Johannesburg: While England football fans were celebrating a hard-earned triumph for their nation over Denmark last night, South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma was driving to prison.

The former African National Congress leader gave himself up last night to the authorities in compliance with a Constitutional Court ruling that he serve 15 months in prison for contempt of court.

The midnight meander of almost two-hours took many by surprise, given Zuma’s court efforts earlier in the week to avoid going to jail, along with his application to rescind the Constitutional Court decision.

But at 15 minutes to 12am the Jacob Zuma’s foundation said: “Dear South Africans and the World. Please be advised that President Zuma has decided to comply with the incarceration order. He is on his way to hand himself into a Correctional Services Facility in KZN. A full statement will be issued in due course.”

Earlier in the day on social media, there were reports and footage of police and army helicopters making its way to Nkandla. Over the weekend, there were repeated threats of violence by supporters if Zuma was arrested by the South African Police Services. Zuma called for calm but said he had no control over supporters.

He was given until Sunday to give himself up or face arrest. Instead on Sunday evening he was defiant, giving a speech to scores of supporters outside his home in Nkandla, claiming that he was being unfairly treated by the judiciary. The former president said he was an old man, of poor health, and subjected to a death sentence being imprisoned during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before midnight amid ongoing threats of violence at the weekend and a futile legal tussle that ensued, Zuma, surprisingly gave himself last night at the Estcourt Correctional Centre where the Department of Correctional Services admitted him as an inmate.

The former president becomes the country’s first head of state to be admitted as a prisoner in democratic South Africa.

Last Saturday, the Constitutional Court agreed to hear Zuma’s application for rescission, with a date set down for Monday, 12 July.

The irony of last’s night’s move by Zuma was not lost on many. While the Danish were seeking an equalising goal, Zuma was in gaol with social media abuzz at the peaceful resolution to an unsavoury episode that threatened the rule of law in South Africa.