Did President Cyril Ramaphosa score an own goal with Zuma remission of sentence?

In this file picture, former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa, during their time in government together.

In this file picture, former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa, during their time in government together.

Published Apr 10, 2024


It is not everyday one can say the African National Congress (ANC) is shaken, but today is that day. The ANC is undoubtedly shaken and will now most likely and almost definitely lose majority support in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

This is as supporters of Jacob Zuma and the Umkhonto Wesizwe Political Party (MKP) were given a significant electoral boost on Tuesday when the Electoral Court ruled the former president could contest elections and his face would be allowed on the ballot paper.

Also in the backdrop, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence, fuelled by the National Freedom Party increasingly becoming a non-entity in KZN and also increased frustration with the ANC in that province.

The ANC is unlikely to admit publicly that it is concerned, shaken, stirred or any such adjective, but behind closed doors across the road in the passages and corridors of Luthuli House, secretary general Fikile Mbalula, Nomvula Mokonyane, Mdumiseni Ntuli, Gwede Mantashe, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Co, will be sweating buckets.

The Electoral Court issued a hurried order without reasons on Tuesday, as it had to decide on the matter in accordance with strict deadlines of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).

This led to the court not yet giving reasons why it ruled the way it did, but based on some of the arguments advanced by Zuma's legal representative advocate Dali Mpofu, we can narrow it down to one or two possibilities. The reasons are expected in a written judgment next week.

Ramaphosa own goal

The first is Ramaphosa and his Justice Minister Ronald Lamola scored a spectacular own goal when they handed Zuma a remission of sentence in August last year in a politically-motivated bid to likely avoid July Riots 2.0 if Zuma was forced back to jail.

Mpofu argued in court that when Ramaphosa gave Zuma a remission of sentence after serving just three months in prison, he effectively reduced his 15 month sentence to three months.

Cambridge Dictionary defines remission (noun) as:

A reduction of the time that a person has to stay in prison.

The significance of a reduced three month sentence by remission, is that according to rules of Parliament: “Every citizen who may vote is entitled to be a member of the National Assembly except:

– people convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than a year in prison without the option of a fine after October 1996. Such people qualify for membership of the National Assembly again five years after their sentences have been completed.”

Of course, the court has yet to advance the reasons, but this is a high possibility.

Why did the ANC bend over backwards for Zuma?

Version 1 of the July Riots started on the first day of Zuma's arrest with trucks being set alight on the N3 in KwaZulu-Natal. Quickly thereafter, shops and malls were being looted, warehouses and distribution hubs targeted as mass-scale looting took place.

In the end, over 350 people were killed and over R50 billion in damages was suffered by businesses in Gauteng and KZN.

The second, is that the Electoral Court has possibly ruled, as Mpofu argued, that it was not for the IEC to determine who can and cannot be eligible for the National Assembly, arguing that it was Parliament’s decision to determine if Zuma qualified or did not. This is probably the less likely of the two.

But back to the Ramaphosa and his Pierre Issa type “own goal”.

A quick recap shows that Zuma was ordered to 15 months jail time for contempt of court by the Constitutional Court in July 2021 after he defied the apex court, which had ordered him to return to testify at the State Capture Commission.

A defiant Zuma, on the brink of midnight, conceded and was checked into the Estcourt Correctional Centre.

He reportedly spent most of his time in a medical facility and three months later, he was granted medical parole, which was later found to be unlawful.

Faced with this conundrum, Ramaphosa and Lamola executed the remission for Zuma and over 9,000 other prisoners, citing over-crowded prisons just eight months ago. Bingo.

As Zuma continues to drive a wedge between himself and his former comrades in the ANC, one has to wonder if the ANC, which has dithered and coddled Zuma for so long, regrets not acting decisively against Zuma.

When Zuma played his card on December 16, 2023, announcing he would vote and campaign for the MKP, the ANC dithered again, putting the issue on the back burner instead of terminating his membership.

Instead of terminating Zuma’s membership once and for all, the ANC went quiet, and weeks later, they adopted a ”Zuma expelled himself” rhetoric going into the January 8 celebrations from the likes of Mbalula.

The ANC only has itself to blame over the Zuma issue, the Zuma problem, the Zuma conundrum.

The chickens have come home to roost.

And in the end, Zuma might not even become an MP ever again. Time will tell.

* Sihle Mlambo is a content manager at IOL