Zuma was not in court for the ruling on Tuesday and has been ordered to hand himself over within five days to a police station in his hometown of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province or in Johannesburg.
This is the first time in South Africa’s history that a former president has been sentenced to prison.
The country’s apex court, the Constitutional Court, ruled that Zuma defied an order by the country’s highest court by refusing to cooperate with the commission of inquiry, which is chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.
“The Constitutional Court holds that there can be no doubt that Mr. Zuma is in contempt of court. Mr. Zuma was served with the order and it is impossible to conclude anything other than that he was unequivocally aware of what it required of him,” said acting chief justice Sisi Khampepe.
She added that in determining the jail sentence for Zuma, the court found it impossible to conclude that he would comply with any other order.
“Mr. Zuma has repeatedly reiterated that he would rather be imprisoned than to cooperate with the commission or comply with the order made,” said Khampepe.
Zuma has previously expressed his unwillingness to appear before the commission, which has so far heard evidence directly implicating Zuma in wrongdoing.
In a previous 21-page letter written to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, which the court has described as “scandalous,” Zuma claimed that he was ready to be sent to prison.