By Lauren Rawlins and Grant McCalgan
Parties have released their candidate nomination lists to the public, and a few of the nominees have at least once been found guilty of some form of crime. The constitution states that a person found guilty of a crime and given a prison sentence of more than 12 months, without the option of a fine, does not qualify to be a member of the national assembly. This however has not stopped ruling party, African National Congress (ANC), among other parties, from electing questionable candidates.
‘The fight against crime and corruption’ is one of the five priorities of the ANC over the next five years. But their selection of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela contradicts this idea. She is placed fifth on the list, just below Finance Minister Trevor Manual and just above Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. In July 2004, Madikizela-Mandela was convicted of 43 counts of fraud and sentenced to five years in prison. The sentence was later appealed and reduced to three-and-a-half years. She is currently serving a five year suspended sentence due to lapse in July this year. The ANC justifies her nomination by arguing that she didn’t actually go to jail. They interpret the above mentioned law as one stipulating that the person actually serves a prison sentence, with suspended imprisonment therefore being irrelevant.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Freedom Front plus (FF+) have objected to this interpretation and appealed to the Independent Electoral Commission to have people like Madikizela-Mandela removed from parties’ nomination lists, but without success. They feel that she is still a criminal and that she cannot be considered for a seat in parliament. DA chairperson James Selfe says that “the ANC top 100 candidate list is littered with individuals with a record of form of corruption.” However, the party continues to advocate its fight against corruption and crime, whilst furthering the power of those considered to be criminals, such as Madikizela-Mandela. Despite the IEC having rejected the objection against of Madikizela-Mandela, they failed to give much reason for their decision. The IEC is “not prepared to make an unpopular decision,” said FF+ spokesperson Pieter Groenewald, accusing the IEC of bias and saying that they are “seriously considering” taking their objection to the Electoral Court. The last date for Appeals to this objection was last week Thursday, 26 March 2009.
The ANC is not the only party to have previously convicted candidates on its list. COPE have put Alan Boesak to run in the Western Cape. In May 2000 he was convicted of fraud and theft, and was sentenced to a reduced term of three years. He was also pardoned by President Thabo Mbeki. Therefore, in terms of the constitution, he is a legible candidate, despite protests by many politicians and other South Africans.
The problem remains, whether it be a COPE, ANC, or any member of any party, of how they select candidates to run in parliament when those people have been convicted of crimes. More importantly, many people continue to vote for parties who have chosen such candidates. This begs the question of why the IEC chooses not to remove these people from the running.