/ 17 February 2015

Mbete: Parliament knew about security ‘device’ at Sona

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete said during a briefing on security plans for Sona
National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete said during a briefing on security plans for Sona

Parliament learnt last Wednesday that a certain “device” would be used as part of security measures for the State of the Nation Address, National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete has conceded.

She said however that the plan was never to block journalists’ cellphone reception.

This after Cabinet ministers termed the loss of cellphone signal in the National Assembly during the opening of Parliament a “technical glitch”.

“I will call it a technical glitch until there is a full investigation called upon by the presidency and Parliament to say we need to all know what happened, and then call it by its rightful name,” International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told a media briefing by Cabinet’s international co-operation, trade and security cluster on Sunday.

She added that no foreign diplomat who attended Thursday night’s opening, as well as the Ubuntu awards ceremony on Saturday night, had remarked on the signal disruption that prompted media houses to prepare a court petition to prevent a repeat of the incident. 

The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said on Saturday that South African media houses would urgently seek a court order preventing security agencies from blocking communication signals to interfere with reporting, after the incident.

Sanef said this was an attempt to prevent journalists from telling the nation the full story of how the opening of Parliament descended into pandemonium as security officials were sent into the chamber to remove the MPs of the Economic Freedom Fighters. 

‘What happened, happened’
Mbete told journalists at Parliament on Tuesday that during a briefing on security plans for the State of the Nation Address, “we became aware that there was a plan for certain equipment to be deployed”.

“It is an item we received as a report, along with many other reports, without necessarily knowing the detail, in particular [the] effects, because it was an item dealing with what measures had to be taken for the protection, in particular, of the head of state and the deputy president,” she added.

“I repeat, the media was not a target, was not mentioned, was never on anybody’s mind.

“Of course what happened, happened.”

Mbete said the device used to block cellphone reception in the National Assembly ahead of President Jacob Zuma’s address belonged to a state department.

She said Parliament had since received a report about the incident but she would leave it to that department – which she declined to name – to relay that to the media.

“We believe that the media will still be addressed [by the department] and they will be able to probe the detail of that report that will come from the owners of the device.” – Sapa