In an unprecedented move to curtail the gathering of people, Parliament has announced it is suspending business of both Houses indefinitely — but only after it has passed crucial legislation on Wednesday.
The legislature also announced that Parliament will be closed to the public for the first time in South Africa’s democratic history. It is regarded as the “Parliament of the People”, with transparent democracy at the core of its ethos.
“Parliament will be closed to the public until further notice. Arrangements are also being made to reduce the number of staff members in the precinct in line with the president’s announcement,” the parliamentary statement read.
In an attempt to minimise the number of people gathering — in line with the stipulations of the declaration of a national state of disaster — National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise and National Council of Provinces chairperson Amos Masondo announced measures to minimise the potential transmission of Covid-19.
MPs will meet on Wednesday to vote and adopt the Division of Revenue Bill (budget allocations to national, provincial and local levels of government) and the Judicial Matters Amendment Bill (to amend two Acts administered by the department of justice).
Parliament will also vote on draft notices on the issue of the salaries for magistrates and Constitutional Court judges.
There are 400 members who sit in the National Assembly, while 90 delegates occupy the seats in the National Council of Provinces.
“At the conclusion of the sitting on Wednesday 18 March, the business of the [National] Assembly, which includes sittings of the house, committees and public hearings, will be suspended until further notice. The last sitting of the National Council of Provinces will be on Thursday, 19 March and its business will also be suspended until further notice,” Parliament said.
On Tuesday, Parliament instituted mandatory health screenings for people entering the precinct in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. MPs and staff lined up to have their temperatures checked by healthcare workers at various locations around the precinct.
“The presiding officers wish to encourage all members, staff and visitors to take the necessary personal precautions. Parliament has also put in place various preventive measures against the coronavirus, including sanitisers, screening checks for members, staff and visitors, as well as a medical support team,” Parliament’s statement said.