- By Nomsa Maseko
- BBC News, Johannesburg
Former South African President Jacob Zuma has escaped returning to prison, as officials said to ease overcrowding.
Zuma, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court, turned himself in to authorities on Friday.
He had previously been released on a medical pardon – a move the courts ruled was illegal.
Justice Minister Ronald LaMolla said he was granted remission to address prison overcrowding.
The operation aims to relieve pressure on the system by releasing low-risk offenders.
South Africa’s Prisons Commissioner McGothy Tupacjal said Zuma reported to Estcourt Correctional Facility in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal on Friday morning and was “accepted” into the system, before being released an hour later.
A state of remission has been approved by President Cyril Ramaphosa for more than 9,000 low-risk prisoners.
He says the “recovery process” began in April.
South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it would legally challenge the pardon granted to the former president. While the ruling African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal welcomed the decision and said it was in the interest of the country.
More broadly, the reaction was also mixed. Some South Africans say the government should focus on pressing issues such as frequent power outages, high crime rates, poverty and youth unemployment, while others say Zuma should go back to prison to serve out the rest of his term.
Zuma’s imprisonment in 2021 sparked protests and riots that left more than 350 dead.
He was sentenced after he refused to testify before a commission investigating financial corruption and nepotism under his presidency.
However, he was released on medical terms only two months into his term.
An appeals court found in November that the release had been made unlawfully and ordered him to return to prison to finish his sentence. Last month, the Constitutional Court rejected an attempt to overturn that decision.
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