South Africa’s apex court ruled yesterday that former president Jacob Zuma cannot run for parliament in this month’s election, a judgment that could influence the outcome and trigger unrest from Zuma’s supporters.

The constitutional court ruled that Zuma’s 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court in 2021 disqualified him from standing in the May 29 election, as the constitution prohibits anyone given a prison sentence of 12 months or longer from holding a parliamentary seat.

“It is declared that Mr. Zuma was convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment, … and is accordingly not eligible to be a member of, and not qualified to stand for election to, the National Assembly,” its ruling said.

Zuma, who was forced to quit as president in 2018, has fallen out with the governing African National Congress (ANC) and has been campaigning for a new party called uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) named after the ANC’s former armed wing.

MK secretary-general Sihle Ngubane told local reporters that Monday’s judgment did not affect its campaign. He added that the party’s leadership would meet and take direction from Zuma on the way forward.

Opinion polls suggest the ANC’s majority is at risk after 30 years in power, and MK represents a threat to it, especially in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal where he remains popular.

In 2021 Zuma’s jailing triggered riots in KwaZulu-Natal in which more than 300 people died and which morphed into a wider spate of looting.

3rd Lead:

Knocks as ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas leaders

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said yesterday he had requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence chief and three Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement issued after over seven months of war in Gaza that he had reasonable grounds to believe that the five men “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He said he had applied for an arrest warrant for Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant as well as for Netanyahu. They have overseen Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly Oct. 7 raid on Israel.

He has also applied for arrest warrants for Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar; Mohammed Al-Masri, the commander-in-chief of the military wing of Hamas who is widely known as Deif; and Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ Political Bureau.

A panel of pre-trial judges will determine whether the evidence supports the issuing of arrest warrants, but the court has no means to enforce such warrants and its investigation into the Gaza war has been opposed by the United States and Israel.

Israel and Palestinian leaders have dismissed allegations of committing war crimes, and representatives of both sides criticised Khan’s decision. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2023 over alleged war crimes in the Ukraine war, but Monday’s step was the first time Khan has sought to intervene in the conflict in the Middle East.

“Israel, like all States, has a right to take action to defend its population,” Khan said. “That right, however, does not absolve Israel or any state of its obligation to comply with international humanitarian law.”

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He said crimes against humanity allegedly carried out by Israel were part of “a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy.” “These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day,” he said.

Evidence his office collected showed Israel had systematically deprived civilians of “objects indispensable to human survival,” including restricting food, water, medicine and energy, he said. Netanyahu and Gallant bore responsibility, he said, for Israel wilfully causing great suffering and for killing as a war crime.

The Hamas leaders face allegations of bearing responsibility for crimes committed by Hamas including extermination and murder, the taking of hostages, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence.

The ICC is the world’s first permanent international war crimes court. It 124 member states are obliged to immediately arrest the wanted person if they are on a member state’s territory but the court has no means to enforce arrest warrants.

A court of last resort, the ICC steps in only when a state is unwilling or genuinely unable to do so itself. Israel has said alleged war crimes in Gaza are being investigated domestically.

Israel and its main ally the United States are not members of the ICC, along with China and Russia.

Member states have in the past failed to hand over suspects who entered their territory, including Sudanese former President Omar Bashir, wanted since 2005 for war crimes and genocide.

But if warrants are issued against Israeli leaders, court members including nearly all European Union countries could be put in a diplomatically difficult position.

“This is a watershed event in the history of international justice,” said Reed Brody, a veteran war crimes prosecutor. “The ICC has never, in over 21 years of existence, indicted a western official. Indeed, no international tribunal since Nuremberg (against representatives of Nazi Germany) has done so.”

Israeli ministers and Palestinian representatives denounced the prosecutor’s moves.

“Drawing parallels between the leaders of a democratic country determined to defend itself from despicable terror to leaders of a blood-thirsty terror organisation (Hamas) is a deep distortion of justice and blatant moral bankruptcy,” Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the prosecutor’s decision to request warrants for the three Hamas leaders “equates the victim with the executioner”. Hamas demanded the arrest warrant request for its leaders be cancelled.

At least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health ministry, and aid agencies have also warned of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies. Some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 rampage, according to Israeli tallies.

US lawmakers have issued threats against ICC. Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican congressman from New York, has said that the ICC is “playing with fire, putting any international legitimacy at risk”. “There will be serious consequences if they proceed,” he said.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also a Republican, called the move an “outrageous decision” that is “a slap in the face to the independent judiciary in Israel, which is renowned for their independence”. Graham said he will work with Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress to “levy damning sanctions against the ICC”.

Republican representative from Florida Brian Mast said in a post on X: “America doesn’t recognise the International Criminal Court, but the court sure as hell will recognize what happens when you target our allies.”

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