• Thursday, June 13, 2024
businessday logo


South Africa’s top court blocks former President Zuma from contesting election

Alleged fund diversion: Court orders arrest of three REA staff

South Africa’s Constitutional Court barred Jacob Zuma from running for parliament, but that will do little to disrupt the former president’s bid to shake up next week’s election in the continent’s most industrialized economy where his upstart party remains the biggest wildcard.

The country’s top court disqualified the 82-year-old because of his 2021 conviction related to an inquiry into the plunder of more than $27 billion of state funds during his presidency.

Zuma’s face will remain on the ballot in the May 29 vote — which could see the ruling African National Congress lose its majority for the first time since apartheid ended 30 years ago, in part because of the corruption and neglect that characterized his tenure.

Some polls suggest Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party, or MKP, could win more than 10% of the vote — partly at the ANC’s expense. Zuma was convicted of contempt in 2021 for refusing to testify before a judicial inquiry into graft during his tenure and sentenced to 15 months in prison — sparking rioting that claimed 354 lives. Some of his supporters had threatened to destabilize the election if he was disqualified, although a top party official rejected that notion following the court ruling.

“You’re going to have a much more emboldened MKP now” and it may act in a “more aggressive, more antagonistic or in a more vengeful way,” said Sanusha Naidu, a Cape Town-based research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue.

“This is now an MK which doesn’t have anything to lose,” and the judgment could galvanize its supporters with major consequences for the ANC, she added.

Zuma, who served as president from 2009 to 2018, remains the MPK’s leader, said Sihle Ngubane, the party’s secretary-general.

“We will abide by the Constitutional Court judgment because President Zuma is a law-abiding citizen,” Ngubane said by phone. “No one should be worried about any violence breaking out.

South Africa’s constitution bars anyone sentenced to more than 12 months in jail from being a member of parliament.

Zuma “is accordingly not eligible to be a member of, and not qualified to stand, for election to the National Assembly until five years have lapsed since the completion” of his sentence, Constitutional Court Judge Leona Theron said in a ruling handed down in Johannesburg on Monday.

Zuma was freed on medical parole after serving less than two months of his sentence. While the courts ruled that his release was unlawful, he was granted clemency by President Cyril Ramaphosa in November last year.