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Cape Town - A defiant Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota was ordered out of Parliament on Tuesday in a curtain-raiser for a furious row that saw opposition MPs accuse Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo and ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga of abusing the rules of the House and stifling freedom of speech.
Opposition MPs shouted “It’s an abuse!”, booed and banged on their desks in a bid to drown out Motshekga as he insisted that President Jacob Zuma had not defied a judicial order to hand over the so-called spy tapes that led to the halting of his prosecution on corruption, fraud and racketeering charges.
Motshekga quoted from the Supreme Court of Appeal’s March order that the National Prosecuting Authority – and not Zuma or his office – make available documents and material that informed the decision.
Lekota is trying to rally opposition party support for a bid to launch impeachment proceedings against Zuma, whose lawyer, Michael Hulley, is refusing to hand over the transcript of the tapes he has had since April 26.
His ejection came after he refused Mfeketo’s ruling that he withdraw his statement last week that Zuma, by defying a judicial order, had failed to uphold the constitution and should be impeached.
Lekota refused to withdraw it on the basis that his court challenge of an earlier ruling by Mfeketo would be heard on November 29.
“It would be tantamount to asking me to withdraw the case I have brought against your ruling in the courts – I cannot do it,” he said.
Mfeketo suggested he was acting in deliberate defiance of the House rules and challenging her authority. She said he was “alive to the consequences of his conduct and speech”, and had had similar rulings against him on numerous occasions.
Lekota served as chairman of the National Council of Provinces and as a cabinet minister before leaving the ANC to help form Cope.
Mfeketo had ruled earlier that Minister of Mineral Resources Susan Shabangu and Minister of Water Affairs Edna Molewa were out of order for suggesting last month that when he was defence minister, Lekota ordered soldiers to attack protesting residents in Khutsong.
As neither minister was in the House, they would be asked to withdraw their statements when next they were present, Mfeketo said.
Their statements had offended Lekota’s “integrity and honour”, she said.
But Lekota equally had to withdraw statements, as his accusation against Zuma had also not been brought in terms of the rules – which had to be upheld, “court or no court”, or there would be “a chaos in this chamber”, Mfeketo insisted.
An equally adamant Lekota held his ground, prompting Mfeketo to appeal: “Are there no serjeants-at-arms in this Parliament, can you please lead Mr Lekota out of this house?”
Lekota then left, followed by most of the Cope caucus, to shouts of “Hamba (Go)!” from ANC MPs.
The booing and desk-banging came after Motshekga rose to say that Lekota had misled the House by making a statement he knew to be false, undermining the office of the president for “cheap party political gain”.
DA deputy chief whip Sandy Kalyan argued that his “statement” was against the rules, but ANC MPs said Motshekga was giving notice of a motion for Lekota to be censured.
“I suggest members read the rules and when they talk about decorum, think about banging on their desks as not being part of the decorum of the House,” said ANC MP John Jeffery.
IFP MP Mario Ambrosini accused Mfeketo of applying the rules “as a form of censorship”. Freedom of speech had been “outrageously and shamefully curtailed”, whereas it was MPs’ duty “to voice the anger and disapproval of the people of South Africa rather than be censored” every time they criticised the executive.
“The message has gone through, thank you, deputy Speaker,” Motshekga said as he concluded his speech amid the booing and the clatter of desk-banging.
IFP chief whip Koos van der Merwe said MPs would hang their heads in shame when the day’s proceedings were shown on television news.
Mfeketo said she was not trying to stifle debate, “but I think, honourable members, really, we are overdoing it”, adding that at times the House was “a circus”.