SOWETAN | ConCourt upholds rule of law

21 May 2024 - 13:00
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MK party supporters outside the Constitutional Court Johannesburg after the court ruled party leader Jacob Zuma ineligible to go to parliament because of his criminal record.
Image: Thulani Mbele MK party supporters outside the Constitutional Court Johannesburg after the court ruled party leader Jacob Zuma ineligible to go to parliament because of his criminal record.

The Constitutional Court yesterday put to an end uncertainty over whether former president Jacob Zuma can stand for election to parliament despite his criminal conviction.

The apex court overturned the Electoral Court judgment which had set aside the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) decision to bar Zuma from standing for election because of his conviction and sentence to more than 12 months in prison.

The ConCourt judgment, which we welcome, is significant for many reasons including the fact that it asserts the rule of law and pushes back against impunity. It affirms our constitutional order. The law must be applied to Zuma, who is a former head of state, the same way it is applied to rest of ordinary South Africans.

Zuma was found guilty of contempt of court on June 21 2021, for failing to comply with an order of the Constitutional Court to appear before the commission of inquiry into state capture.

He was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment. In August last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa granted Zuma a special remission of sentence after serving three months.

In March, Zuma was included in his UmKhonto weSizwe party’s list of candidates to contest elections for parliament.

The IEC barred him after objections on the basis that the law prohibits those convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment from standing for election to parliament.

This interpretation of the law was at the core of the case brought before the Electoral Court and the subsequent appeal to the apex court. The Electoral Court, in setting aside the IEC’s decision to bar Zuma, concluded that his sentence was not in nature what was envisaged in the law because Zuma could not appeal against his conviction and sentence.

However, the ConCourt yesterday found this interpretation to be flawed as it subverts the purpose sought to be achieved by the section of the law. It found that Zuma’s conviction and sentencing were indicators of unfitness for office and reinforced the high standards set by the law for members of the National Assembly. The ConCourt further found that the purpose of the section which disqualified those convicted and sentenced to more than 12 months is to protect SA’s democracy which is founded on the rule of law.

The judgment by the ConCourt will serve to strengthen our democracy and help the IEC which has been facing attacks from Zuma supporters to focus on the elections ahead.