma drove out of his homestead at high speed about 40 minutes before the cut-off time.
Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla tweeted that he was “still in high spirits” and that “he said that he hopes they still have his same overalls from Robben Island… We salute dad!”
Zuma had mounted a last-ditch legal defence and refused to turn himself in.
He had pleaded with the court for an 11th-hour reprieve, requesting that it suspend its arrest orders until all legal processes were finalised — under the ruling, police were given three days to arrest him if he failed to surrender.
Zuma’s first application to halt his arrest was heard on Tuesday but the judgement was reserved until Friday.
Separately, he has pleaded with the Constitutional Court to reconsider and rescind its jail order.
That challenge will be heard next Monday.
Zuma, 79, was forced out of office in 2018 and replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa after a nine-year tenure stained by corruption scandals and the taint of cronyism.
Critics nicknamed him the “Teflon president” for his perceived ability to sidestep justice.
But his fortunes changed on June 29 when the court issued its damning judgement against him for contempt.