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Jacob Zuma not eligible to stand for parliament, ConCourt rules

Jacob Zuma not eligible to stand for parliament, ConCourt rules
Former president Jacob Zuma at the MK party manifesto launch at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on 18 May 2024.(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The Constitutional Court has ruled that former president Jacob Zuma is not eligible to stand for office in the National Assembly, just a day after he led the uMkhonto Wesizwe party’s official election manifesto launch.

ConCourt Judge Leona Theron read out the ruling to a packed courtroom on Monday morning. 

“It is declared that Mr Zuma was convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment for purposes of section 47 (1) e of the Constitution and is accordingly not eligible to be a member of and not qualified to stand for election to the National Assembly until five years have elapsed since the completion of his sentence,” she said. 

The court also ruled that the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) was empowered to make the decision to exclude Zuma, ahead of the elections.

The IEC brought the case before the ConCourt on appeal from the Electoral Court. The main case relates to whether Zuma is eligible to appear as a National Assembly candidate for the party after the IEC initially ruled that he was barred from doing so due to an 18-month conviction for contempt of court. Section 47 of the Constitution states that a person who is convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment without an option of a fine is not eligible to be a member of the National Assembly. 

It adds that “no one may be regarded as having been sentenced until an appeal against the conviction or sentence has been determined, or until the time for an appeal has expired. A disqualification under this paragraph ends five years after the sentence has been completed.”

The Electoral Court found that, although Zuma had been sentenced for more than a year, the proviso about being able to appeal his sentence placed his sentence outside the realm of disqualification. 

Zuma brought a counter-application, which is being heard before the main application, in which he calls for six of the ConCourt judges to recuse themselves from the case. Zuma says Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, along with justices Mbuyiseli Madlanga, Steven Majiedt, Leona Theron, Nonkosi Mhlantla and Zukisa Tshiqi, adjudicated in the case that sent him to prison in the first place and should therefore not be involved in the current matter. The court dismissed this application and provided reasons on Monday, saying Zuma had failed to make a case for bias. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

“This matter is about a narrow and defined legal issue that is capable of determination without an interpretation of the contempt judgment,” Theron said.

During the case Zuma’s legal team had argued that the IEC had made a mistake in declaring him ineligible to stand for office, saying the fact that his sentence had been remitted amounted to a change in the sentence from one of 15 months to one of three months. His team also argued that the type of sentence, being a civil conviction, meant that section 47 did not apply

The court disagreed, saying “it is not for a court to limit the scope of the provision”.

The effect of this decision is that while Zuma might appear on the MK party’s posters and be the face on the ballot, he won’t be able to take up a seat in the National Assembly of Parliament. He can continue to lead the party through other means. DM

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