Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has denied that Deputy Higher Education Minister Mduduzi Manana is receiving special treatment in his assault case, despite video evidence to the contrary.
Mbalula held a press conference in Parliament on Thursday to update the nation on the status of the case against Manana, who is accused of assaulting a woman at a Cubana nightclub in Johannesburg.
The minister fielded questions from the media on Manana's apparent special treatment, after video footage emerged showing that he had been escorted through the back door of the Randburg Magistrate's Court, with police protection.
Ministers and deputy ministers are entitled to VIP police protection.
"The case of the deputy minister is very disappointing, because we expect individuals like him to act as an ambassador," Mbalula said.
"The law, however, must take its course... Deputy Minister Manana will not be treated with special kid gloves."
Journalists asked Mbalula a number of questions about why it had taken five days for Manana to be arrested, why he still had police protection, and why he still held his position as deputy minister.
"Arrests need to be done procedurally," Mbalula said.
"Arrests themselves are not punishments. They are to ensure the suspect appears in court and to briefly restore peace."
He maintained that, while he was disappointed, a person was innocent until proven guilty.
'Ministers entitled to VIP protection'
As for why Manana still had police protection, Mbalula said he was still a deputy minister, and was thus entitled to VIP police protection.
When asked why Manana was still in his position, Mbablula said it was up to President Jacob Zuma to dismiss or suspend Manana.
"If it were me that had done something wrong, the people who employ me are the ones who give me direction. I could also opt to stand down.
"But from where I stand, I can't take such decisions."
Mbalula said he would need to get answers on Manana's VIP protection, as they essentially reported to him as police minister.
He also said he did not see the video footage of Manana coming through an alternative entrance of the Randburg Magistrate's Court, but said "a person's social standing couldn't prevent him from being a perpetrator".
As for Manana's delayed arrest, Mbalula claimed the police needed to first obtain evidence beyond social media reports, so that the suspect would have a full docket when making his first appearance in court.
He said Manana's admission of guilt on tape was part of the evidence gathered, along with witness statements.
Manana had availed himself to police, had been fully co-operative, was known to the victim and the public, and was therefore "not a flight risk".
New programme of action
There were also many examples of perpetrators not being arrested within a significant amount of time, and it was evidence of a larger procedural problem, he claimed.
Witnesses to the events on the night would have been asked to give statements, which would have included Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela, who was seen in pictures taken on the night before the incident, he also said.
Journalists argued that that, in itself, was evidence of treating someone differently.
Fears that Manana could receive special treatment were valid, Mbalula said, as it happened in societies. It was in his and the public's interest to get involved and find out what happened.
Mbalula said he was not defending Manana, but just explaining the law in terms of procedure. He ultimately decided to hold the press conference because the issue had become a public issue, and to avoid accusations of special treatment.
Mbalula said he would unveil a new programme of action on Friday to remove barriers to reporting domestic abuse crimes.
He would introduce a new mechanism at police station level that would change the way police dealt with woman wanting to lay a gender-violence charge.