South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma has been spared from returning to prison, after officials said he would be released to ease overcrowding in the country’s jails.
Zuma, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court, surrendered himself to the authorities on Friday. However, he was released shortly afterwards after being granted remission under a scheme that began in April to reduce the prison population.
The 81-year-old is one of more than 9,000 low-risk prisoners who have been released under the scheme. Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the decision had been taken by the prison authorities without any political interference, and that Zuma had not been given any special treatment.
“The decision to release Mr Zuma is in line with the remission of sentences policy, which is aimed at alleviating strain on the system by releasing low-risk offenders,” Mr Lamola said.
A prisons department spokesperson told the BBC that South Africa’s prison population was currently 47% higher than official capacity. This was made worse by the fact that inmates allegedly set one prison on fire last week. This meant nearly 4,000 inmates were transported to other facilities where they didn’t have beds.
The decision to release Zuma has been met with mixed reactions. Some people have welcomed the move, saying that it is important to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Others have criticized the decision, saying that it is unfair to other prisoners who have not been released.