Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs walked out of the parliamentary inquiry convened to determine whether their behaviour in chanting “pay back the money” to President Jacob Zuma during question time in the National Assembly on August 21 constituted contempt of Parliament.
The walkout followed calls by EFF leader Julius Malema for the powers and privileges committee running the hearing to stop the entire disciplinary process saying it was contaminated with the ANC acting as a complainant, judge and possibly witnesses if the case proceeds.
He wanted the committee to withdraw all the charges against EFF MPs. Malema dared the committee to find them guilty in absentia and impose the harshest sentence, which is a suspension for 30 days without pay.
Malema is one of 20 EFF MPs who have been charged for misconduct by Parliament’s powers and privileges committee for chanting “pay back the money”. The MPs had also refused to leave the National Assembly chamber when instructed to do so by Speaker Baleka Mbete.
The MPs in question had been unhappy with Zuma’s reply to a question about when he was going to pay back part of the money spent on the R246-million security upgrades to his private Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal.
On Tuesday, the first session of a five-day hearing into EFF behaviour, the party shifted all the blame to Mbete, saying she had led to the degeneration of the August 21 plenary session by refusing to acknowledge EFF MPs who wanted to pose questions to the president.
Malema wanted the committee to summon Mbete and caution her against the manner in which she conducted herself in the House on that day. He read out an 89-point submission to the hearing, on behalf of the charged EFF MPs, saying they were of the view that the committee should not proceed with the disciplinary process because, as members of opposing political parties, they were conflicted and in no position to arrive at a fair and just conclusion.
Malema also pointed out that the majority of the committee was ANC members, a party which has been calling for a harsher sentence against members of the EFF in response to the fracas in Parliament.
“The complainant [Mbete] is not only a speaker but a party national chairperson who on Mondays sits with the president and on Thursday attends the ruling party caucus and on other days preside over House meetings where she is expected to be impartial.”
“The complainant is not only a speaker, but sits in the powerful deployment committee about who becomes a whip, a minister and committee chairperson, it will be career limiting for you to differ with her,” said Malema as he explained why ANC MPs could not be objective in dealing with the matter.
Malema blamed Mbete for the chaos in the plenary session, saying she was the one who should be charged. “The speaker of Parliament refused us an opportunity to receive an answer from the president and continued to recognise other members of Parliament to ask further questions despite the fact that our question was not answered,” said Malema.
He said Zuma’s response failed to answer “the simple question of when will he pay back the money”. He said when EFF members rose on the point of order and asked for Mbete’s attention, she had blatantly ignored them, and instructed them to sit down.
Malema questioned why ANC members, who were heard singing Umshini Wami and “trying to intimidate EFF members” for holding the president to answer the question, were not charged.
He also alleged that a member of the powers and privileges committee was among the ANC members who tried to force their way into the house “such that it would have been dangerous for EFF members to leave the house”.
“One member who successfully pushed her way in is Nokukhanya Mthembu seated amongst you and a judge in a matter she is not only a potential witness or witnessed the alleged misconduct, but herself sang the song Umshini Wami and forced herself inside the House during house suspension, trampling over a police line and successfully pushing police officers way to gain entry.”
“Whatever is the outcome of this process, the EFF will not be participating,” he said, before walking out alongside other EFF MPs who attended the hearing.
The committee adjourned shortly afterwards, but was scheduled to continue and to determine a way forward.