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Lekota sues Parliament

July 29 2012

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota is suing Parliament and Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo for contravening the constitution and rules of the National Assembly over his expulsion from the House for saying President Jacob Zuma violated his oath of office by staying silent during the furore over the Spear painting.

The comments, in which Lekota criticised Zuma for not defending the constitutional rights of either artist Brett Murray, who painted the president with exposed genitals, or Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press which faced a boycott call over her refusal to remove the image from its website, were made during the Presidency budget vote debate. Subsequently they were ruled unparliamentary and when Lekota refused to withdraw them, he was expelled from the House. In an unusual show of unity, DA MPs walked out with their Cope colleagues.

Lekota confirmed to The Sunday Independent that court documents were to be filed tomorrow for a review and reversal of the deputy speaker’s decision and an apology to him and his party.

“My dismissal from the sitting of the House was contrary to the constitution and the rules of the National Assembly,” he said.

“It is a very dangerous precedent, if it is not challenged and reversed.”

Parliament yesterday said it had received notice that legal documents would be served, but it was not possible to comment until the documents were actually received and advice was given to the national legislature’s presiding officers.

Lekota’s legal challenge centres around Section 58 of the constitution, which grants cabinet members, deputy ministers and members of the National Assembly freedom of speech – and also absolves them of liability from civil or criminal proceedings, arrest, imprisonment or damages for anything that is said, documents produced or matters revealed.

However, as the constitution also permits Parliament to draft its own rules of conduct, Rule 66 of the National Assembly comes into play. It states: “No member shall reflect upon the competence or honour of a judge of a superior court, or of the holder of an office (other than a member of the government) whose removal from such office is dependent upon a decision of this House, except upon a substantive motion in this House alleging facts which, if true, would in the opinion of the Speaker prima facie warrant such a decision.”

A substantive motion is an independent statement by an MP, which requires notice before it can be tabled, and thus is also dependent on the volumes of work before the House.

During the Presidency budget vote on May 30, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande raised an objection after Lekota accused the president of failing to live up to his constitutional duties: “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.”

Amid loud protest that the Cope leader was treating the House as a shebeen and a rally, Nzimande asked Mfeketo to rule on this “serious statement”, but she indicated this would be done at a later stage.

The following day Zuma, in his response to the parliamentary debate, took a swipe at Lekota for his “noisy” contribution that was “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Court documents were being finalised this weekend.

It is understood that the legal action came after correspondence between Lekota and Mfeketo failed to resolve matters. - Sunday Independent