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Ex-South African President Zuma is banned by a court from running for Parliament

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

South Africa's constitutional court has disqualified one of the country's former presidents from seeking reelection. With just over a week to go until election day, the court ruled because of a previous conviction, Jacob Zuma cannot be on the ballot for his new party. As NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reports from Johannesburg, it's a decision that could affect the vote.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Mr. Zuma was convicted in that this court found him guilty of the crime of contempt of court.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: This was the moment when the constitutional court barred a former president with a criminal record from competing in elections that are only days away.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And is accordingly not eligible to be a member of and not qualified to stand for election to, the National Assembly.

AKINWOTU: South Africa's highest court ruled that a 2021 conviction for failing to attend a corruption trial and his subsequent 15-month sentence made him ineligible to run for office until after 2027. The decision has raised questions on whether the disgraced but defiant former leader who was in power from 2009 to 2018 can still be a kingmaker in these elections.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Vocalizing).

AKINWOTU: Only a few days ago, tens of thousands filled the Orlando Stadium in Soweto outside Johannesburg. It was the final major campaign event of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party, or MK, and it showed the power this divisive figure still wields in South African politics. Zuma co-founded the MK Party only six months ago, naming it after the former armed wing of the ruling African National Congress or ANC. Zuma himself may not be on the ballot, but his MK party is still likely to inflict damage on the ANC party he once led. Polls project the ANC could lose their control of parliament and fall below a 50% share of the vote for the first time since it was elected 30 years ago after the end of apartheid. MK and other parties have grown in popularity here amid rising disillusionment with inequality and staggering unemployment.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Singing in non-English language).

AKINWOTU: Just after the decision here on Constitution Hill, there was a burst of energy, a crowd of about 100 supporters singing and marching, really a show of defiance, but most of them have left now. There are a few supporters lingering on the sidewalk.

LINDIWE MTSHALI: We are disappointed about the ruling. However, it was expected.

AKINWOTU: Lindiwe Mtshali is a senior member of the MK Women's League.

MTSHALI: I think it will actually strengthen our campaign because then it gives people more reason, you know, to go out and support the cause and vote for the MK Party.

AKINWOTU: Zuma may not be able to contest, but his party will still help shape this election.

Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Johannesburg, South Africa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.