Zuma barred from standing for election to Parliament, ConCourt rules

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Former president Jacob Zuma arrives at Alexandra Stadium to address supporters of the Mkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party on 7 February 2024. Picture: Gallo Images

The ConCourt has ruled in favour of the IEC

The Constitutional Court (ConCourt) has found that former president Jacob Zuma is not eligible to stand for election to the National Assembly.

The ConCourt delivered its ruling on Monday, ruling in favour of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).

Zuma disqualified

In a unanimous judgment, the apex court found that there was no difference between a conviction of a criminal offence and civil conviction for contempt of court.

“This court concludes that Mr Zuma was convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months for the purposes of Section 47(1)(e) of the Constitution and is accordingly not eligible to be a member of and not qualify to stand for election to the National Assembly until five years have elapsed since the completion of his sentence,” Justice Leona Theron read the judgment.

The IEC had lodged a leave to appeal application against an Electoral Court judgment delivered on 9 April.

The ruling overturned the commission’s decision to bar Zuma to stand for public office as a candidate for the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party.

The Electoral Court concluded that Zuma’s 15-month sentence for contempt couldn’t be appealed and, thus, didn’t meet the criteria of a “sentence” under Section 47(1)(e) of the Constitution.

This section disqualifies any person who is convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment without the option of a fine from serving in Parliament.

Zuma’s remission of sentence

But Theron on Monday dismissed the Electoral Court’s ruling, saying the purpose of the exclusion of candidates in section 47 was aimed at maintaining the integrity of the rule of law.

“The reasoning of the Electoral Court in finding that the sentence that was imposed on Mr Zuma could not be said to be a sentence which the section contemplates cannot be sustained.

“This is because it has no support in the text of section 47(1)(e). [This section] applies to anyone who has been sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment.

“The text does not qualify the word ‘sentence’ and ‘sentenced’ to exclude sentences imposed by this court.”

The ConCourt also overturned the Electoral Court’s ruling that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remission of Zuma’s sentence had reduced it to three months.

“Section 47(e) focuses on the length of the sentence imposed, not the length of sentence served. The section uses the words convicted of an offence and sentenced.

“The effect of a remission of sentence is to bring forward a person’s date of release. Remission of sentence concerns the execution of the sentence and does not retrospectively alter the sentence imposed by a court.”

Theron stressed that Zuma’s remission was irrelevant.

The judge said the apex court was of the view that the IEC was empowered to invoke section 47 to disqualify candidates.

Janet Love bias

The ConCourt further dismissed Zuma and the MK party’s accusations of bias against IEC Commissioner Janet Love.

Love was accused of prejudging Zuma’s candidacy by the MK party following her comments she made during a media briefing in January.

However, Theron said the apex court concluded that Love was making general remarks.

“This court finds that the Electoral Court correctly found that the context of which commissioner Love was speaking for the commission was ambiguous and without specificity.”

Zuma’s recusal

Meanwhile, Theron also gave reasons why it rejected Zuma’s application to have the ConCourt judges recused themselves from the litigation relating to his eligibility.

The ConCourt ruled unanimously that no case had been made out by Zuma and the MK party for the recusal of the justices.

“The respondents failed to prove that the judges will be unable to bring an impartial mind to bear on the adjudication of this matter. This court finds that it is not uncommon for judges to interpret and apply their previous decisions.”

No costs order was made by the ConCourt.

Last week, the IEC confirmed that Zuma would appear on the ballot for the national and provincial elections regardless of the ConCourt outcome.

The Citizen/Molefe Seeletsa