Jason Mitchell succeeds in South African national election dispute

In Electoral Commission of South Africa v Umkhonto Wesizwe Political Party [2024] ZACC 6, South Africa’s apex court, the Constitutional Court, held that former president Jacob Zuma is ineligible to stand in the upcoming national election.

Mr Zuma was president of South Africa from 2009 to 2018. In 2021, the Constitutional Court ordered Mr Zuma to appear and give evidence at a commission of inquiry. Mr Zuma did not comply with that order and, in a subsequent hearing, the Court found him guilty of contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months’ imprisonment. Mr Zuma ultimately only served a few months of that sentence, having been released in terms of a general remission of sentences for non-violent offenders granted by the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa. In 2024, a political party contesting the upcoming national election, the MK Party, added Mr Zuma to its list of candidates for the election. The Electoral Commission, an independent body established under South Africa’s Constitution, upheld an objection to Mr Zuma’s eligibility to stand in the election based on section 47(1)(e) of the Constitution. Section 47(1)(e) disqualifies anyone who is “convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months' imprisonment” from being eligible to be a member of Parliament. The Electoral Court, a specialised court for election disputes, upheld Mr Zuma’s appeal against the Electoral Commission’s decision that Mr Zuma is ineligible. The Electoral Commission appealed to the Constitutional Court, which set aside the Electoral Court’s decision and held that Mr Zuma is ineligible to stand in the upcoming election.

Jason Mitchell appeared on behalf of the Electoral Commission in the Electoral Court and in the Constitutional Court, led by Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC. The judgment is available here

Jason practises in England and in South Africa. He accepts instructions in Maitland’s core practice areas and in most areas of South African law.