The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs facing suspension without pay from Parliament after chanting “pay back the money” to President Jacob Zuma are off the hook – for now.
Instead, a political solution will be sought to deal with the matter.
The deal was struck in a crisis meeting between Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and leaders of opposition parties at Tuynhuys on Tuesday morning, in exchange for assurances that the opposition parties will co-operate and respect the rules of Parliament.
After the meeting, Ramaphosa announced the establishment of a political committee, which will address all these matters politically and give guidance to the other processes that need to unfold in Parliament.
“We have agreed that we are going to address various matters that have occurred in the past, matters that have to deal with application of the rules and matters of principle. The current processes with respect to the earlier disruptions in the House will be held in abeyance until the committee has completed its work,” he said.
Ramaphosa said he will lead the committee with Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane and ANC chief whip Stone Sizani as his deputies. The Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete and the leader of committees Cedric Frolick will also be part of the committee, which begins its work next week and will report to the leaders of the opposition.
Ramaphosa said their quest is to have a functioning Parliament, which will be respected by the people. “They must see Parliament as a forum where their leaders get together to discuss matters of national interest,” he said.
EFF MP Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that: “It was made clear that the events of August 21 and of last Thursday will be referred to the political steering committee and that a political solution will be sought.”
Reaffirming of Parliament
Parliament’s Powers and Privileges Committee found 20 EFF MPs including their leader Julius Malema guilty of contempt of Parliament when they disrupted a session where MPs were asking oral questions to Zuma, leading to the session’s premature adjournment on August 21.
The committee recommended that six EFF MPs be suspended from Parliament for 30 days without pay; another six was going to be suspended for 14 days without pay while eight had to apologise to the National Assembly for their role in the disruption and faced a fine equivalent to 14 days’ salary and allowances payable to MPs.
Ramaphosa, who addressed the media flanked by opposition leaders, said the meeting had been worthwhile and that they emerged with points of agreement that are going to lead to the reaffirming of Parliament.
The meeting took place just five days after the police’s public order unit barged into the National Assembly chamber on Thursday night to remove EFF MP Reneiloe Mashabela who referred to Zuma as “a thief and a criminal”.
MPs who sought to defend Mashabela were then caught up in a scuffle with the police and a brawl ensued between opposition MPs and those of the ruling ANC.
Some MPs endured injuries and have laid charges of assault against the police and against each other. If Ramaphosa and the opposition leaders that he met have their way, such scenes would not be repeated in Parliament.
He said that as leaders they had a sense that Parliament was facing a crisis that needed to be addressed collectively. Ramaphosa said they agreed to find solutions to the problems that beset Parliament with a view of restoring its dignity, its integrity and its standing in the eyes of the people.
“They must see that this is a house where the laws of our country are made, a house where the dignity of our people as a whole is actually represented. We agreed that we are going to reaffirm and make sure that Parliament restores its dignity, restores its place of respect in the eyes of our people.”
Apply rules consistently
The leaders also agreed that to reaffirm their respect for the rules and procedures of Parliament, and to work together as a collective.
Ramaphosa said the presiding officers of Parliament; the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, and the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise, must also apply the rules consistently fairly without any favour or without any prejudice.
Opposition parties and political commentators have accused Mbete of bias in how she presides over the House and in her rulings. “We agreed that they should be impartial, they should be seen as representing all of us who are in Parliament and they should not seek to side with any political party.
“We also agreed that we need to recognise the constitutional requirement in respect to the eligibility of members who have to be elected as presiding officers,” said Ramaphosa.
He said they also agreed to ensure a climate in Parliament which will enable members of the executive to appear before Parliament and to properly account.
He called for insults, which have been hurled right across the board, to come to an end, saying: “We need to engender the spirit of congeniality and proper debate.”
Opposition party leaders appeared satisfied with Ramaphosa’s comments.