Former South African President Jacob Zuma needs urgent medical attention and might seek medical help outside the country as soon as he is released from jail.
Zuma was taken to the hospital on Friday for “medical observation” and was expected to spend the weekend there.
The former head of state is currently incarcerated at the Estcourt Correctional Centre where he is serving 15 months for contempt of court after he failed to appear before the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.
Zuma had objected to testifying before then Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is now the Acting Chief Justice, citing the commission chairperson’s bias against him. Zondo ruled against his recusal and referred the matter to the Constitutional Court.
As things stand now, Zuma is expected to spend about three months and 22 days behind bars before he can be eligible for parole.
The Sunday Independent reported that Zuma was meant to fly to Cuba for medical help after the Easter weekend, but he pulled out of the trip at the eleventh hour because he didn’t want his detractors to think that he was running away from the arms deal trial.
The trial is set to resume on Tuesday in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal, starting with Zuma’s application for lead prosecutor advocate Billy Downer’s recusal. Zuma will be in court in person after his lawyers petitioned Judge Piet Koen against the hearing being heard through a virtual platform, citing it as an infringement of his right to a free trial.
Three independent sources with intimate knowledge about the trip to seek medical attention abroad this week confirmed how it was planned and scheduled before it was cancelled.
“Three people were already here identified to accompany the former president to Cuba and stay with him until he comes back but it never happened,” one of the sources said.
“It is an open secret that Zuma needs urgent medical attention because his health is deteriorating. Everyone close to him knows that he hasn’t been well for some time now. And him now being in jail isn’t good for his health,” the source explained.
The third source added that Zuma really wanted to go to Cuba for medical help until some of his close confidants convinced him not to go.
“They kept telling ubaba that people will think that it was a delaying tactic if he flies to Cuba and that he was running away from justice. He eventually bought into the narrative and cancelled the whole trip.
“Not everyone close to Zuma has his best interest at heart. Zuma has some good and loyal people around him as well as some bad people who see him as their jackpot bonanza,” the source said.
Meanwhile, the Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi yesterday said he wasn’t aware that the former president was scheduled to go to Cuba for medical help.
“I am not aware of such a trip and it was before my engagement,” Manyi said.
Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo confirmed that doctors have been monitoring Zuma’s health since his incarceration.
“The former president isn’t a young man and his health is our priority,” Nxumalo said.
He couldn’t disclose how many times doctors visited Zuma in prison since he began serving his sentence but sources within correctional services claim a doctor came at least twice per day to see the former president.
Nxumalo confirmed late yesterday that Zuma was still in hospital and that he is likely going to spend a weekend there.
A statement from the department said according to the Constitution, the department is obliged to make sure that “everyone who is detained, including every sentenced prisoner, has the right to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity, including at least exercise and the provision, at state expense, of adequate accommodation, nutrition, reading material, and medical treatment”.
The department also added that Zuma’s health care needs require the involvement of the South African Military Health Services and it has been the case since Zuma arrived at the correctional facility.
“A routine observation prompted that Mr Zuma be taken for in-hospitalization,” the statement read.
But Manyi said Zuma was taken to hospital for his “normal annual medical check-up”.
Manyi stressed that Zuma was not sick and that a statement would be issued once the check-up was completed and a medical report was received by the foundation.
Another source corroborated that Zuma is expected to seek medical help outside the country as soon as he is out of jail.
“There are secret talks for Zuma to go to Cuba or Russia for medical help as soon as he is out of jail. Hopefully, this time around no one is going to talk him out of it,” he said.
Last year in February he returned to a hero’s welcome at OR Tambo International Airport in Joburg after a trip from Cuba for treatment for an undisclosed illness.
The most recent member of the executive to seek medical attention abroad is Deputy President David Mabuza, who returned from Russia after a three-week stay.
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