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Jacob Zuma banned from running in South Africa's election

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - The Constitutional Court in South Africa has ruled that former President Jacob Zuma cannot run for parliament, just 9 days before what's being seen as the most pivotal vote in South Africa's 30 years of democracy.

It's a significant blow for Zuma and his new uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, which is named after the former armed wing of his previous party, the ruling African National Congress. The MK was counting on the 82-year-old's popularity in his home province in KwaZulu Natal to boost their votes.

Zuma was greeted by ecstatic crowds at the MK's manifesto launch rally in Soweto's Orlando Stadium this weekend. The MK has surprised many bypolling consistently at 10 percent ahead of next week's election - mainly at the expense of the his former party, the ruling ANC and the radical Economic Freedom Fighters party lead by Julius Malema.

The Electoral Commission had gone to the top court arguing that due to a 15-month prison sentence Zuma was handed in 2021 for contempt of court, the constitution barred him from running for office. The judges, in their ruling on Monday, agreed.

"It is declared that Mr. Zuma was convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months imprisonment and is accordingly not eligible to be a member of, and not qualified to stand for election to, the National Assembly," the ruling said.

In a statement the MK party said "This unsurprising decision, while disappointing, has not disheartened us."

This was a sentiment echoed by the handful of MK supporters outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. MK Women's League member Lindiwe Mtshali said that she was disappointed but resolute about the decision.

"I think it will actually strengthen our campaign, because then it gives people more reason to go out and support the cause and vote for the MK party because our supporters are aware we are facing a difficult system that is trying by all means to destabilize our mission," she told NPR.

Zuma shocked his lifelong political home, the governing ANC, by joining MK last year. He was president of South Africa for two terms, from 2009 to 2018. He had been forced to resign as president in 2018 amid corruption allegations. His jailing in 2021 triggered riots in his home province of KwaZulu Natal, leading to the deaths of more than 300 people and widespread looting.

Reacting to today's ruling, ANC leader and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa dismissed concerns about further violence.

"We have rule of law in South Africa that governs us," he told local radio station 702. "Once a constitutional court has decided, that is it and should there be any threat of violence our security forces are ready."

The ANC is still expected to win next week's election, which is widely seen as the most consequential vote since the end of apartheid 30 years ago and the moment that many analysts predict could see the ANC win under 50 percent of the vote for the first time.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Kate Bartlett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]