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Former president of South Africa Jacob Zuma hands himself in to police

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Former president Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses the press at his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal Natal Province, Sunday, July 4, 2021.
Former president Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses the press at his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal Natal Province, Sunday, July 4, 2021.   -   Copyright  Shiraaz Mohamed/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma turned himself over to police to begin serving a 15-month prison term.

Just minutes before the midnight deadline for police to arrest him, Zuma left his Nkandla home in a convoy of vehicles.

Zuma handed himself over to authorities to obey the country's highest court, the Constitutional Court, that he should serve a prison term for contempt.

Earlier on Wednesday he made a last-ditch attempt to avoid prison by asking the country’s acting chief justice to delay the order for his arrest.

Zuma’s lawyers asked the acting chief justice to issue directives stopping the police from arresting him, claiming there would be a “prejudice to his life.”

“President Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order. He is on his way to hand himself into a Correctional Services Facility in KZN (KwaZulu-Natal province)," said a tweet posted by the Zuma Foundation.

Soon after South Africa's police confirmed that Zuma was in their custody.

Zuma's imprisonment comes after a week of rising tensions over his sentence.

Zuma, 79, was ordered to prison for contempt because he defied a court order for him to testify before a judicial commission investigating widespread allegations of corruption during his time as the country’s president, from 2009 to 2018.

The Constitutional Court ordered that if Zuma did not voluntarily hand himself over to the police then the police should arrest the country's former president by the end of the day Wednesday.

Zuma had also launched two court proceedings to avoid arrest after his sentence last week.

He applied to the Constitutional Court to rescind his sentence and that application will be heard on July 12.

On Tuesday, his lawyers were in the Pietermaritzburg High Court seeking to stop the minister of police from arresting him until the Constitutional Court rules on his application. The regional court will rule on that application on Friday.

Political tensions have risen in KwaZulu-Natal province as a result of Zuma’s conviction, sentence and pending arrest. Hundreds of his supporters gathered at his home over the weekend and vowed to prevent his arrest, but they left on Sunday.

An increased police presence in Nkandla village near Zuma's home was visible on Wednesday. Police vehicles patrolled the streets around his home and monitored the entrance to the village.

Corruption allegations

Zuma has been accused of numerous instances of corruption, with former cabinet ministers and government officials among the witnesses who have implicated.

Several have testified that while president Zuma allowed members of the controversial Gupta family to influence his appointment of Cabinet ministers and lucrative contracts at state-owned companies.

He is also standing trial on charges related to bribes he allegedly received during an arms procurement deal in 1999.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

This is the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president has been sentenced to prison.