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Jailed former South Africa president could be out on parole in 4 months, says justice minister

South Africa's ex-president Jacob Zuma, whose decision to turn himself in to start a 15-month jail term was seen a victory for the post-Apartheid state's efforts to enforce the rule of law, could be out in four months, the justice minister said on Thursday.

Jacob Zuma faces 15-month term for refusing to give evidence at corruption inquiry

Former South African president Jacob Zuma sits in the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on May 26 at the start of his corruption trial. (Phill Magakoe/Pool Photo via AP)

South Africa's ex-president Jacob Zuma, whose decision to turn himself in to start a 15-month jail term was seen a victory for the post-Apartheid state's efforts to enforce the rule of law, could be out in four months, the justice minister said on Thursday.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told journalists outside Estcourt Correctional Centre, where Zuma was being held, that the former leader would be eligible for parole.

Zuma stunned his compatriots late on Wednesday by handing himself in to police, after initially indicating he regarded the sentence as biased and illegitimate.

The constitutional court ordered Zuma jailed last week for refusing to give evidence at an inquiry into corruption covering his period in power from 2009 to 2018.

It marked a fall from grace for one of the leading lights of the African National Congress (ANC), who was jailed by South Africa's white minority rulers for his efforts to establish a state that would treat all citizens fairly.

The Estcourt Correctional Centre, where Zuma began serving his 15-month sentence, is seen on Thursday. (AFP via Getty Images)

Zuma's alleged tendency to flout the law however alarmed many former comrades and initiated the inquiries against him.

"This is not a moment of celebration or triumphalism, it is a moment of restraint and to be human," Lamola said, promising to treat Zuma like any other inmate.

The allegations against Zuma have divided the ANC, which includes a powerful pro-Zuma camp. Over the weekend, hundreds of supporters, some with guns and spears, threatened to fight to prevent his arrest.

'Long and fraught journey'

Experts said Zuma's legal options were running out.

He has already asking the court to cancel his sentence, saying he has been unfairly treated and might succumb to COVID-19 in jail.

"There are no grounds for such an application," Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, told Reuters.

Zuma supporters are seen in Nkandla, KwaZulu Natal Province, on Saturday. (Shiraaz Mohamed/The Associated Press)

Zuma's efforts would only work "if there was an obvious error of fact in the judgment, which is not the case, [or] the applicant did not participate through no fault of their own, and in this case Mr. Zuma deliberately opted not to," Naidoo said.

Lamola said strict COVID-19 protocols will be followed in jail.

The court will hear his application on Monday.

Zuma, 79, denies widespread corruption and has maintained he was the victim of a political witch-hunt.

The inquiry commission is examining allegations that he allowed three Indian-born businessmen, Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta, to plunder state resources and peddle influence over government policy. He and the Gupta brothers, who have fled to Dubai, deny wrongdoing.

Zuma also faces another case relating to a $2 billion US arms deal in 1999 when he was deputy president. He denies the charges.

"It is tempting to regard Mr. Zuma's arrest as the end of the road. But this is merely another phase in what we believe will be a long and fraught journey," the Nelson Mandela Foundation said.

"It is vital that Mr. Zuma and his supporters be held accountable every step of the way," it added.

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