Former South African President Jacob Zuma has handed himself in to police to begin serving a jail sentence for contempt of court.

Late on Wednesday, his foundation said he had travelled to a prison near to his home in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Police earlier warned that they were prepared to arrest Mr Zuma, 79, if he failed to hand himself in.

He was given a 15-month jail term for contempt of court last week after he failed to attend a corruption inquiry.

The sentencing sparked an unprecedented legal drama in South Africa, with a deadline imposed of midnight on Wednesday (22:00 GMT) for Mr Zuma’s arrest.

The deadline was imposed after Mr Zuma refused to hand himself in on Sunday.

Zuma supporters
Mr Zuma’s supporters protested against his arrest on Sunday

South Africa has never seen a former president jailed before.

Mr Zuma, 79, was forced to resign in 2018 after nine years in power.

Though he was forced out of office by his own party, the African National Congress (ANC), he retains a loyal body of supporters, especially in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

On Sunday, crowds formed what they called a human shield outside Mr Zuma’s palatial home. Similar crowds gathered before he handed himself in on Wednesday.

The BBC’s Nomsa Maseko, who was at the scene, noted that there was a large police presence outside the property on Wednesday including armed officers and a paramilitary unit.

A delegation of senior officers spent several hours inside Mr Zuma’s residence negotiating with the former president over his arrest.

A convoy of cars believed to be carrying Mr Zuma was then seen leaving the house at high-speed shortly before the midnight deadline for his arrest.

Mr Zuma, a veteran of the fight against white minority rule in South Africa who was imprisoned for 10 years on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, previously declared that he was prepared to go to prison.

However, he said that “sending me to jail during the height of a pandemic, at my age, is the same as sentencing me to death”.

Mr Zuma has also repeatedly said that he is the victim of a political conspiracy. He has testified only once at the corruption inquiry into what has become known as “state capture” – siphoning off state assets – refusing to appear again.

In a separate legal matter, Mr Zuma pleaded not guilty last month in a corruption trial involving a $5bn (£3bn) arms deal from the 1990s.

Source: BBC