Former South African president Jacob Zuma criticizes top court over election disqualification

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Former South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday criticized the country’s highest court and his former allies in the ruling African National Congress over his disqualification from next week’s election and said he would fight for his rights “in a disciplined way.”

Zuma’s comments came in a video message he said was aimed at the people of South Africa and released on social media six days before the possibly pivotal national vote.

The 82-year-old former leader made clear he would still campaign against the ANC he once led in the run-up to Wednesday’s election with his new political party, even though he has been barred from standing as a candidate for a return to Parliament six years after he resigned the presidency under a cloud of corruption allegations.

Zuma was disqualified on Monday by the apex Constitutional Court over a section of the constitution that says anyone who has been given a prison sentence of 12 months or more without the option of a fine cannot stand for Parliament until five years after the sentence was completed. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2021 for contempt by the same court for refusing to testify at an inquiry into corruption.

Zuma cast himself as a victim of a biased legal system and asked the people of South Africa to “take a stand to correct the wrongs of this country.” It was not a call for unrest, though, as he emphasized “I want peace. I want equality. I want freedom.”

But his criticism of the highest court could still be seen as concerning for many South Africans who hold dearly their constitution, which guaranteed the freedom and rights of people of all races after the end of the apartheid system of forced segregation. Zuma referred to the panel of Constitutional Court judges who ruled on his disqualification as “learned friends” and said they had restricted his freedom and democracy.

“I’ve taken a decision that I will continue fighting … in different ways to convince everyone that I am right. The learned friends are not,” Zuma said. “I will continue, in a disciplined way, to fight for my rights.”

His options to appeal his election disqualification are almost non-existent as the court that barred him is the highest authority on the constitution.

Zuma’s surprising return to politics late last year with his newly formed uMkhonto we Sizwe, also known as MK Party, shook South African politics at a time when the ANC was especially vulnerable. The long-ruling party, which has been in government since the end of apartheid in 1994, could lose its majority for the first time in this election.

Analysts expect Zuma’s new party to further erode the ANC’s declining support in another blow to its chances of holding onto its majority, while Zuma has directed fierce criticism at current President Cyril Ramaphosa, the man who once served as his deputy president. It has increased tensions around an election that was already seen as the country’s most important in 30 years.

South African authorities have learned to take Zuma’s influence seriously after his jailing in 2021 was followed by a week of rioting, looting and burning in parts of Africa’s most advanced country, leading to more than 350 deaths. It was some of the worst violence South Africa had seen since the end of apartheid.


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