/ 12 April 2024

IEC approaches concourt to stop Zuma from contesting elections

Mk Party March To Durban City Hall Against Poor Service Delivery In South Africa
MK Party members brandish a banner with the face of former ANC and state president, Jacob Zuma. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) said it had lodged an urgent application with the constitutional court to appeal the electoral court ruling that former president Jacob Zuma is eligible to stand for parliament under the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party banner in the May general elections, despite his criminal record.

The electoral court on Tuesday overruled the IEC decision to uphold an objection to Zuma’s candidacy over his 2021 conviction and 15-month jail term for contempt of court, but did not immediately supply reasons for its decision. 

In a brief statement on Friday, the IEC said its appeal was 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”.

“We therefore wish for the matter to be determined before the date of the election,” it added.

Addressing MK party supporters on Thursday, Zuma took a swipe at the IEC’s decision in March to bar him from contesting, suggesting it had shown bias by failing to similarly disqualify President Cyril Ramaphosa over the controversy regarding the theft of foreign currency at his Phala Phala game farm in Limpopo.

The incident raised questions about how Ramaphosa had acquired the money to start with, and whether he had acted properly in reporting the theft.

“A person who stole money and hid it under a mattress at home — the IEC is not saying anything about him. It is targeting someone who has never even stolen a needle, the one they call Jacob Zuma, saying he will not be [on the ballot],” Zuma said on Thursday.

“What does the IEC have to do with politics because their job is just to ensure that they ensure we vote. Who the president of the country will be is not their problem but because they see my name, they say I will not be on the ballot.”

Ramaphosa’s opponents and critics have continued to hammer him over Phala Phala, despite public protector Kholeka Gcaleka clearing him of any wrongdoing, including finding that the allegation that he had violated the Executive Ethics Code was not substantiated.

Zuma’s application to the electoral court hinged on then-correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser and Ramaphosa granting him remission over his 2021 jailing by the constitutional court.

His sentence was remitted in August 2023, meaning he did not have to return to prison to serve the remainder after the appellate court found that Fraser’s directive was unlawful.

The IEC’s lawyer, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, told the court that remission did not alter the sentence imposed by the constitutional court, and therefore the fact that Zuma was handed a 15-month sentence remained and disqualified him from running for parliament.

Zuma’s lawyer, Dali Mpofu, argued that the decision by the IEC to remove his client would be an infringement of his rights and would deny MK party supporters the chance to vote for the candidate of their choice.

“We are dealing with the rights of former president Zuma which have been infringed,” said Mpofu, adding that according to law, “every citizen has a right to stand for political office and if elected to hold political office”.

“We find that the attitude of the IEC in this matter has been ‘let’s see where we can catch him and when we do catch him, let’s make sure he doesn’t come out alive’. That cannot be the attitude of a South African institution, let alone an independent institution whose job is to ensure all our section 19 rights are realised.”

Ngcukaitobi told the court that Zuma was not qualified to be a candidate “right now” and did not qualify to go to the National Assembly. He stressed that the president’s decision did not rewrite the sentence imposed on Zuma.

“It was not even the decision of the president to change it from 15 months to three months. We have to confront this matter and not try to tiptoe around the matter and make excuses for this appellant. The president did not change Zuma’s sentence, he had the power to change the term of the sentence,” he said.