Cape Town - Shouts of anger erupted in the National Assembly on Wednesday when Congress of the People (COPE) leader Mosiuoa Lekota accused President Jacob Zuma of violating his oath of office.
Lekota said the president had failed to uphold his Constitutional obligation to protect the rights of artist Brett Murray, who depicted Zuma with his genitals exposed, and City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, who had refused to remove an image of the painting from the newspaper's website.
“The president, whose bounden duty it was to uphold the Constitution, did not once utter a word of disapproval against his party leaders and Cabinet members resorting to fascist-style measures and tactics to threaten those who were exercising their rights and waiting for the high court to deliver a judgment,” he said.
Lekota was speaking during a raucous debate after Zuma delivered the presidency's budget speech.
“The president failed to uphold the right of Ferial Haffajee in terms of 16(1)(a) and of Brett Murray in terms of 16(1)(c) and he has failed the nation as a whole by not being faithful to his oath of office.”
Lekota, whom MPs accused of shouting and treating the House as a “rally”, said Zuma never once asked his followers to await the judgment of the court in the matter.
He said Zuma did not repudiate Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who is also general secretary of the South African Communist Party, for “acting in direct contravention of the Constitution”.
Neither did Zuma condemn “the fascist action” of Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile “who literally frog-marched” Goodman Gallery owner Lisa Esser to make a public apology before the media.
“The shocking failure of the president to uphold the Constitution over the last fortnight ought to warrant a review by this House.
“The laws made in this democratic Parliament seem to be of no consequence and the role of the judiciary of no standing.”
As shouts erupted in the House, Lekota asked Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo, who was chairing the debate, to protect him from being “humiliated”.
Nzimande asked Mfeketo to rule whether Lekota could make such a “serious statement” about Zuma.
“If a member of this House can stand and make a serious statement that the president has violated his oath of office... Such a statement is a serious thing. Madam chair, I ask you to rule.”
Mfeketo said the matter would be ruled on later.
In a statement, the Office of ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga said it was “gravely disappointed” by what it termed an “irresponsible and reckless” statement by Lekota.
“Parliament is not a shebeen where spurious allegations are made with impunity,” it said.
“Lekota's conduct makes a mockery of this Parliament. His remarks are baseless, opportunistic, and silly and we reject them with the contempt they deserve.”
It said Lekota had violated the proper procedure of the House.
“An allegation of violation of office by a head of state is a serious matter that cannot be made lightly or for cheap politicking in the House,” it said.
“In terms of Parliament's established practice and procedures, an MP who wishes to bring allegations of improper conduct should do so by way of a substantive motion.”
It welcomed the commitment by the deputy speaker to look into Lekota's statement and to make a ruling.
Motshekga's office was confident that Lekota would be instructed to withdraw his statement and apologise to the House. - Sapa