Tsenoli: Zuma is no ac­cused

CityPress - - News - ANDISIWE MAKINANA andisiwe.makinana@city­press.co.za

It is not ac­cept­able to re­fer to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma as “Ac­cused Num­ber One”, “an ac­cused crim­i­nal” and “looter-in-chief ”.

This rul­ing by deputy Speaker of the Na­tional Assem­bly on Thurs­day has again put the spot­light on free­dom of speech in Par­lia­ment and may well end up in court if the DA has its way.

At the cen­tre of this lat­est par­lia­men­tary con­tro­versy is the ques­tion whether MPs may quote from court judg­ments in their speeches in the House.

On Thurs­day, the deputy Speaker of the Na­tional Assem­bly Lech­esa Tsenoli ruled: “While it may in­deed be per­mis­si­ble to quote from court judg­ments and other rel­e­vant doc­u­ments, and do so ac­cu­rately, it is not ac­cept­able to use such quo­ta­tions and other such means to abuse other mem­bers or cast as­per­sions on the char­ac­ter or per­son of an­other mem­ber.”

Tsenoli said deroga­tory or dis­parag­ing ref­er­ences to mem­bers of the House un­der­mine mem­bers in the per­for­mance of their du­ties and “un­der­mine the assem­bly as the demo­crat­i­cally elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the peo­ple”.

This rul­ing fol­lowed his off-the-cuff rul­ing dur­ing the pres­i­dency bud­get de­bate ear­lier this month, where DA leader Mmusi Maimane wanted to quote from a Con­sti­tu­tional Court judg­ment but was chal­lenged by ANC MPs who rose on points of or­der to say “Zuma had not been found guilty by any court of law to have acted crim­i­nally”.

In his speech, Maimane re­ferred to Zuma as “Ac­cused Num­ber One”, “an ac­cused crim­i­nal” and “looterin-chief”, quot­ing the North Gaut­eng High Court and Con­sti­tu­tional Court judg­ments. Zuma is cur­rently wait­ing to hear if the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity will re­in­state fraud and cor­rup­tion charges against him af­ter the North Gaut­eng High court ruled that they were im­prop­erly with­drawn be­fore.

At the time, Tsenoli in­structed him to with­draw his re­marks promis­ing to come back with a for­mal rul­ing, which he did this past Thurs­day dur­ing a de­bate of Par­lia­ment’s bud­get vote.

DA chief whip John Steen­huisen im­me­di­ately in­formed Tsenoli that the DA will re­fer his rul­ing to the Rules Com­mit­tee, which can over­rule or amend a pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer’s rul­ing, adding “but we know where this is go­ing to end up”.

Steen­huisen later stood up on the podium hold­ing a copy of the Mail & Guardian news­pa­per with the head­line: “Ac­cused Num­ber One”.

“There is some­thing pro­foundly wrong with this Par­lia­ment when a na­tional news­pa­per has the free­dom to print these words, yet the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers say MPs can­not say what needs to be said in this House!” he said.

Yes­ter­day, Steen­huisen de­scribed Tsenoli’s rul­ing as “a fun­da­men­tal breach of the free­dom of speech en­trenched in the House. It’s ridiculous that you can­not now quote court judg­ments.

“Courts don’t make find­ings that em­bar­rass peo­ple un­less there has been wrong­do­ing,” he said.

He said he didn’t ex­pect suc­cess in the rules com­mit­tee ac­cus­ing the ANC of shut­ting down free­dom of speech.

“So, we will tick that box and we are on to court,” Steen­huisen said.

Tsenoli said “in ac­cor­dance with the rules and or­ders [of Par­lia­ment] … it has also been ruled that ac­cu­sa­tions against a mem­ber or per­sonal re­flec­tions on a mem­ber’s in­tegrity are equally of­fen­sive and dam­ag­ing if they are made by way of a quotation, in­fer­ence, hy­poth­e­sis, fig­ures of speech or other lit­er­ary de­vices or by be­ing posed as a ques­tion”.

Lech­esa Tsenoli

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