South Africa’s democracy is under attack and the Economic Freedom Fighters cannot continue to defy the speaker’s authority without being red carded.
So believes Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli, who was speaking moments after the Economic Freedom Fighters vowed not to let President Jacob Zuma rest until he committed to repaying a portion of the money spent on security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead.
This after the Zuma’s question and answer session in Parliament was cancelled on Thursday after the EFF insisted he answer the question on Nkandla.
From the moment the House was in session, the EFF kept Speaker Baleka Mbete on her toes, raising various points of orders and refusing to let Zuma speak unless it was to answer the question of when he would pay back the money.
After almost 30 minutes in session, the speaker called for proceedings to be suspended and for party chief whips to discuss the issue outside the House and come back with solution. But, after an hour, the parties could not convince the EFF to drop the question, leading to the cancellation of the session.
Clearly a problem
Speaking at a press conference after the house was adjourned without the president answering any questions, Tsenoli said there was clearly a problem with disrespecting and disobeying the speaker.
“When you deny the authority of the referee, you can’t continue to play for a long time. Very soon you get a red card. That’s normal in any rule-based organisation. If you violate the rules of the House, you must face the consequences. And their nature, including questions of aggravation, will be looked at so that those matters are dealt with by the appropriate structures.
Thursday’s sitting was reminiscent of the president’s question and answer session in August last year and the State of the Nation address in February, with EFF MPs chanting “Pay back the money”, talking over Speaker Baleka Mbete and refusing to let Zuma speak unless he was prepared to answer the question.
But, in all that time, Mbete said she did not consider bringing in the police, though it was in the back of her mind as an option .
“It did not pose itself as an option today. It is important to allow certain things to just unfold.”
She said a question session took a long time to organise and having it collapse was quite sad.
“All because of a party that represents 6% of the vote, even when all the other opposition parties have themselves expressed how strongly they felt both about the issues on Nkandla, but also about going ahead with the session,” said Mbete.
During the sitting various EFF members, including party chief whip Floyd Shivambu and spokesperson Mbuyiseli Ndlozi, said all they wanted was an assurance of when the president would pay back the money.
EFF leader Julius Malema said the president had to be answerable to the House.
“And this over-protection of the president has collapsed this House. You can be guaranteed that the president would have to answer that question before we do anything else. The president has to tell us when he is paying back the money. And any other intervention is not going to help, because whatever answer he is going to give, he ridicules this Parliament. We will never believe anything he says until he confirms that he will respect a constitutional institution and comply with recommendations from the public protector.”
Not voting cattle
When Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi suggested a vote on the matter, Malema retorted that they were not voting cattle.
“Whether you vote and not vote, we are going to ask the president the same question. And it does not depend on the question. We are not here to vote, we are here to debate.”
The ANC and the Democratic Alliance condemned the EFF’s actions.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said they could not allow the singular focus of one party to prevent the debate of important issues as they attempted to score political points.
ANC chief whip Stone Sizani said it was clear that the EFF had come to the session with a plan to disrupt the sitting.
“The EFF’s pursuance of self-seeking, headline-grabbing stunts knows no bounds, and would stop at nothing even if it means rendering unworkable the sanctity and decorum of an important constitutional institution such as Parliament. Whenever such silly and narrow stunts play themselves out, and threaten the functionality of Parliament, the real losers are the people whose hopes and aspirations rests on the shoulders of the institution to hold the executive to account and to improve the quality of their lives,” he said.