South Africa’s Ex-President Zuma Disqualified from Election

South Africa's Ex-President Zuma Disqualified from Election

Jacob Zuma arrives at Orlando Stadium in the township of Soweto, Johannesburg, - Copyright © africanews Jerome Delay/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

JOHANNESBURG, May 20 – South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma cannot participate in this month’s parliamentary election, the country’s highest court decided on Monday. This ruling could impact the election’s outcome and lead to unrest among Zuma’s supporters.

The constitutional court determined that Zuma’s 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court in 2021 disqualifies him from the May 29 election. The constitution forbids anyone with a prison sentence of 12 months or more from holding a parliamentary seat.

The court’s ruling stated, “It is declared that Mr. Zuma was convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment, … and is accordingly not eligible to be a member of, and not qualified to stand for election to, the National Assembly.”

Zuma, who resigned as president in 2018, has distanced himself from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and has been advocating for a new party, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), named after the ANC’s former armed wing.

MK secretary-general Sihle Ngubane informed local reporters that Monday’s decision does not affect their campaign. He mentioned that the party’s leadership will meet with Zuma to discuss the next steps.

Opinion polls indicate that the ANC’s majority is at risk after 30 years in power. MK poses a threat, especially in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, where he remains popular.

In 2021, Zuma’s imprisonment led to riots in KwaZulu-Natal, resulting in over 300 deaths and widespread looting.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, when asked about potential violence following the constitutional court’s ruling during an interview with local radio station 702, said, “I’m not concerned about this instigating violence.

He added, “We have rule of law in South Africa that governs us. Once a constitutional court has decided, that is it and should there be any threat of violence our security forces are ready.”

However, some political experts believe the threat of disruption from Zuma’s followers should not be ignored.

Daryl Glaser, a politics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told Reuters, “In light of the reaction to the arrest of Zuma in 2021, one has to fear that there could be some major effort by those same networks to destabilise this election.”

South Africa’s electoral commission initially disqualified Zuma in March, but a court overruled this decision in April, stating that the relevant section of the constitution only applied to those who could appeal their sentences, which Zuma could not. The electoral commission then appealed to the constitutional court.

The commission announced on Monday that Zuma’s photograph would remain on the ballot paper for next week’s election. However, his name will be removed from the list of parliamentary candidates nominated by MK, as he is the party’s registered leader.

An Ipsos opinion poll in April showed around 8% support for MK, compared to approximately 40% for the ANC.

While the ANC is still expected to receive the most votes, if it gets less than 50% support, it would need to form a coalition with one or more parties to govern the country. This would be the first such alliance since the party came to power under Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid.

At an MK rally on Saturday, Zuma pledged to thousands of supporters in Soweto’s stadium that his party would provide free education for underprivileged children and create jobs.