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South Africa’s top court bars Zuma from standing in election

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South Africa’s highest court has barred former President Jacob Zuma from running for parliament in next week’s general election.

The Constitutional Court ruled that his 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court disqualified him.

Mr Zuma was convicted in 2021 for refusing to testify at an inquiry investigating corruption during his presidency which ended in 2018.

He has been campaigning under the banner of the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party after falling out with the governing African National Congress (ANC).

MK secretary general Sihle Ngubane said the party was disappointed with the ruling, but it would not affect the party’s campaign and Mr Zuma’s face would remain on the ballot paper for the 29 May election.

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

South Africans vote for political parties, with the candidates at the top of their lists getting parliamentary seats depending on the number of votes the party gets.

Some MK members sang and danced outside the court portraying Mr Zuma as a victim, while those inside the court – some dressed in traditional Zulu regalia – sat silently as the judgement was handed down by Justice Leona Theron on behalf of the court.

Mr Zuma has not yet commented on the ruling.

His supporters rioted after he was sent to jail in 2021, and some of its leaders had threatened violence if the court disqualified him from standing for parliament.

But MK officials have since changed their rhetoric, saying the party’s focus was on getting a two-thirds majority so that South Africa’s constitution could be changed, and Mr Zuma could be returned to power.

In court, his lawyers had argued that because he was released after three months in prison by his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the rest of his sentence was cancelled.

But the court disagreed, saying the length of time he actually spent in prison was irrelevant.

South Africa’s 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 Theron said.

Mr Ramaphosa told a local radio station that he “noted” the 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,” he said in an interview with 702.

Mr Ramaphosa ousted Mr Zuma as president in 2018 after a vicious power struggle, and is leading the ANC’s campaign to extend its 30-year rule.

Mr Zuma said last December that he could never vote for a party led by Mr Ramaphosa and has spearheaded MK’s campaign. This will be the first election that it will contest after it was registered as a party last September.

The political party’s emergence has raised the prospect that the ANC could lose its parliamentary majority for the first time in 30 years ago.

An Ipsos opinion poll released last month gave Mr Zuma’s party 8% of the vote, and the ANC 40% as it loses support to MK and other opposition parties.

But some analysts suggest that with the governing party stepping up its campaign in recent weeks, it could still cross the 50% mark.

uMkhonto we Sizwe, which roughly translates as Spear of the Nation, is the original name of the ANC’s armed wing, which fought apartheid.

More about South Africa’s 2024 election:

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