A volatile sitting of the National Assembly ended abruptly and in tears, with fists flying as public order police dragged a female Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP, Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela, out of the chamber on Thursday night, after she labelled President Jacob Zuma a thief and a criminal during a debate.
Four opposition MPs were injured in the scuffle.
The presence of police in the chamber, while the House is in session, is a violation of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, which prohibits the police from being in Parliament unless they have been instructed to be there by the speaker, her deputy or any other of the presiding officers.
Section 58 of the Constitution prohibits criminal or civil procedures from being brought against MPs for what they say in Parliament, and forbids their arrest in such matters. It is not clear who called the police.
Mashabela was delivering her speech in a debate about the treaty on the Grand Inga Hydropower project. In it, she repeatedly referred to Zuma as a thief.
“President Zuma is a thief. He is a criminal. He is the greatest thief in the world,” said Mashabela. ANC MP and house chairperson Cedric Frolick, who was presiding over the session, ordered Mashabela to withdraw her comments about Zuma. After her refusal to withdraw, he ordered her to leave the House.
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?” The EFF was tired of funding “Zuma the thief, the criminal who refuses to pay a cent [in Nkandla]”.
ANC MP Mandla Mandela, rising on a point of order, objected to Zuma being labeled a thief and asked 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, she refused.
The sergeant-at-arms, Regina Muhlomi, was called to remove Mashabela, but when she failed a group of parliamentary security personnel could be seen approaching Mashabela, who repeatedly told them “not to touch me”.
At this point, Parliament cut off its visual feed, and just before the audio was cut off as well, Frolick was heard instructing the Democratic Alliance chief whip, John Steenhuisen, to tell DA MPs to delete pictures and video footage that they were taking of the incident. After Mashabela was successfully dragged out, MPs returned to their seats.
— Bram Hanekom (@bram_hanekom) November 14, 2014
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane proposed that the House suspend its session until a later date in light of the events of the evening. “I think all of us in this place, at least if you believe in the Constitution of this country, you know that the police cannot enter this chamber…” He appealed for calm.
ANC chief whip Stone Sizani said the whips had agreed that there was no possibility that they could rationally talk to each other or listen to each other. He said he was backing the call to postpone the proceedings until further notice. The treaty was approved just before the House was adjourned.
The ANC broke Parliament today.
— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) November 13, 2014
Violation of Constitution
“What happened is we saw the ANC violate the Constitution to protect one individual, Jacob Zuma, from robust public scrutiny,” said EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. “If they think he is no thief, they must argue it and not use force to have MPs silenced. We shall never be silenced, not by kangaroo courts or even by police. Zuma is a thief,” he said.
DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said four of their MPs were hurt in the scuffle while trying to intervene.
Thursday’s sitting was extraordinary from the first minute, as Mbete announced a unilateral decision to change the programme of the day, which she deemed too long. This despite a programme committee having agreed earlier that day on the programme.
After a series of objections from opposition MPs, who remained on their feet, howling to make themselves heard over the shouting of ANC MPs, she finally gave in and reversed her ruling when Sizani sided with the opposition.
In another extraordinary and clearly filibustering tactic, opposition parties – mainly the DA and EFF – tabled a record number of motions – 166 notices of motions and 41 motions without notice. This took over three-and-a-half hours.
Generally, motions take up less than 20 minutes, but there is no time limit stated in the rules.
The House then moved to the much-anticipated debate on the multimillion-rand security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s private home.
As expected, it was a heated debate, with the ANC and all parties – barring two opposition parties – supporting a report produced by a parliamentary committee. The report absolves Zuma of any wrongdoing.
While the House was in session, minister and ANC MP Lindiwe Zulu was involved in a brawl with an EFF MP in the corridor outside.
The debate on the treaty on the Grand Inga hydropower project started at 10.19pm, and the sergeant-at-arms was called at 10.49pm to remove Mashabela.
Parliament’s presiding officers were expected to address the media about the incident on Friday morning.
Here’s what some Twitter users had to say about the scuffle in Parliament last night:
— Ayanda (@ayandabili) November 14, 2014
— Duduetsang (@dumo24) November 14, 2014
— #firepool#Firebucket (@shandu009) November 14, 2014
— Vukile (@Vuksido) November 14, 2014
It was a shameful day in parliament yesterday. This is what happens when you have radar-less leadership. You get rattled by children.
— Khaya Dlanga (@khayadlanga) November 14, 2014