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Monday, 20 May 2024 18:21

Apex ruling barring Zuma from standing for election to Parliament widely welcomed.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

The constitutional court on Monday held that former president Jacob Zuma's criminal record barred him from standing for parliament in the 29 May elections.

The apex court dismissed the argument by Zuma and his uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party that the remission of his 15-month sentence in 2021 for contempt of court meant that the prohibition in section 47(1)(e) of the Constitution no longer applied to him.

The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has welcomed Apex decision to uphold the commission's earlier disqualification of Zuma's candidacy.

In a statement released shortly after the court delivered its judgment, the commission said the order cleared the way for final preparations ahead of the elections.

"Now that the matter has been settled by the highest Court and given that the constitutional uncertainties have been clarified, the Commission can continue with final preparations for free and fair 2024 National and Provincial Elections single-mindedly, without apprehension that the elections are susceptible to challenge," the statement read.

In nine days, South Africans will vote for national and provincial governments.

The IEC approached the court to seek clarity on its powers to enforce section 47(1) (e) of the Constitution, which disqualifies anyone sentenced to more than 12 months' imprisonment, without the option of a fine, from being a member of the National Assembly.

The commission has also clarified that while Zuma's face will remain on the ballot, his name will be removed from the MK Party's candidate list.

At the same time, reacting to the apex court’s decision earlier, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation spokesperson Neeshan Balton shared the commission's sentiments.

"We welcome the judgment. We think it is well reasoned, and it reaffirms that a contempt of court sentence is an extremely important sentence, and it is a sentence that can’t be treated lightly. Particularly contempt of the Constitutional Court, it's a very serious offence.

"We are glad that the court has now clarified all the issues and the confusion caused by the Electoral Court, and Zuma can't stand."

The Kathrada Foundation, the Corruption Watch, and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution joined the IEC as friends of the court.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said he had noted the decision by the highest court in the land.

"The court has ruled and as I often said, that is the highest court in the land and we have given the judiciary the right to arbitrate disputes among us in terms of our constitution. So they have come out with a ruling and I note that ruling and that is what it is," Ramaphosa said.

The South Africa Communist Party (SACP) also welcomed the ruling and said this served as clarity that other "convicted law breakers" who fall into the same category are not eligible to be MPs.

"The Constitutional Court agreed with the IEC that, at this stage, Zuma is not eligible to stand as a candidate for election. Zuma and his supporters must accept the rule of democratic law," the SACP said in a statement.

Zuma shocked the country in December by denouncing the ANC and campaigning against a party that had been at the heart of his political career. His new political party, uMkhonto weSizwe (which means Spear of the Nation), was named after the ANC's military wing, which was disbanded at the end of the struggle against white minority rule. 

The ANC launched a legal case seeking to stop the new party from using a name and logo that are similar to those of the military wing. The charismatic Zuma continues to crisscross the country, delivering lively speeches, and an image of his face is expected to represent the party on ballots.