SONA Drama Part 1: What happened?

BY CHARL BOSCH - FEBRUARY 13, 2015

Democratic Alliance (DA) Parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane has accused the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of turning Parliament into a national embarrassment after President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address last night, descended into chaos when EFF MP’s had inquired as to when he is prepared to pay back a portion of the R246-million spend on security upgrades at his Nkandla home.

Told by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete that the SONA was not the time to ask Zuma questions, MP’s continued heckling which resulted in the deploying of Parliamentary security to remove them.

“Tonight’s sitting was nothing short of a disaster, and an insult to South Africans. By calling armed South African Police Service officers into the chamber to remove MP’s, the Speaker has violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers,” Maimane said in a statement

“At a time when South Africa is in crisis, the constitutional role of Parliament has been severely undermined today, and the real issues that matter to South Africans have been forgotten. The ANC’s heavy-handed use of the police, and the EFF’s theatrics, does not advance the interests of South Africans, or accountability of those in power”.

Shortly after the EFF’s removal, Maimane criticised Mbete’s decision to allow armed security into the National Assembly before asking as to whether the members were from the national police force. Unsatisfied with the answer provided by the National Chairman of Provinces, Thandi Modise, the party walked out of the House.

“It is clear the ANC’s use of heavy-handed security was planned well in advance given the scrambling of signal in the house, as well as the man-handling and arrest of our supporters prior to the sitting.”

Proceedings to the SONA were delayed by over 15 minutes after DA Chief Whip, John Steenhuisen, had asked why cellphone signals had been jammed and why MP’s were not informed of this. He also rejected Mbete’s answer that the matter would “looked into”, stating that the event could not continue without the jamming device being removed.

This resulted in EFF Deputy President, Floyd Shivambu, telling Mbete to adjourn proceedings until the signal blocker had been removed, a request that was swiftly denied.

With the signal restored, matters got of hand moments after Zuma had started his speech when EFF Sectary General, Godrich Gardee, asked the President when and how he is prepared to pay back the money.

Reminded by Mbete that the SONA is not a question session, two more party MP’s repeated Gardee’s request with Mbete responding, “This joint sitting is not meant for any of the issues you are raising. This is a special sitting asked by the President to deliver his State of the Nation Address and the people of South Africa are waiting”.

This resulted in EFF leader, Julius Malema, who last month stated that the party would disrupt Zuma’s speech, asking Mbete why she would not respond to the request at hand.

“It is incorrect of you to suspend the rules when the president speaks. Stop treating people as a group and treat them as individual members. We simply want to know when the president going to pay back the money,” to which Mbete replied, “You are not raising anything new and asking the same question”.

A shouting match ensued with Mbete telling Malema to leave the House. This was followed by Shivambu and the party’s National Spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, rising before being told by Mbete to both leave.

“You have come here to disrupt. You told the country that you would disrupt,” Mbete said, with the accusation being denied by Ndlozi.

Again told by Mbete leave, Malema said, “I have been elected to be here. I am not working for you,” which resulted in Mbete calling for the Sargent at Arms to remove them.

With EFF MP’s standing and continuing to protest, security forces intervened before the live feed showing the removal was cut. A 38 seconds video later placed on YouTube by Netwerke24, showed MP’s being punched and manhandled out of the Nation Assembly with later images showing members being attended to by medics.

Speaking outside Parliament, Malema, sporting a torn shirt, told journalists that South Africa has become a police state but that they would continue to ask relevant questions.

“We have seen that we are part of a police state where when people are unable to give political answers, political solutions to political problems, they resort to security apparatus and we've always said the ANC has sent South Africa into a security state, so today it was confirmed,” he is reported as saying.

Following the scuffle, and the subsequent withdrawl of the DA, Zuma continued and finished his speech without further interruption.

 

CAPTION: Still image from a video showing the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) being removed from Parliament during President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation yesterday. These pictures were not shown on television after the live feed had cut back to National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, obeserving the party's removal. IMAGE sourced from eNCA