Saturday Star

Cops clam up on Sona operationa­l plan

Army deployment prompts concern about militarisa­tion of Parliament


POLICE have refused to disclose details of the operationa­l plan during the State of the Nation Address after a large contingent of officers had the Cape Town city centre under lockdown.

The move, coupled with the unpreceden­ted deployment of 441 SA National Defence Force personnel, has raised concerns about the increasing militarisa­tion of Parliament.

President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday that he wanted more soldiers for the Sona, the number doubling from three years ago.

He said the deployment over five days would cost R204 000. However, no further details were made available on the military.

This has been at the heart of the fight between the ANC and the opposition parties.

Last year it was reported that about 200 officers were involved in the operationa­l plan to secure the Sona, but the increase in the number of officers this year left opposition parties up in arms.

Yesterday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the party had decided to launch a court challenge against the deployment of the soldiers in the precincts of Parliament.

National police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo refused to say how many police officers were involved in securing the Sona and the costs involved.

“We don’t give numbers for security reasons. We have never done it,” he said, echoing Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, who also refused to give details to the portfolio committee on police before the Sona got under way on Thursday evening.

Nhleko said they were ready and prepared for anything, adding that sufficient numbers had been deployed.

Opposition parties com- plained about the stringent, paramilita­ry security measures in Parliament, accusing the government and Zuma in particular of panicking.

Cape Town was on lockdown for almost two days, with streets close to Parliament sealed off.

The police were using horses and scooters to patrol and monitor the security situation around the precinct, resulting in pedestrian­s walking along the streets being caught up in the stringent measures.

The police are expected to brief Parliament in the next few weeks on the widely criticised measures.

The financial statements that will be tabled in the national legislatur­e later in the year will give some direction on the expenditur­e pattern of the SAPS, including Sona.

Parliament confirmed yesterday that there had been an increase in the deployment of the army.

In 2013, a total of 168 soldiers were deployed to Parliament, but this increased to 188 in 2015.

The figure rose to 441 this year, with Speaker Baleka Mbete promising to establish why the number of soldiers had increased.

Maimane said the stringent securitisa­tion of Parliament meant that the next two years before Zuma’s term of office ended were going to be a nightmare.

Sona was a wake-up call and the mission to remove the ANC government was more urgent than ever, he said.

Maimane said Mbete did not follow the rules when she removed all EFF MPs, among others, from the House.

“There is a big difference between removing and beating up people. And the ANC are proud of those actions. The rules were completely flouted,” Maimane said.

Meanwhile, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu said yesterday that it was perhaps time for Parliament’s rules committee to review the use of hard hats and bottled water as weapons in the National Assembly.

“If hard hats, makarapas, are used to assault parliament­ary staff, and maybe next time other members of Parliament and bottled water as well, we should take that to the rules committee of Parliament,” he said.

Mthembu was addressing jour nalists in Parliament regarding Thursday night’s chaotic Sona, which saw violent scenes play out between EFF MPs and the security “white shirts”.

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