Political parties have reacted strongly to the goings-on in Parliament on Thursday, with much of the focus being on the ruckus that ensued after the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) disrupted the president’s State of the Nation Address (Sona).
The Democratic Alliance (DA) said that the ANC and the EFF turned Parliament into a national embarrassment.
“At a time when South Africa is in crisis, the constitutional role of Parliament has been severely undermined today, and the real issues that matter to South Africans have been forgotten,” DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said in a statement.
“While Parliament has been turned into a circus this evening, tomorrow the nation’s electricity crisis remains, unemployment remains, and crime continues to plague our communities.”
The DA walked out of the National Assembly before President Jacob Zuma could carry on with his address, following disruptions by the EFF. EFF leader Julius Malema, deputy leader Floyd Shivambu and MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi were asked to leave the house after Mbete tried to get EFF members to sit down but they insisted that Zuma answer their questions about security upgrades to his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.
Violated constitutional principle
The official opposition wanted presiding officers to confirm whether police were used to remove the EFF from the House but its questions were not answered. “By calling armed South African Police Service officers into the chamber to remove MPs, the Speaker [Baleka Mbete] has violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers,” Maimane said.
“There is an important difference between the police and parliamentary security – one reports to the executive and the other to Parliament.” He said Parliament’s work could not be suppressed by security forces and police were not allowed to interfere with the work of political parties.
Maimane said the EFF was wrong not to abide by Mbete’s ruling, however armed police should not have been called. “The parliamentary security should have removed them. But calling in armed police was a violation of the constitution that the DA cannot tolerate,” he said.
Thursday’s sitting was “nothing short of a disaster, and an insult to South Africans”.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he was “definitely very disappointed” by disruptions during the Sona. “While I agree with the general unhappiness, I don’t think that is the right way to handle it … to waste our time,” he said after the event.
Buthelezi also expressed his displeasure at the jamming of cellphone signals in the Chamber at the beginning of proceedings. “I think it was absolutely amazing, because if it was done by intelligence, then God help us.”
He was pleased that Zuma touched on policy aimed at improving education, but said he “wasn’t inspired, wasn’t feeling hope” at the number of schools that were being built. He also did not feel that government was getting on top of economic issues.
Meanwhile, National Freedom Party (NFP) general secretary Nhlanhla Khubisa apologised for the events. “We apologise to the citizens of South Africa for what happened in the House. The integrity of the House was compromised,” he said.
The NFP was one of the opposition parties which stayed in the House after the EFF and DA had left.
Speaking on Zuma’s address, Khubisa said he believed the president did not put enough emphasis on job creation. “[He should have] dedicated more time on how an environment would be created for our country to create jobs and investor confidence.”
On Eskom, Khubisa said parastatals and state enterprises were not doing enough. He also believed that Zuma had not dedicated enough time to the issues of education and corruption. “Corruption was not dealt with quite profusely.”
The Freedom Front Plus (FFPlus) said Zuma was uninspiring during his eighth Sona, and should have made a comment on the disruptions to his speech. “A strong leader would’ve said something and made a joke or something; he did not,” FFPlus leader Pieter Mulder said. “He inspired no real hope in his speech, he just said old things over again.”
Mulder said there were two main issues on Thursday including the jamming of cellphone signals and who was used to throw out the EFF MPs. He said it was important to determine who gave the order to jam cellphone signals and who was used to throw out the MP’s. “It was not clear to us,” he said.
Turning to the content of the Sona, Mulder said Zuma saying no foreigners may own land in South Africa would hamper investment. He said Zuma could not go abroad and ask for foreign investment, then turn around and say no foreigners may own land. “They [foreign investors] will turn around and say they are taking their money to Nigeria,” he said.
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) agreed. “I almost fell asleep for the first time. I had to go out to get fresh air,” said ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe. Asked what his impression of the speech was, he replied: “Very uninspiring.”
He said the president needed to give South Africans hope, but he failed to do that. An example was Eskom’s woes and scheduled black-outs. “Load shedding – we wanted details, because the president is aware of what the people are concerned about,” said Meshoe. – Sapa, Staff reporter