ANC Members of Parliament (MPs) celebrated a “victory” when they walked out of the National Assembly on Thursday night, with some giving each other congratulatory hugs for forcing EFF leader Julius Malema and other EFF MPs out of Parliament.
When the main doors of the National Assembly opened for the last time, the mood was a lot different to what it had been earlier that evening, when EFF MPs were physically removed from Parliament. Or when DA MPs staged a walk out in protest.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe was the first to walk out at the end of the meeting, seemingly proud, after which ANC MPs filed out of the chambers. He disagreed with the assessment that South Africa has diminished into a police state – or that the EFF was dealt with too harshly.
“If we allow Parliament to become a circus, we are destroying democracy,” Mantashe said.
National Assembly speaker and ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete called for parliamentary security to physically escort the EFF MPs out of Parliament during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, after the EFF unsuccessfully tried to ask him when will he pay back the money spent on his Nkandla homestead.
Fist fights broke out as police officers dragged EFF MPs out of the National Assembly when they tried to stand their ground, after Mbete had ordered them to leave. EFF MP Floyd Shivambu confronted a few officers and another fight broke out. In the midst of the disruption, some of the officers’ shirts were ripped off and they stood bare-chested.
National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise explained that the presiding officers had a right to call in security.
After the EFF MPs were thrown out, DA MPs – all of whom were clad in black – left the house, saying that no rules of Parliament had been upheld.
While Malema and DA leader Helen Zille labelled it a “sad day for democracy”, ANC MPs believed that throwing EFF MPs out of Parliament was “democracy at work”. Mantashe said he believed the approach was “firm and decisive”.
‘We are not here to play’
“We had to show them who is in charge,” said Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, as he took a punch at his palm. Nzimande, the South African Communist Party general secretary, said the EFF had to be “taught a lesson”.
When Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Petterson exited the chamber doors, she embraced a fellow cabinet colleague and said: “We did it”.
“They must know we are not here to play,” she said as she joined in the singing of victory songs. Mpumalanga Premier David ‘DD’ Mabuza, who was one of the first to join in the merriment on the steps of Parliament, said the ANC had won the fight. “I am in a fighting mood. They took us on and we won,” he said.
The ANC believed that the speaker was correct in forcibly removing the EFF MPs, while the EFF believed that the ANC-led government was abusing their powers.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane accused the ANC of using Parliament to protect Zuma. “What the ANC is doing in this place, in this time, cannot be allowed. It is the breakdown of the Constitution and President Zuma is presiding over it,” he said.
The African Christian Democratic Party’s Reverend Kenneth Meshoe said both the speaker and the EFF MPs were to blame for the night’s chaos. But Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mongosuthu Buthelezi said it was a good thing that the EFF had been removed from Parliament. “What we saw tonight won’t make our voters proud of us,” he said. Buthelezi said he believed the EFF was hellbent on disrupting Parliament.
The government was “deeply disappointed” at what Jeff Radebe, the head of the inter-ministerial team on communications, described as the “despicable conduct” of the EFF MPs.
“It’s very clear [their] intention was to disrupt Parliament. They have been talking about this for some time,” Radebe said. “The events were aimed at bringing our hard-earned democracy into serious disrepute.” Radebe called on Parliament to take stern action against the EFF MPs.
Cellphone signal jammed in Assembly
Editors and journalists expressed dissatisfaction with the decision to jam the cellphone signal in the National Assembly.
Radebe however could not answer questions on why the signal was jammed and why Minister of State Security David Mahlobo was seen leaving the house during the scuffle between the EFF MPs and security personnel – an action that raised suspicions that he was part of the plan to remove the opposition party from Parliament.
“I am not aware of the involvement of the minister of state security,” he said. Radebe did however admit that it was “embarrassing” for MPs to have had such a confrontation in front of visiting dignitaries, including the representatives of some foreign countries.
National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise said the fight in Parliament was “something we never anticipated would happen”.