Parliament defends police action; DA, EFF go the legal route

Parliament justified calling the police to remove an Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP from the National Assembly on Thursday night, saying this action had been a long time coming, following months of provocation by opposition MPs.

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete blamed the EFF, without specifically naming the party, saying a trend began the day of the State of the Nation debate, when a certain MP was thrown out of the House. It is well known that the MP in question was EFF leader Julius Malema, who was thrown out of the House after his refusal to withdraw statements that the ANC government had killed people in Marikana.

Mbete told journalists on Friday morning that the trend has continued. She added that “honourable members have actually said very clearly in public that they have the intention of disobeying and not cooperating with the rules.

“That is the trend we have observed and yesterday was one of many occasions when this sort of conduct, which is predetermined before they come to the House because they are pursuing a particular approach that they have taken and have expressed themselves on in public.

“No amount of trying to accommodate honourable members has helped; no amount of invoking rules has helped. I think, last week, a voice that represents that trend has said we have no intention of cooperating, we will continue to disregard rulings and the rules,” she said.

Mbete said the events of Thursday night were a culmination of what had been building up for the past five months, since the new Parliament started sitting.

“We have no illusion whatsoever. Even when we reach the point which we have for a long time resisted, for a long time in these five months that we have gone through, what the law actually allows us [to do] finally happened yesterday,” she said.

Parliament’s head of security, Zelda Holtzman, said it was the sergeant-at-arms who sought the assistance of the parliamentary protection unit, who called the police at her request to assist. This was done based on the instruction that an MP be removed for her failure to leave the House when ordered to do so.

National Assembly deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli said the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004 is specific about what happens in the event of a person who is creating a disturbance.

Tsenoli said that according to the law, a member who creates and takes part in any disturbance in the precinct while Parliament, the House or a committee is meeting, may be arrested by a staff member or a member of the security services acting on the order of the Speaker, the chairperson – or a person designated by the Speaker or chairperson – and removed from the precinct.

‘The greatest thief in the world’
EFF MP, Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela, was dragged out of the National Assembly chamber on Thursday night after she labelled President Jacob Zuma a thief and a criminal during a debate on the treaty on the Grand Inga Hydropower project.

In the scuffle that ensued, four DA MPs were injured while trying to intervene. Holtzman also told journalists that police were assaulted, although she could not say how many and by whom.

In her speech, Mashabela said the EFF was concerned that politicians would use the multibillion-rand project as a vehicle for corruption. “Corruption normally hides under the disguise of such massive projects for the enrichment of politicians and their families,” she said.

She mentioned media reports about Zuma’s role in getting Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila to award business to Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse.

She said this was worrying and asked: “How much will he [Zuma] benefit, as he did in the arms deal, from this treaty?” She went on to say that the EFF was tired of funding “Zuma the thief, the criminal who refuses to pay a cent [for Nkandla]”.

ANC MP Mandla Mandela, rising on a point of order, objected to Zuma being labeled a thief, and asked ANC MP and house chairperson Cedric Frolick to instruct Mashabela to withdraw that comment.

“The president of the ANC is the greatest thief in the world, I am not going to withdraw. He is a criminal. Everybody in South Africa knows that Zuma is a thief,” she insisted.

When instructed to leave the podium and the House, Mashabela refused. The sergeant-at-arms, Regina Muhlomi, was then called to remove Mashabela. When she failed, a group of parliamentary security personnel could be seen approaching Mashabela, who repeatedly told them “not to touch [her]”.

DA: Mbete destroyed her credibility
Mbete also told journalists on Friday morning that Parliament worked in a manner where there were certain agreed upon norms and assumptions that all MPs are committing themselves to.

“If you arrive and you say you are not going to respect the rules, you obviously are not in a place where you should be coming because we come together based on an assumption that we all respect the rules.

“Yesterday showed us what happens when you disregard the norms, when you disregard the rules, and when you don’t want to cooperate and go all out to be disruptive and not to play according to rules of not working together,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has announced that it no longer recognises Mbete as the speaker of the National Assembly. DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said Mbete lost control of the House and destroyed her credibility as the speaker. “Accordingly, we will cease to recognise her authority as speaker.”

Maimane said every time Mbete presides over the House, the DA will only send its chief whip, deputy chief whip and those members participating in debates.

He revealed that he has written to the leader of government business, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, demanding that he take steps to restore order in the House. Maimane said they wanted an urgent meeting with Ramaphosa to discuss “the abuse of the Parliament by the ANC”.

Maimane also wants Ramaphosa to: 

  • Support the passing of a motion of no confidence in the speaker, and the election of a new speaker at the National Assembly’s next sitting. 
  • Support the election at the National Assembly’s next sitting of a member of the opposition as one of the presiding officers, to restore objectivity in the position. 
  • Outlaw the use of riot police in the Chamber, and undertake to ensure that riot police never again be allowed into the Chamber.

The party is also calling for an Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) inquiry into the use of riot police in Parliament on August 21 and on Thursday.

Some of the DA MPs who were injured in the scuffle on Thursday have opened charges of assault against the police.

EFF seeks urgent interdict against riot police 
Seperately, the EFF will seek an urgent interdict against the riot police who entered the National Assembly.

“It can never and will never be correct for the police to interfere with the proceedings of Parliament, because elected members of Parliament will always be in fear that whatever they say and do in Parliament will be subjected to the police,” Malema told reporters in Johannesburg on Friday.

“Like in Marikana, the police have once more engaged in an illegal activity, demonstrating their incompetence, and that they act on political instructions.”

Malema said the EFF had approached its lawyers on Friday. The party wants a court to declare it illegal for the police to enter the Chamber. A court order would be important because it would protect MPs, said Malema. — Additional reporting by Sapa

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