Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has stood firm on his offer to help Fees Must Fall activist Kanya Cekeshe with an application for a presidential pardon after it drew criticism from the DA.
The EFF has voiced its support for the minister.
On Monday, Cekeshe was denied leave to appeal his conviction in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court. His application for bail was also denied, pending the outcome of the process.
Shortly thereafter, Lamola tweeted that the department would urgently assist Cekeshe with obtaining a presidential pardon and having his record expunged.
Cekeshe was convicted of public violence and malicious damage to property after he tried to torch a police van during the Fees Must Fall protests in 2016.
He is serving an eight-year sentence in Leeuwkop Prison in Bryanston.
Addressing the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on Wednesday, Lamola said that, in a previous meeting with the committee, he was asked what type of assistance was available to Fees Must Fall activists who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
"In particular, I was asked whether the department could assist with presidential pardons in relation to this matter. I made it clear then that there is no blanket amnesty process," he said.
"All of them will have to apply for assistance. Upon application, the matter will be duly assisted. This is the same offer we have extended to Kanya Cekeshe. The process will effectively be suspended by an appeal application.
"To inform our citizens of this process is not to undo the work of the prosecutor with a stroke of a pen. On the contrary: A pardon in our days is not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power. It is a part of the Constitutional scheme."
His words "to undo the work of the prosecutor with a stroke of a pen" echoes those of DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach, who asked National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi the day before how Lamola's actions affected the morale of hardworking prosecutors.
Batohi said: "This is not something that the minister hasn't mentioned previously. But as far as the prosecutors are concerned, we know that, notwithstanding in some instances what the executive might do, we need to do what we have to do."
Batohi also said students should be responsible and not burn libraries or attempt to set fire to police vehicles.
On Wednesday, Breytenbach again raised the matter. She said that, in his address to the committee, Lamola had said he wanted to hold those who plundered the state coffers accountable, yet his first reaction was to go to Twitter in the case of Cekeshe.
She said one often heard that there were not enough police vehicles.
"What are South Africans supposed to think of that?" Breytenbach asked.
"Where's the accountability you speak of so passionately?"
Breytenbach's DA colleague Werner Horn said Lamola's statements were irresponsible and he questioned whether he hadn't shown disregard for the principle of the separation of powers.
The EFF rallied outside Cekeshe's court appearances. EFF MP Thilivhali Mulaudzi said they appreciated Lamola's "move", but that he should have done it earlier.
He described Cekeshe as a "poor student fighting for the students", who had shown remorse and pleaded guilty.
Mulaudzi is an advocate (he sometimes wears a red overall with "Advocate Mulaudzi" emblazoned on his chest).
"I'm glad you're in Parliament and not in practice," Breytenbach snipped at him.
In response, Lamola said he did not think it was fair to "equate the issue of the Fees Must Fall students to a collapsed and broken criminal justice system".
"We cannot blame the challenges of our society on the challenges of one student. The fact that the student was convicted and sentenced, it shows that the system is working and it is functioning. And we do not interfere with that process. We've allowed that process to proceed," he said.
"What we are saying is provided for in the Constitution."
He said his predecessor, Michael Masutha, had started a process to help Fees Must Fall students with applications, including presidential pardons and expungement.
"What I'm saying is, it is not that I went out on a frolic of my own to say this is what I can avail. It is something that has always been there in the department. The department has helped people who want to apply for a presidential pardon," Lamola said.
"We help with that process: we give the forms to the person, we request all the available information, we consult all the necessary stakeholders and at that stage when we have received all the information, we then decide whether we can help the person who has applied for the presidential pardon. We support the application or we do not support the application."
He said the president had the discretion to decide whether to grant a pardon or not.
"I never said in the tweet we are granting a pardon, or that it is at all a fait accompli. I said in the tweet what I have said here in this House, that we remain available to assist the students of Fees Must Fall with an application for a presidential pardon," Lamola said.
"In our view, this does not undermine the processes of criminal justice. It also does not undermine the judiciary, because you give them their space, and when they have made a ruling, then you are able to help if you believe there are circumstances and factors that warrant the intervention of the executive."
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, it emerged that Cekeshe would appeal to the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on an urgent basis to set aside his conviction.
Lamola confirmed that they had received an application from Cekeshe's attorneys to help with a bid for a presidential pardon.
"At this stage, we have not yet been able to assist because we have not yet received all the necessary information," he said.
He also said they would not deal with it while the appeal proceedings are ongoing, to avoid a parallel process.