Why was Jacob Zuma jailed in South Africa? Zuma, now aged 81, had been jailed for failing to attend an inquiry into corruption during his presidency. NKANDLA, South Africa — Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, was taken into custody on Wednesday to begin serving a 15-month prison sentence, capping a stunning downfall for a once-lauded freedom fighter who battled the apartheid regime alongside Nelson Mandela. The Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest judicial body, Ordered Mr. Zuma’s imprisonment last month after finding him guilty of contempt for failing to appear before a commission investigating corruption accusations that tainted his tenure as the nation’s leader from 2009 to 2018. Under Mr. Zuma, who was forced to step down the extent of crony corruption within the governing African National Congress Party became clear, turning a once-heralded liberation movement into a vehicle of self-enrichment for many officials. The corruption led to the gutting of the nation’s tax agency, sweetheart business contracts, and rival gunned down in a scramble for wealth and power. Mr. Zuma, 79, voluntarily surrendered on Wednesday, 40 minutes before a midnight deadline for the police to hand him over to prison officials. He was driven out of his compound in a long convoy of cars and taken to the Estcourt Correctional Center, the corrections department said. The arrest followed a week of tense brinkmanship in which the former president and his allies railed against the high court’s decision, suggesting, without evidence, that he was the victim of a conspiracy. Those comments whipped up Mr. Zuma’s supporters, who stationed themselves by the hundreds outside his rural homestead in Nkandla on Sunday and said that the police would have to kill them if they wanted to get to the former president. But there was little such resistance seen on Wednesday night, and only the lights of reporters’ cameras illuminated the darkened street outside the compound. While much of the country praised the court’s ruling as an affirmation of South Africa’s democratic system and the principle that no one is above the law, the standoff of the past week exposed deep divisions in this young democracy and in the African National Congress, or A.N.C., the liberation party that has ruled the nation since apartheid fell in 1994. Hundreds of Mr. Zuma’s supporters gathered on Sunday outside his compound, vowing to protect him from arrest. Credit…Shiraaz Mohamed/Associated Press While he said his supporters needed to use peaceful means to protest on his behalf, he later said he could not be held responsible for how they reacted. Fearing that the situation could get out of hand, African National Congress leaders had dispatched party officials to Mr. Zuma’s home before the deadline to help maintain calm and broker a solution. While the arrest of the former president could deepen fractures within the party, senior leaders said they believed it would not tear the organization apart. Past disputes have led to small breakaway parties, but nothing to shake the dominance of the African National Congress. Still, the concerns over what was unfolding outside Mr. Zuma’s home were significant. In a statement, the party said the situation did “not represent a popular uprising, but has been engineered from within the ranks of the A.N.C.” Some A.N.C. leaders worried about a fomenting of Zulu nationalism in a country that has fought to keep ethnic divisions in the past, when the apartheid regime used them to help maintain white minority rule. In its statement, the African National Congress said, “The sustenance of our democracy requires that we constantly ensure the assertion of the values of nonracialism and rejection of any manifestations of ethnic chauvinism.” Mr. Zuma’s prison sentence stemmed from his refusal to testify before the corruption commission led by Justice Raymond Zondo, the deputy chief of the Constitutional Court. Mr. Zuma defied an order in January and began a sharp public critique of the judiciary. He then ignored multiple requests from the Constitutional Court to defend his unwillingness to testify. Mr. Zuma has said that he would have testified before the corruption panel if Justice Zondo had recused himself because he felt that the justice was biased against him. In announcing the court’s decision last month to send Mr. Zuma to prison, Justice Sisi Khampepe, the acting chief at the time, said that the former president had carried out “a series of direct assaults” on the judiciary “as well as calculated and insidious efforts” to “corrode its legitimacy and authority.” “If with impunity litigants are allowed to decide which orders they wish to obey and which they choose to ignore, our Constitution is not worth the paper upon which it is written,” she said, reading from a decision the court backed 7 to 2. Days later, Mr. Zuma filed a motion asking the court to consider rescinding its order of imprisonment. He also filed a motion in a lower court asking it to prevent the police from arresting him until after a Constitutional Court hearing on Monday to decide on his motion to rescind. In a hearing this week in the lower court, Mr. Zuma’s lawyer doubled down on his client’s argument that it was unjust for him to be sentenced to prison without having had a trial. The lawyer, Dali Mpofu, also suggested that there could be civil unrest if Mr. Zuma were sent to prison, referring to a massacre in 2012 in which the police fatally shot 34 miners on strike in the town of Marikana. During the hearing, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a lawyer for the commission, said that Mr. Zuma needed to be arrested on charges of repeatedly defying the judiciary. “We are dealing with a repetitive, recalcitrant lawbreaker in the form of Mr. Zuma,” Mr. Ngcukaitobi said.