Parole for South Africa’s Zuma ahead of graft trial angers opposition

On a two-day state visit in France, former South African President Jacob Zuma makes a statement next to the French President Francois Hollande during a joint press conference at the Elysee Presidential Palace on July 11, 2016 in Paris, France. /Chesnot/Getty Images

South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday hailed the placement of his jailed predecessor Jacob Zuma on medical parole as opposition and other groups suspected it was a political move and demanded answers.

Just 60 days into his 15-month jail term for defying an order to answer questions before graft investigators, prison authorities announced Sunday that the 79-year-old politician was placed on medical parole.

Zuma was hospitalized a month into his incarceration, at a facility outside the prison, under the care of military medics. He remains there and his illness remains a closely guarded secret.

The decision coincided with a meeting of the ruling African National Congress’s National Executive Committee.

“We welcome this,” Ramaphosa said in a televised briefing to mark the end of the meeting. “We would like to wish him a quick recovery as he is restored back to his home to be with his loved ones.”

But the granting of parole has angered the opposition and civil society groups, which suspect it was a politically inspired move and want answers.

“It’s extremely suspicious,” John Steenhuisen, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Alliance, told AFP. “This is a political decision, not a medical decision.”

He and other opposition figures have vowed to force the prisons to publish details outlining the steps taken to reach the parole decision.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of pressure group One South Africa movement, said the action demonstrated that “if you are politically connected, the inside of the prison is not a place for you”.

But a prisons official insisted the decision was above board and based on doctors’ conclusions.

“Mr. Zuma does require a great deal of medical attention” and met the criteria for medical parole, the official said, while declining to disclose Zuma’s illness.