South Africa’s top court strikes Zuma from ballot

Published May 21, 2024
SUPPORTERS of a newly formed political party march outside South Africa’s constitutional court following the ruling that declared former president Jacob Zuma ineligible to contest elections.—AFP
SUPPORTERS of a newly formed political party march outside South Africa’s constitutional court following the ruling that declared former president Jacob Zuma ineligible to contest elections.—AFP

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s top court on Monday barred former president Jacob Zuma from running in general elections next week, but his upstart opposition party vowed to fight on to return the graft-tainted politician to office.

The ruling has stoked fears of violent unrest in the run-up to the poll, already the most competitive since the advent of democracy in 1994. But Zuma’s party, uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK), urged supporters to remain calm and go out and vote on May 29.

“This heavily flawed and conflicted judgement is not the end but rather a pivotal moment affirming that the MK Party is the right choice for the black poor and downtrodden,” it said. The top court backed an electoral commission decision that Zuma’s previous conviction for contempt of court prevents him from becoming an MP, ruling that the constitution bars anyone sentenced to more than 12 months in jail.

Zuma, who left office in 2018 dogged by corruption allegations, was convicted of contempt in 2021 and sentenced to 15 months. Rioting after his imprisonment left more than 350 people dead.

He eventually served less than three months in jail, but the court ruled that this was irrelevant as the constitution refers to the sentence imposed, not served.

“Mr Zuma... is accordingly not eligible to be a member of and not qualified to stand for election to the national assembly,” Justice Leona Theron said, reading the judgement.

In a South African general election, the president is chosen by MPs from among their own ranks. If Zuma is not allowed to enter parliament he cannot become president, even if his newly formed party is able to muster enough seats to propose him.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2024

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