CONGRESS of the People (COPE) leader Mosiuoa Lekota says he is considering legal steps against the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Nomaindia Mfeketo, for ordering him out of the house yesterday.

In an unusual show of solidarity, MPs from the Democratic Alliance (DA) walked out of the assembly with their COPE colleagues in protest over Ms Mfeketo's ruling that Mr Lekota had made unparliamentary remarks.

He had accused President Jacob Zuma last week of violating his oath of office by not protecting the rights of artist Brett Murray, who depicted the president with his genitals exposed, and City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, who refused to remove an image of the painting that appeared on the newspaper's website.

Ms Mfeketo's ruling was based on an objection lodged by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande during the budget vote debate on the Presidency.

"I cannot let this blot on my record stand and imply that I am an undisciplined MP. I will be discussing the issue with my lawyers," Mr Lekota said.

Ms Mfeketo called on Mr Lekota to withdraw his comment and apologise. She said such an allegation could not be made in Parliament without substantiation.

Mr Lekota refused, saying he could not " out of good conscience and in terms of section 89 of the constitution that allowed for criticism of the executive".

Ms Mfeketo then ordered Mr Lekota from the chamber, resulting in an outcry and walkout by other opposition MPs. However, every party left one MP behind to ensure that their positions on the budget bills before the house were recorded.

After they had left, African National Congress chief whip Mathole Motshekga expressed the ruling party's support for Ms Mfeketo's ruling.

Mr Lekota maintained that he was right to not withdraw the remark, and also cited Parliament's rule 66 that expressly said that the president was not exempt from criticism.

"The president did not uphold his oath of office when people tried to silence freedom of speech when they mobilised to march against The Spear painting and tried to silence City Press," he said.

D A parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said that Ms Mfeketo's ruling infringed on the freedom of speech. "Mr Lekota did the right thing in refusing to withdraw his comments, as it would have meant that effectively his whole speech would have been removed from the parliamentary record."

Meanwhile, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi took the highly unusual step of silencing one of his own MPs after Ms Mfeketo also had ruled against MP Koos van der Merwe.

She said a comment last week by Mr van der Merwe about Ms Mazibuko's hair was derogatory and unparliamentary and ordered him to withdraw it and apologise. Mr van der Merwe's objection to the ruling was silenced by his leader, who undertook to provide an "unreserved apology".

vecchiattop@bdfm.co.za