Zuma may still be barred from Parliament

Former President Jacob Zuma makes an appearance at the Durban High Court sitting at the Magistrate's Court in Durban where arguments took place over the use of the MK logo.

Former President Jacob Zuma makes an appearance at the Durban High Court sitting at the Magistrate's Court in Durban where arguments took place over the use of the MK logo.

Published Apr 15, 2024


Durban — Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) has scored a public relations master stroke over its political opponents as the controversy over his eligibility to stand as a candidate keeps the party at the centre of public debate.

Right now, Zuma’s political future hinges on South Africa’s highest court, after the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) made an “urgent and direct appeal” on Thursday to the Constitutional Court.

This came after the Electoral Court overturned the IEC’s decision to prevent Zuma from taking part in the May 29 national elections.

The IEC says it wants clarity on the matter before the polls.

It has argued that Zuma’s previous prison sentence meant that he was not eligible to stand as a candidate in the elections, while his legal representatives said his remission of sentence had to be taken into account.

The IEC said there was “substantial public interest in providing certainty on the proper interpretation of section 47(1)(e) and its interplay with the powers of the commission to adjudicate objections to candidates”.

“The commission wishes to emphasise that this appeal is not intended to involve itself in the political field of play. It is rather to ensure free and fair elections by ensuring that applicable constitutional provisions relating to elections are clearly understood by all role-players and applied evenly.”

Political analyst Zakhele Ndlovu, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), says the court’s decision to give Zuma the go-ahead to stand as a candidate was more political than legal.

“We saw people making threats, basically saying that if Zuma is not allowed to be the face of the party or to contest, there could be violence.

“We saw violence in 2021, which was done in his name and he’s never condemned it,” Ndlovu said.

“When they make threats, he doesn’t defend himself or condemn them, which suggests that he approves of what they are saying.”

But even if the Constitutional Court ruled in Zuma’s favour, UKZN political analyst Sakhile Hadebe said Zuma could still be pulled out on the first sitting of Parliament after the elections.

“The chief justice will be (present) as it is usual that the first meeting of Parliament is chaired by the chief justice (before the Speaker is elected).

“Parliament can still say, ‘you are not eligible to be in Parliament’,” he said.

If things were to go his supporters’ way, Zuma would be the first former president to become an MP if his party does not win the elections, and would be the first to serve a third term as state president in the history of the country’s democratic dispensation if it did.

The Constitution’s section 47 (1)(e) states that a person who has served more than 12 months of a prison sentence without an option of a fine cannot be elected to Parliament until five years after the sentence has been completed.

Hadebe said there was nothing peculiar about the Electoral Court changing the law to allow Zuma to go to Parliament with a criminal record.

“If it (the ruling) changes the law, there is nothing wrong with that because that is how the law is developed.

“Judgments are also part of sources of law, and the law of precedent applies to a landmark case and all others follow.

“This is how the law is developed and there is nothing new as it relies on the fact that the law can be changed as it is not consistent with the Constitution,” said Radebe.

He said that politically the ruling might have saved the country, especially KwaZulu-Natal – which remained politically volatile – from threats of violence by certain MKP members who insisted that Zuma should be the president again.

Hadebe warned that if Zuma were to return to Parliament, he would risk losing his presidential benefits, including salary and other related perks.

He added that since Zuma has already served two terms as president, legally he could not be the president again.

“Zuma cannot be the president of the Republic of South Africa under law, but he can be a member of Parliament, which I don’t think is desirable because of his benefit and status,” said Hadebe.

Legal analyst Mpumelelo Zikalala said although the IEC might have been within its rights to remove Zuma’s name from the list, it acted unfairly by not giving him a right to reply to the objection against him.

“If there is someone who objected to you, I am supposed to come to you and say, please respond,” said Zikalala.

He agreed with Hadebe that Zuma was not eligible to be the president again because he had served two terms.

“Your term starts when you are elected and ends when you resign, or after the next election, or when you die,” he said.

“Zuma was not removed (by Parliament), he resigned under the pressure of his political party and this had nothing to do with Parliament processes or the Constitution.”

Sunday Tribune