Hike sentence

End of prison sentence for former South African leader Zuma

Former South African President Jacob Zuma (Photo: AFP)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, (AFP) – Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s prison sentence officially ended on Friday, with the corrections service saying he had been released from their system after serving only part of his sentence behind bars.

The former head of state was jailed for 15 months for contempt of court in July last year after refusing to give evidence to a corruption inquiry – but was released on medical parole two months later.

“It’s a day of mixed emotions,” Zuma said in a statement Friday, thanking his supporters for speaking out against what he called “unjust and cruel incarceration.”

“I’m relieved to be free to walk around again and do whatever I want without restrictions.”

He compared his release to the day in 1973 when he was released from Cape Town’s infamous Robben Island prison, where he had been imprisoned as a political prisoner during the apartheid era with Nelson Mandela.

The 80-year-old was granted parole after being hospitalized with an undisclosed condition.

A court then sent him back to prison, but he managed to stay out as the appeals process dragged on.

“All administrative processes have now been completed and the sentence expiration date marks the end of his sentence,” the Department of Corrections said in a statement.

Zuma’s imprisonment last year sparked riots that turned into looting and left more than 350 people dead in the worst violence to hit the country since the advent of democracy in South Africa.

Last month he announced he was ready to make a political comeback at the ruling party’s internal conference, the African National Congress (ANC), in December, where the first seats will be hotly contested.

Zuma is a divisive figure whose name resonates with corruption for most South Africans, but remains a hero for many rank-and-file members of the ANC.

He still faces separate corruption charges over an arms deal that dates back more than two decades.