Former president Jacob Zuma is serving a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. File picture Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA)
Former president Jacob Zuma is serving a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. File picture Leon Lestrade/African News Agency(ANA)

Psychologist says jail will take toll on Jacob Zuma’s mind and body

By Vernon Mchunu Time of article published Jul 9, 2021

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Durban - While jailed former president Jacob Zuma has been through the worst forms of hardship for most of his life, his old age and the lack of freedom to choose what and when to eat or drink will have a significant toll on his body and mind.

This was the view of clinical psychologist Dr Sathasivan “Saths” Cooper yesterday, who spoke after the former freedom fighter presented himself for incarceration at the Estcourt Correctional Centre in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands early yesterday morning, marking the beginning of his 15-month prison term.

“(Correctional services) officials have gone out of their way to emphasise what he is entitled to and that he is currently in a 14-day isolation which is within the hospital section of the prison. This is a proper procedure under the current Covid-19 pandemic,” said Cooper.

“The incarceration will indeed have a severe effect on his mentality. The home comforts and the ability to communicate about what he wants to eat or drink as and when he chooses. There are now severe restrictions on those,” he said.

“However, we are dealing with an extraordinary person, who has been through hardships almost all his life, so he may be able to face up to what he confronts in this fairly new correctional services centre (Estcourt),” Cooper added.

The imprisonment marks a significant downfall for the former president and jail time would thus have a serious impact on Zuma’s psyche, said Cooper.

“I have known (Zuma) to be quite a strong person. But when I watched him address the press briefing last Sunday evening, I couldn’t help but notice the strain in him even though he was in his usual jovial spirits,” he said.

“This is a person who has contributed immensely to the attainment of the freedom that we are supposed to enjoy. In that spirit, I would expect prison officials to appreciate that and not be punitive to him but afford him due respect and dignity. All aspects of what he is entitled to I am sure that will be made available to him,” Cooper said.

Meanwhile, a former senior government official who was recently released on parole after serving nearly 12 years in different KZN prisons warned against Zuma accepting an isolated cell.

The newly released convict, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the former president was entitled to an isolated cell due to his high profile category.

“But because Zuma may still be having political enemies and may be harbouring sensitive political and state secrets, this position may make him vulnerable to assassins. What I have seen in our prisons is that anything is possible. Someone can be hired to come into his cell in the middle of the night and hang him, which may be made to appear as if he committed suicide. But if he chooses a communal cell, Zuma is a highly respected and loved person. Prisoners love him and he will be highly protected without even having to join a prison gang,” the prisoner said.

“From what I saw with high-profile prisoners including myself, Zuma will be entitled to anything he needs. He can even choose to have his meals delivered by a trusted family member on a regular basis; he can choose to have his own doctors. The prison will afford him newspapers and access to television.”

At the expiry of the 14-day period, said KZN’s correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo, Zuma would be taken through an orientation programme, before being assessed to determine the major risks and needs of the offender.

“The aim is to compile a holistic profile of the offender considering all aspects such as developmental needs, care needs, corrections needs, social reintegration needs, security needs and facility needs," said Nxumalo.

“The offender will then be taken to his cell and be monitored as the first 24 hours are the most challenging for every inmate,” he said.

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The Mercury

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