Zuma can contest elections, South African court rules

Johannesburg — Former president Jacob Zuma can contest upcoming national elections in May, a South African court ruled Tuesday.

Zuma had appealed a ban by the electoral commission, which said last month that Zuma couldn’t compete for a seat in parliament because the constitution bars people who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than one year in prison from running for office. 

Zuma, 81, was forced to resign near the end of his second term in 2018 amid numerous corruption scandals. In 2021, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court after he refused to appear in a corruption investigation. 

Zuma’s lawyers argued in court Monday that because the former leader, who served just three months before being released on health grounds, was granted a remission, the ban did not apply. 

The court’s decision will not be welcome news to the governing African National Congress party, of which Zuma was a lifelong member before throwing his support behind a newly formed political party called uMkhonto weSizwe, or MK, late last year. 

The ANC suspended him, and Zuma — who, despite all the allegations against him, still has massive support in his home province of Kwa Zulu-Natal — has since been campaigning as the face of MK. 

National elections on May 29 are widely expected to be the most fiercely contested ever, with surveys suggesting the ANC will win less than 50 percent of the vote for the first time since the advent of democracy in 1994. 

Political analyst Sandile Swana broke down what the electoral court’s ruling means. 

“The reintroduction of Jacob Zuma into mainstream politics is already eating away at the electoral base of the African National Congress led by Cyril Ramaphosa, and they have now been fortified with this decision of the electoral court that Zuma can be the face of the party, he can campaign, he can be the number one candidate for the party,” Swana said. 

Outside the court on Monday, Zuma told supporters he’d be happy to lead the country again. 

However, Swana noted, there is still a legal question over whether Zuma could ever become president again, as he was already in his second term when he was forced out. 

Rather than directly electing a president, South Africans vote for members of parliament. Whichever party wins a majority then puts their leader forward as president. 

Independent analyst Asanda Ngoasheng said Tuesday’s developments are concerning. 

“We now have the potential of someone who has faced or is facing multiple allegations of corruption and bankrupting the state being able to kind of keep coming back,” Ngoasheng said. “Is Jacob Zuma really turning out to be Mr. Teflon as he has been called, with nothing ever sticking to him, or will something come that will trip him up?”

Last month the ANC went to court to try to prevent Zuma’s new party from using the name uMkhonto weSizwe, which was also the name of the ANC’s disbanded armed wing.

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