South Africa’s embattled former President Jacob Zuma has found himself at the centre of fresh controversy after tweeting a photo of himself taking aim with a rifle.

Its meaning was unambiguous, and provocative.

A day after he had learned that a judge had issued an arrest warrant for him for failing to appear in court on corruption charges related to a multi-million dollar arms deal, Mr Zuma tweeted a photograph, on his official account, showing him aiming a rifle at an unknown target.

For a man who uses social media only rarely, and apparently carefully, the implication was clear to all South Africans.

It was a display of angry defiance against a judiciary and an “elite” which – Mr Zuma and his supporters have argued for years – is biased against him and involved in a dark conspiracy to undermine him and the “radical economic transformation” agenda that he unveiled towards the end of his corruption-riddled presidency.

‘Evil white establishment’

As the photograph provoked furious exchanges on social media, Mr Zuma’s family and his remaining allies in the governing African National Congress (ANC) have rallied to his defence.

Jacob Zuma (2ndR) is held tightly by ANC supporter Maria Mandweni during a door to door campaign visit in Shakaskraal township, on April 16, 2019

Jacob Zuma had very strong support in rural areas during his presidency

His son Edward claimed the arrest warrant, issued by a judge but suspended until Mr Zuma’s next scheduled court appearance, had somehow been orchestrated by his political enemies.

Edward Zuma also said the rifle photo was two years old – a claim that hardly seemed relevant in the context in which it was used.

The head of the ANC’s Women’s League, Bathabile Dlamini, went further, speaking of “an invisible hand” orchestrating a campaign against the former president on behalf of “an evil white establishment”.

But many South Africans have reacted with contempt, and wry humour, to this latest incident, and see it as part of a decades-long attempt by Mr Zuma to avoid facing trial for alleged corruption by casting himself as a victim, floating frequent conspiracy theories and seeking endless court delays.