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Zuma knocked out of next week’s election

Muhammad Amin

Jacob Zuma may not run for Parliament in next week’s general election, the Constitutional Court has ruled.

It said Monday his 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court disqualified him. South Africa’s Constitution disqualifies anyone to sit in Parliament if they’ve been convicted of a crime that attracts a prison sentence longer than 12 months.

The ruling bars Zuma from taking up a seat in parliament or any of the provincial legislatures.

Zuma was convicted in 2021 for refusing to testify at an inquiry investigating corruption during his presidency.

uMkhonto weSizwe secretary general Sihle Ngubane expressed disappointment with the ruling, but said the party’s election campaign remained unchanged.

“He is still the leader of the party. It [the ruling] doesn’t affect our campaign at all,” he told the BBC.

The Independent Electoral Commission said Zuma’s name would be removed from MK’s candidate list, but his image would remain as the millions of ballot papers had already been printed.

MK members toyi-toyied outside the court in support. They rioted in 2021 when Zuma was jailed after being sentenced. President Cyril Ramaphosa cancelled the rest of his sentence after he had served just three months.

MK’s lawyers argued before the court this meant his sentence was no longer in force, but the court disagreed.

The Constitution barred anyone sentenced to 12 months in prison, without the option of a fine, from serving in parliament in order to protect the integrity of the “democratic regime” established after the end of the racist system of apartheid in 1994, Justice Leona Theron said.

Zuma told 702 he respected the court’s ruling: “The court has ruled, and as I have often said, that is the highest court in the land and we have given the judiciary the right to arbitrate disputes amongst us in terms of our constitution.”

Political analyst Levy Ndou said the ruling was a test of Zuma’s character – would he choose to “take South Africans forward” or would be pursue his narrow, personal interests at their expense.

The ruling could weaken MK’s election chances if its supporters backed the party out of loyalty to a “single individual”. But, if they genuinely believed in its cause, then they “would have to focus the activities of the party without him”, Ndou added.

MK’s support, according to polling, is mainly in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, and Gauteng. They have the highest number of registered voters and are shaping up to be the main battleground in the election.

An Ipsos poll last month gave MK 8% of the vote, the ANC 40% if it loses support to MK and other parties. However, some analysts say late polling could turn that around and still get the ANC over the vital 50% mark, preserving its majority in Parliament.

The party polled 57.5% in the 2019 election.

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