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Fact Check — Is Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie permitted to run for public office?

Fact Check — Is Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie permitted to run for public office?
Gayton McKenzie speaks at The Big Debate during The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Does the Constitution permit Gayton McKenzie, who has served jail time for armed robbery, to stand for public office in the upcoming elections?

You cannot run for public office in South Africa if you have a certain kind of criminal record. As a result, many people on social media are asking: is Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie eligible to be elected to Parliament?

The section of the Constitution which governs this is section 47. It states that a person is prohibited from standing for election to the National Assembly if they have previously been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment without the option of a fine.

However, it also says this prohibition falls away five years after the sentence has been completed.

Watch: Fact Check — Can Zuma stand for election if he has a criminal record?

In the case of McKenzie, he was sentenced to somewhere between 15 and 17 years in jail for armed robbery in 1996. He was released in 2003. As such, his prison days are sufficiently far behind him for McKenzie to be constitutionally permitted to stand for public office. 

In recent days some people have also asked why Nelson Mandela and other former political prisoners were eligible to be elected, given their own criminal records

This is because the relevant section of the Constitution also specifies that the prohibition against convicts standing for public office only applies to crimes committed after 1996 – obviously in order to accommodate former freedom fighters.

Complicating all of this currently is the case of former president Jacob Zuma. As we said in a previous fact check, the consensus was that Zuma should not be allowed to stand for election because his conviction for dodging the Zondo Commission was too recent. 

The Electoral Court, however, unexpectedly ruled in April that Zuma can indeed stand because he received a sentence remission, which the judges said meant his case could not be considered in the same category as envisaged by the Constitution’s prohibition.

The Electoral Commission has now taken the matter to the Constitutional Court to seek clarity.

So, the specific case of Zuma is still legally uncertain, but there is no ambiguity in the case of McKenzie. 

The Patriotic Alliance leader is indeed eligible to be elected as an MP. DM

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