In a rambling statement earlier today, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu took issue with critics of President Zuma. Mr Mthembu was angry about allegations that there are elements within the ANC who fear the President; that President Zuma is beholden to those who supported him when he was accused of corruption; and charges that critics "cannot even wait for the Public Protector and other respected institutions created by our constitution to investigate and make public their findings regarding the Nkandla allegations".
All this is to be expected in the rough and tumble of robust political debate - although the debate on Nkandla would probably be assisted if the report involved had not been classified "Top Secret".
However, after stating that "the African National Congress respects the right of all citizens to make constructive criticisms with the intention to build and strengthen our young democracy", Mr Mthembu went on to make the following more problematic statement: "It is however improper that in the quest to build this common nationhood, others abuse our democracy and the rights to freedom of expression codified in our constitution. Elsewhere in the world, it is a criminal offence to insult a sitting Head of State and South Africans must, together, forge a common understanding on how we halt this impunity and abuse of democratic privilege"(emphasis added).
There are, indeed, other countries where it is a criminal offence to insult a sitting Head of State. They include countries like Zimbabwe, Cuba and North Korea ‐ but they do not include any genuine democracies. In South Africa the ability to criticise a sitting Head of State - as robustly as one likes ‐ is not a "democratic privilege" but a constitutional right.
We trust that Mr Mthembu was not suggesting that this right should, in any way, be limited.
Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation