Parliament’s powers and privileges committee has agreed to hold an inquiry into the conduct of Economic Freedom Fighters MPs for their hostile disruption of a legislature sitting involving Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan.
This is one of two complaints being investigated involving MPs of South Africa’s third-largest party.
The second matter relates to the disruption of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address in February. The EFF’s MPs refused to allow the event to continue until apartheid’s last president, FW De Klerk, left the public gallery.
Proceedings were delayed for almost one hour until the EFF left the National Assembly chamber when speaker Thandi Modise was on the brink of calling parliamentary protection services to remove the offending MPs.
The Gordhan matter relates to when some EFF members confronted him during a sitting of his department’s budget speech in July last year.
About 20 red overall-clad MPs rushed Gordhan while he was presenting his speech from a podium in the centre of a meeting chamber.
MPs from the ANC, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance formed a barrier between the EFF members and Gordhan, with the minister heard saying, “They must touch me”.
In delivering its legal opinion on the disruption of the State of the Nation address, parliamentary legal advisers agreed that legislators could investigate the EFF MPs for the disorders and had the jurisdiction to charge the MPs for breaking parliamentary rules.
But the EFF contended it did not disrupt proceedings, and that they merely raised “points of order and left at the chamber on their own volition after a break in proceedings”.
In the Gordhan matter political parties agreed that an independent advocate from the Cape Bar be appointed to conduct an inquiry.
The EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told the powers and privileges committee that any attempt at collective punishment or rebuke the party would “fall apart in any court of law.”
He said that MPs have parliamentary privilege and are treated as individuals and not as a member of a political party. “There is this constant referral to a party. The courts have already pronounced themselves that you could not say EFF members or DA members. Particularly, if you are talking about the conduct of members, you have to say which member. And what has that member done?”
But powers and privileges committee chairperson Mohlopi Mapulane said the committee had so far identified about 20 MPs who surged towards Gordhan.
“We viewed two videos. And what was clear on the second video is during the budget speech of Minister Gordhan, we identified members in our view who transgressed [parliamentary rules],” he said.
Responding, Ndlozi said any investigation would be a kangaroo court. “You’ve gone and watched videos of EFF members. You’ve already made up your mind. And there can’t be a fair process if that is like that,” he said.
Parliamentary legal advisers told the committee it was too early to judge whether EFF MPs had broken the rules. The lawyers said that those who had been identified would have to be interviewed for their version of events.