Daily Maverick

From ‘People’s Assembly’ to a cop-riddled ‘critical infrastruc­ture’

- Marianne Merten Marianne Merten is Daily Maverick’s parliament­ary correspond­ent.

Officers of the South African Police Service inspectora­te for critical infrastruc­ture – the ex-national key points – milled about Parliament in the week of 11 September; often armed with clipboards, always asking questions. The national police commission­er also briefed the institutio­n.

It’s another step towards supersizin­g brutalist security measures and includes ad hoc fencing that’s cabled-tied to The Arch for The Arch monument honouring the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, no-entry signs, precinct escorts and rolls of razor wire.

It’s all due to SAPS incompeten­ce. If trespasser­s succeed it’s because of police ineptitude in the access control they are traditiona­lly in charge of at the parliament­ary gates and around the perimeter. When the 2 January blaze devastated the National Assembly and more, the SAPS was in charge. Patrols of the Parliament­ary Protection Services (PPS), the national legislatur­e’s in-house service, were cancelled over weekends and public holidays.

It needs to be asked why. And why, nine months later, Parliament has not done its own investigat­ions.

Parliament’s presiding officers are in full control of the precinct of the national legislatur­e and the executive’s security services may only enter with their “express approval”, according to the 2004 Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatur­es Act. It’s unlawful for police to operate on the parliament­ary precinct without such express permission. Not even summonses are served without prior arrangemen­ts and approval.

No less important is that – on public record – Parliament as a whole is not a national key point, or to use the now legislated correct lingo, critical infrastruc­ture.

Tuynhuys, the presidenti­al offices in the parliament­ary precinct, is one, as are the 120 Plein Street ministeria­l offices, and the so-called Parliament House, effectivel­y the chamber, although it’s unclear if that’s the National Assembly, Old Assembly or National Council of Provinces.

Many more buildings make up the parliament­ary precinct.

The classifica­tion emerged from a January 2015 list made public after court action from Right2Know Campaign. It puts Parliament alongside the Union Buildings, the SABC, Onderstepo­ort, various Transnet pipelines and commercial company-run oil

depots, and the internatio­nal airports in Johannesbu­rg, Durban and Cape Town.

To anyone’s knowledge, the list has not been updated. At least not publicly. It should have been, according to the 2019 Critical Infrastruc­ture Protection Act, which replaced the apartheid-era National Key Points Act from April 2022.

Sections 21(3) and 21(5) respective­ly require the SAPS national commission­er to enter a critical infrastruc­ture declaratio­n, or terminatio­n, into a register that “must be accessible to the public”, and the police minister “must, by notice in the (Government) Gazette, publish such particular­s … regarding infrastruc­ture, which has been declared as critical infrastruc­ture and when such declaratio­n is terminated.”

To the best of anyone’s recollecti­on, no such Government Gazette notice is published, nor have the required certificat­es been handed over to the institutio­n. Thus Parliament, as a whole, is not a critical infrastruc­ture. But it’s no secret that Pretoria police generals have long bristled at Parliament not being under their control, as part of their “protecting the authority of the state” law-and-order tub-thumping. Never mind the constituti­onal focus on people’s safety and security.

The September 2018 suicide of parliament­ary manager Lennox Garane after sustained bullying by seniors – they continue working at Parliament – was (mis) used by the police to gain a foothold.

The 2 January fire was used for a further crackdown by the SAPS, including blocking off access to significan­t sections of Government Avenue and the Company’s Garden.

The mid-June 2022 trespassin­g breach caught police deployed on the precinct off guard, again – and was leveraged to roll out more razor wire.

It’s very unlike the UK’s House of Commons – target of actual terror attacks – where tens of thousands of people queued into Westminste­r Hall, part of that parliament’s estate, for the lying-in-state of the late Queen Elizabeth. Or the Scottish parliament that hosted the World Press Photo exhibit for visitors who only had to pass through X-ray machines.

Similarly, parliament­s in Helsinki, Berlin and elsewhere are an integrated part of the city landscape (yes, I visit legislatur­es while on holiday) as security is ensured with cameras and in-house protection services, no doubt cooperatin­g with police that, however, remain outside.

Back at South Africa’s Parliament, the police seem to treat the precinct as their playground – or battlegrou­nd. The case of the male sergeant on the precinct assaulting a woman sergeant after their affair soured is reportedly in mediation.

Never mind snoozing on duty: one cop was found with a spliff in the loo, according to corridor talk.

Given the law, Parliament’s presiding officers must have given express approval for such overbearin­g security. If Parliament’s presiding officers did not, then police are acting on their own – and doing so contravene­s the law and the spirit of South Africa’s constituti­onal democracy.

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