Former president Jacob Zuma barred from running in South African election

Country’s highest court rules leader of uMkhonto weSizwe party cannot contest next week’s poll

Former South African president Jacob Zuma’s political ambitions have been dealt a major blow by the country’s highest court, which has barred him from running for parliament in next week’s general election.

The constitutional court ruled on Monday that a 15-month prison sentence Mr Zuma received in 2021 for contempt of court has disqualifies him from contesting the May 29th poll as a candidate for a new political party he has fronted since December.

Mr Zuma (82) was found guilty of contempt in June 2021 after refusing to give evidence earlier that year at an inquiry established to investigate public sector corruption during his nine-year presidency.

Mr Zuma resigned as South Africa’s president in February 2018 amid corruption allegations and under intense pressure from the ruling African National Congress.


Late last year he became the face of a new political formation, the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, after falling out with President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters in the ANC.

Several voter surveys since January have indicated that MK could become the country’s third or fourth largest party after the general election, and that much of its support would come from disgruntled former ANC supporters.

South Africa’s constitution prohibits anyone given a prison sentence of 12 months or more from holding a parliamentary seat.

However, earlier this year an electoral court overruled the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) disqualification of Mr Zuma’s candidature based on his recent prison sentence, saying a remission he received on it in effect altered its length.

The IEC appealed the electoral court’s ruling to the constitutional court in March. On Monday it ruled Mr Zuma’s 15-month jail term stands, and therefore he is not eligible to run for parliament “until five years have elapsed since the completion of his sentence”.

“The term of imprisonment imposed by the judiciary can be reduced by the president through a remission of sentence, but it does not alter what has been done judicially,” the court said.

MK party spokesman Nhlamulo Ndhlela said the court’s decision would have no bearing on how the party would conduct the rest of the campaign, and that Mr Zuma wouldremain the face of the movement on the ballot papers.

“President Zuma does not have to be the president, he is still the brains behind any president that we will deploy,” he said.

South Africans vote for political parties in their parliamentary elections rather than candidates. Each party draws up a ranked list of members to be appointed to the National Assembly seats it wins. .

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa