Parliament - The ANC on Thursday said President Jacob Zuma could not be held liable for misspending on his Nkandla home, nor made to refund the money, prompting the opposition to threaten to withdraw from the parliamentary committee looking into the controversy.
Opposition parties threw down the gauntlet late on Thursday night after senior ANC MP Mathole Motshekga told the committee the majority of legal minds agreed with the president's view that remedies put forward by the public protector were not binding.
"Our view is that remedial action is not binding, it has the status of recommendations," he said, adding that the country's courts had not pronounced definitively on the matter.
"Therefore it is for us at the end of this engagement to decide what we do when the balance of evidence points in the other direction," he added.
This was a clear indication that the ANC majority on the committee would frustrate the opposition's stated aim of making sure that Zuma complies with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's directive to pay for luxuries added to his home in KwaZulu-Natal at the taxpayer's expense.
Economic Freedom Front leader Julius Malema said the opposition was ready to take the matter to the Constitutional Court because the law did not allow the legislature to review the public protector's findings.
"If you want to review the public protector's report, we are going to leave the committee and we will see you in court," he said.
"We are not going to be bullied by an ANC that does anything to protect President Zuma."
Zuma not obliged
He was backed by Freedom Front Plus MP Corne Mulder who said he had reluctantly come to agree with the left-wing outfit's parliamentary tactics because the ANC left the opposition no choice.
"You will even put the Constitution on the altar to protect the president. This is a vital matter. It is going to the Constitutional Court."
At this point, after nine hours of wrangling, the Democratic Alliance asked for the meeting to be resumed in the morning.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane asked the ANC to reconsider both its view on the status of Madonsela's findings, and its refusal to allow the committee to call witnesses, notably Zuma.
"If you go that route let's put it on record that none of us, none of us in this country will comply with the public protector's findings... we are saying to South Africa ignore the public protector, she is irrelevant."
Zuma last month wrote to Madonsela that he was not obliged to "rubberstamp" the findings in her report on the security upgrade at Nkandla that cost R246m and included a swimming pool.
He has instead deferred a decision on whether he was liable to reimburse the state for a portion of the project to the police minister, and ANC MPs on Thursday said this process should be allowed to take its course.
They rejected demands from the opposition that the committee should agree on a list of witnesses to summon, and that Zuma should supplement the submissions he made to Madonsela and to the SIU.
‘Personally not responsible’
Madonsela has lamented Zuma's failure to answer 18 out of 29 questions she sent him while probing the project, and newspapers have reported that he replied to the SIU's questions under legal duress and in three pages.
"We do not support the point of calling people here," ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said, adding that Zuma did not have the information the opposition accused him of withholding.
"My take would be that he did not have the answers. He did not have time to know everything. "We cannot say that we are holding the president responsible for something that was done by somebody else."
Motshekga agreed that the committee should rather seek answers from public works staff implicated by the SIU's report, the department's then minister Geoff Doidge and Zuma's architect Minenhle Makhanya, from whom the SIU is seeking to recover R155m in overspending at Nkandla.
He added that Zuma was "personally not responsible" for steps taken by directors-general and ministers, "so as matters stand we cannot talk about the president's liability on this score or that".
But opposition parties argued that this argument was legally flawed, since Madonsela found that Zuma had violated the Executive Ethics Code by failing to act in a manner that protected state resources.
Malema angrily said that Zuma should not only be forced to face the committee but be arrested and tried for corruption.
"The president must take full responsibility because he willingly took part in this corruption and as a result he must be charged."
He accused the ANC of systematically undermining state institutions when the president fell foul of them.
"South Africa has been reduced to personal rule," he said.
"Each time there is an institution that has a problem with President Zuma, we decide that institution must be destroyed in defence of one individual.
"The public protector is what we have left, everything else has been corrupted, the NPA, the Hawks."