Zuma did not violate Constitution - Deputy Justice Minister

Parliament - The Constitutional Court did not say that President Jacob Zuma seriously violated the Constitution in his handling of the Public Protector's report, Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery said on Tuesday.

"It is the [Democratic Alliance], not the Constitutional Court that is saying that the president committed a serious violation of our Constitution," he said in the National Assembly to howls of disbelief from opposition benches during a debate over whether Zuma should be removed from office.

The DA introduced the proposal that Zuma be removed in terms of Section 89 of the Constitution, a move that has been likened to the US process of impeachment. 

This was after the Constitutional Court ruled last week that Zuma failed to uphold the Constitution when he did not comply with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's remedial action regarding payment for the upgrades to his Nkandla homestead.

Jeffery said on Tuesday: "There is a difference, whether the DA likes it or not, between and inconsistency and a violation.

"He did not show he cannot perform the functions of office."

Jeffery went on to say that former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki were also found to have violated the Constitution in the past.

Mandela's case involved the pharmaceutical industry, and Mbeki regarding pardons.

He said there was nothing wrong with Zuma seeking clarity on the powers of the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and whether her findings on Nkandla are binding.

Jeffery, who is also an attorney, quoted previous judgments which he said showed that there was doubt that the Public Protector's powers were crystal clear.

Even a previous public protector, Selby Baqwa, had been quoted as saying that although his findings were not binding, the government had abided by 90% of the protector's report anyway.

Even Madonsela herself was unsure, Jeffery claimed.

He said that Section 89.1 of the Constitution allowed for the removal of the president under certain circumstances, but last Thursday's Constitutional Court judgment against Zuma and National Assembly, was not such an occasion.

"It was against this legal backdrop of strong ideas that the Public Protector's remedial action was not binding, and that events unfolded in the way that they did."

He was telling the House this to show that the president and the House never acted in bad faith.

"His failure to implement the recommendations of the public protector was on the belief, for which there was considerable support at the time, that remedial action was not binding."

He added that the Constitutional Court itself had said there was not an absolute bar to a parallel process if things were not clear.

"The president has issued an apology and assured the nation that he acted in good faith and never knowingly acted to violate the Constitution."

DA MP James Selfe later said that the public protector never said she was unsure of her powers, but he was drowned out by perpetual heckling and shouting by one or two rows of ANC MPs.

"She was never confused. It was the honourable deputy minister that was confused. He has been disproved in every court of the land," said Selfe.

Jeffery said Zuma was complying with the order and the National Treasury would calculate how much of the cost of the chicken run, cattle kraal and swimming pool, among other improvements, he should pay for.

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