/ 4 May 2016

Maimane calls Zuma an ‘accused criminal’ in Parliament

The Democratic Alliance
'The longer the ANC stays in power, the more our country will suffer from the rot of corruption.' — DA leader Mmusi Maimane (David Harrison/M&G)

Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane was forced to withdraw a reference in Parliament to President Jacob Zuma as an “accused criminal”, as the party hammered the point that the North Gauteng High Court held that he should face criminal charges and the ANC rushed to his defence.

In his speech in the presidency’s budget debate, Maimane called Zuma a thief, the ANC’s “looter in chief” and the main beneficiary of South Africa’s 1990s arms acquisition programme, from which the 783 criminal charges in question in that judgment stem.

Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli immediately told him it was unparliamentary to call the president a criminal.

“The president has not been found guilty of those charges. Honourable Maimane you cannot call somebody a criminal who has not been convicted,” Tsenoli said.

“The rules require of you to make any such allegation against any member, including the president, in a substantive motion. If you cannot do that, withdraw that please.”

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen rose to say Tsenoli was infringing on free speech by not allowing Maimane parliamentary privilege but Tsenoli would not be swayed. He told the DA to respect the ruling and challenge it later if they chose.

Maimane replied: “We will challenge, I withdraw,” and resumed his speech.

“And when we vote on the budget, the people of this country will see, once again, that Mr Zuma and today’s ANC are one and the same. They will see, once again, how far this once mighty liberation movement has fallen. They will see how the ANC protects its looter-in-chief. And make no mistake, this man stole from all of us.”

Tsenoli again objected, and so did ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu.

Mthembu said: “As we sit here President Zuma is not accused… He has not been found by any court anywhere to have looted anything at all. We can’t be sitting in this house and insulting the president of the Republic.”

Protest from leading opposition parties the DA and Economic Freedom Fighters overshadowed Zuma’s speech in which he listed government achievements and priorities.

Steenhuisen rose numerous times to say the DA was merely referencing court rulings against Zuma, leading to a heated debate across the floor as to whether last Friday’s court ruling had effectively reinstated the charges that dogged Zuma to the steps of the presidency.

The court ruled that the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to withdraw corruption and other charges against Zuma shortly before the 2009 national elections had been irrational. The implications of the judgment remain moot, but the DA and academics say that short of appealing the judgment, the NPA must now indict the president.

“In his judgment on Friday, Judge Ledwaba said that … the NPA Head at the time, Mokotedi Mpshe, had ‘ignored the importance of his oath of office’ in withdrawing the charges, and that his decision was irrational. He also said that Mpshe found himself ‘under pressure’ to discontinue the prosecution against Mr Zuma,” Maimane said.

“Under pressure from whom exactly? I think we all know the answer.”

He concluded his speech with a final “the president is a thief”.

Mthembu rose: “We will say the obvious as a point of order that the leader of the opposition had insulted the president and he must withdraw.”

The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Narend Singh was up next to object that debating time was being wasted and that it was “extremely offensive” of Maimane to call Zuma a thief. Tsenoli ruled that the remark would be investigated.

Earlier, EFF MPs were forcibly removed from the National Assembly after they tried to stop Zuma from speaking, which was followed by a violent confrontation between some MPs and parliamentary protection services. EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu said the party would not let Zuma address the legislature after the Constitutional Court in March ruled that the president had undermined the Constitution with regards to his Nkandla estate. 

Read more: EFF forcibly removed from Parliament after violent altercation

The EFF has said that it will pursue criminal charges for being removed from Wednesday’s session. – African News Agency (ANA)