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Zuma defiant as surrender deadline nears

South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, ordered to surrender himself to start a 15-month jail term for contempt, on said Sunday he would not be doing so by the court-set deadline.

“No need for me to go to jail today,” he told journalists at his Nkandla homestead in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where hundreds of his supporters are camped outside in solidarity.

“They cannot accept papers and expect me to show up in prison,” he added, referring to his legal bid to challenge the sentence.

The former president, 79, earlier told supporters his “constitutional rights were abused” by judges of the country’s constitutional court.

He was sentenced to the jail term for contempt of court after he repeatedly refused to give evidence to corruption investigators.

His supporters have vowed to render South Africa ungovernable if he is jailed.

After sentencing Zuma, the South African court nonetheless agreed to hear his challenge to rescind the order.

The deadline to surrender himself to the authorities was set to run out on Sunday.

In a show of force, loyalists clad in their African National Congress (ANC) regalia have been outside their embattled leader’s Nkandla homestead in Kwa-Zulu Natal province for weeks.

– Supporters defiant –

“When I saw the police here I wondered how will they get to me, how will they get through all these people,” Zuma said earlier as he continued to mock South African authorities.

“If (Police Minister) Bheki Cele comes here to arrest uBaba (Zuma) he must start with us,” supporter Lindokuhle Maphalala told AFP.

Vowing to protect Zuma, the protesters called for President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down.

“We are here to say Ramaphosa must step down. Must step down”, a visibly angry loyalist said. “As from Monday we will make the country ungovernable.”

Police, under orders to arrest Zuma if necessary, were stationed across the province on Sunday to control the crowds descending on Nkandla.

If Zuma fails to turn himself in, police will be given a further three days to arrest him.

Cathleen Powell, a South African law professor, told AFP the decision to hear Zuma’s challenge did not suspend the constitutional court ruling.

Over the weekend, the ruling ANC sent representatives to speak with Zuma at his home, which was renovated while he was president at a cost of around 20 million euros ($24 million) to the taxpayer.

The party could face a serious political crisis between those who back Zuma and others loyal to Ramaphosa, who has campaigned on a pledge to fight corruption.

Zuma has also been accused of involvement in a bribery affair that goes back more than 20 years.

He allegedly received more than four million rand, around 235,000 euros at current rates, from French defence group Thales, which was awarded a contract worth around 2.8 billion euros overall.