South Africa: Zuma’s Candidacy is a Fluke

The former president was initially declared ineligible due to a previous criminal record, but the court reinstated him

Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa from 2009 to 2018, will be able to run for election on May 29, 2024, a session that marks the thirtieth anniversary of the country’s first free elections, won by Nelson Mandela, who became the first black head of state and delivered the final blow to apartheid. Mandela was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) party, as was current President Cyril Ramaphosa and, until recently, Jacob Zuma.

The 82-year-old former president has been leading the new uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party since December 2023 and is at the center of controversy over his contested candidacy. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2021 for failing to appear in a corruption trial, and South Africa’s constitution prohibits those sentenced to more than 12 months from holding public office. For this reason, the Electoral Commission (IEC) ruled out Zuma’s candidacy, but the court then gave the former president the green light on April 10. And now we are awaiting the outcome of the appeal filed by the IEC.

The final decision will be particularly important as Zuma’s candidacy with the new party could interrupt the ANC’s multi-decade dominance, causing its seat count to fall below 50% and therefore forcing Ramaphosa’s party into a coalition government.

Zuma left the ANC in 2023, explaining that the party had lost the strength and radical approach of its heyday. The name of the new formation that he heads, uMkhonto wi Sizwe, means “spear of the nation,” which was the name of the armed wing of the ANC when it fought against apartheid.