Cops deployed in House when needed, Mbete, ANC insist
But critics say it is a violation of constitution
HE OFFICE of underfire Speaker Baleka Mbete and the ANC in Parliament have not ruled out the deployment of police into the National Assembly in future, and would not hesitate to take similar steps against unruly opposition MPs who defy orders.
The ANC and Mbete came under severe criticism last week for the deployment of police clad in riot gear to remove a female EFF MP.
Thursday’s unprecedented move, never seen before in democratic South Africa, saw police in riot gear enter the National Assembly to physically remove EFF MP Reneilwe Mashabela, who defied an order from presiding officer Cedric Frolick to withdraw her statement calling President Jacob Zuma a “thief”.
There was pandemonium on Thursday during a marathon sitting that saw MPs debate budget reports and the Nkandla ad hoc committee report late into the night.
The sitting came to a climax when things got physical after the police entered the chamber to remove Mashabela.
“Our position is that the rules as well as the laws that govern conduct must be applied fearlessly and without prejudice. The law says the presiding officer has the right to remove disruptive characters holding to ransom the business of the House. That is in the law,” ANC caucus spokesman Moloto Mothapo said.
There had not been any “change in the applying of those laws” and the “ANC has been very understanding” until now, he added.
Mothapo said there was an “anti-majority” tendency where people “demonise the use of its majority”. “Eleven million people voted for the ANC to pursue their agenda,” he said, brushing aside reports linking Zuma’s political overview during a national executive committee meeting in September to Thursday’s incident.
Zuma told the meeting:
T“We cannot and should not be bulldozed by noisy smaller parties”.
Mbete’s spokeswoman, Mandlakazi Sigcawu, paraphrased and quoted sections of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act to make her point. “Sections 4 and 11 provide that the security services may enter and perform policing functions on the precincts with the permission of the Speaker or the chairperson,” Sigcawu said.
However, EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi questioned how the police, acting on the orders of the ANC presiding officers, could “physically assault and remove a democratically elected female fighter who was unarmed and posed no threat to anyone’s life.
“The Parliament television services were further tampered with to hide the assault and violence on members of Parliament.
“They did this after many members of the media had left the House, because they are cowards who want to do illegal things in secrecy and under the cover of darkness. This manipulation of the cameras in Parliament must also be understood as censorship, and the prohibition of the right of the people to view and know what is happening in Parliament,” Ndlozi said.
By ordering police on EFF MPs, the ANC had violated section 58(1) of the constitution, which states that “cabinet members and members of the National Assembly have freedom of speech in the Assembly and in committees, subject to its rules and orders; and are not liable to civil or criminal proceedings, arrest, imprisonment or damages for anything that they have said in, produced before, or submitted to the Assembly or any of the committees”, he added.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said his party no longer recognised Mbete as Speaker. “Baleka Mbete lost control of the House and destroyed her credibility as the Speaker. Accordingly, we will cease to recognise her authority as Speaker. Every time she presides over the House, the DA will only send its chief whip, deputy chief whip and those members participating in debates,” Maimane said.
On Friday, Mbete said: “They had resisted in spite of us having a law which gives us the authority to call the police. But we could not sit here and forever allow disruption and outrageous conduct.”
NKANDLA POWDER KEG: Dr Connie Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus displays a photo of the Nkandla homestead in the National Assembly, while Speaker Baleka Mbete looks on.