The prison sentence of beleaguered ex-South African President Jacob Zuma officially ended on Friday, with correctional services saying he had been released from their system having served only part of his term behind bars.
The former Head of State was jailed for 15 months for contempt of court in July last year after refusing to testify before a graft inquiry – but was released on medical parole two months later.
“It is a day of mixed emotions,” Zuma said in a statement on Friday, thanking his supporters for speaking out against what he said was an “unjust and cruel incarceration.”
“I am relieved to be free again to walk around and do whatever I want to do without restrictions.”
He compared his release to the day in 1973 when he walked out of Cape Town’s notorious Robben Island prison, where he had been jailed as an apartheid-era political prisoner with Nelson Mandela.
The 80-year-old was granted parole after being admitted to hospital for an undisclosed condition.
A court later ordered him back to jail, but he managed to remain out as appeal proceedings dragged on.
“All administrative processes have now been conducted and the sentence expiry date marks the end of him serving his sentence,” the Department of Correctional Services said in a statement.
Zuma’s jailing last year sparked riots that descended into looting and left more than 350 dead in the worst violence to hit the country since the advent of democracy in South Africa.
Last month, he announced he was ready to make a political comeback at the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s internal conference in December where the top seats will be hotly contested.
Zuma is a divisive figure whose name resonates with graft for most South Africans but remains a hero to many grassroots ANC members.
He is still facing separate corruption charges over an arms deal dating back more than two decades.