South Africa’s ex-President Jacob Zuma won’t return to prison due to overcrowding

South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma has been spared from returning to prison, with officials saying this to ease overcrowding.

Zuma, who was sentenced to 15 months for contempt of court, surrendered himself to the authorities on Friday.

He had previously been freed on medical parole – in a move ruled illegal by the courts.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said he had been given remission to address overcrowding in prisons.

The process aims to alleviate strain on the system by releasing low-risk offenders.

South Africa’s Commissioner of Prisons Makgothi Thobakgale said Zuma had reported to the Estcourt Correctional Facility in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal on Friday morning and was “admitted” into the system, before being released an hour later.

The remission status was approved by President Cyril Ramaphosa to more than 9,000 low-risk prisoners.

He says that this “remission process” started in April.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has said it will legally challenge the remission granted to the former president. While the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in KwaZulu-Natal has welcomed the decision and said it is in the best interest of the country.

More broadly the reaction has also been mixed. Some South Africans say the government should focus on pressing issues such as frequent power outages, high crime rates, poverty and youth unemployment, while others say Zuma should go back to jail to serve the rest of his term.

Zuma’s jailing in 2021 sparked protests and riots that left more than 350 people dead.

He was sentenced after refusing to testify before a panel probing financial sleaze and cronyism under his presidency.

He was however freed on medical parole just two months into his term.

An appeals court last November found the release was illegally granted and ordered Zuma back to prison to finish his sentence. Last month, the constitutional court rejected an attempt to overturn this decision.

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