National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete briefly addressed concerns about her alleged lack impartiality.
CAPE TOWN - Calling in the security forces, and booting defiant MPs of the Economic Freedom Fighters from Parliament was not an option, National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete said on Thursday, shortly after she was forced to adjourn a chaotic House sitting.
“It’s always an option at the back of our minds because we have that option according to the law…,” Mbete said at a media briefing shortly after the indefinite adjournment which effectively cancelled President Jacob Zuma’s question-and-answer session.
“Under the circumstances, it didn’t pose itself as an option today [Thursday] and it also helps to be able to allow certain occurrences to unfold, to allow not only Members of Parliament, political parties that are represented here, but also the public to observe for themselves and to reach their own understanding…”
Mbete was referring to Section 11 of the powers, privileges, and immunities of Parliament and provincial legislatures act which was struck down by the Western Cape high court earlier this year.
Parliament is appealing the decision, and believes the section still applies until the Constitutional court has ruled on the matter.
Mbete and her fellow presiding officers said they believed it was more important to let the chaotic events of Thursday, in which EFF MPs refused to back down from demands to make Zuma answer questions on the money spent on his private Nkandla home, play itself out before the South African public, instead of calling in security forces.
“The speaker did very well in not going to the last resort, and I think in our mind it’s always the last resort. We want to talk.We want to negotiate. We want to get to solutions without having to resort to…the stick,” said National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise.
“The attack on Parliament is the attack on the third leg of the state and that for us becomes important because that for us says that South Africans must begin to wake up and smell the coffee.”
Mbete’s deputy Lechesa Tsenoli, however, warned that MPs who continued to defy the presiding officers would eventually be disciplined.
“When you defy the authority of the referee, you can’t continue to play for a long time. Very soon you get a red card. That’s normal in any rule-based organisation,” said Tsenoli.
“If you violate the rules of the House you must face the consequences…”
Mbete would not definitively answer questions on whether disciplinary action would be taken against the errant EFF MPs, only saying they would “put our heads together and find the best way forward”.
It was not yet clear whether Zuma would come back to answer the questions he was prevented from replying to on Thursday.
“Having a question session is something that takes a long time to organise. When finally we have everybody relevant for the questions to be answered, to say the least, it’s very sad for it to collapse like this because of a party that represents six percent of the vote…,” said Mbete.
On Thursday night, the Democratic Alliance accused the EFF of playing into Zuma’s hands by ensuring that he evade questions on the “state capture of independent Chapter 9 institutions, the circumstances surrounding the escape of Omar Al-Bashir, slow economic growth, and the unemployment crisis”.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, said his party, like other opposition parties, wanted answers on Nkandla, but that Thursday’s Q&A was not the forum for that to happen.
“The DA will not be a party to the destruction of the institutions of our democracy by rogue parties with no respect for parliamentary procedure,” Steenhuisen said.
“We cannot allow the singular focus of one party to prevent the debate of important issues as they attempt to score political points.”
Only winner today was President Zuma and his cabinet. He got away without having to answer a single question. The loser was accountability— John Steenhuisen (@jsteenhuisen) June 18, 2015
The EFF has, however, indicated it won’t be backing down on demands that Zuma tell the South African public when he would pay back State funds spent on his Nkandla home.
EFF statement on the Zuma Question and Answer session http://t.co/LWxMrRqBdv— EFF Official Account (@EconFreedomZA) June 18, 2015
During Thursday’s sitting, EFF MPs chanted “pay back the money”, demanding Zuma answer questions on when he would reimburse a portion of the R246-million of taxpayers’ money used on the Nkandla project, despite a determination by the minister of police that all the upgrades were of a security nature and the president was therefore absolved of any liability.
Almost all other opposition parties wanted the scheduled Q&A to go ahead, saying the Nkandla issue should be shelved, but the EFF would not play ball.
“We can’t be steamrolled towards commission of corruption by a sitting head of state,” said EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu.
“We have seen many African states collapse because of the protection of one individual.”
Steenhuisen said while his party would fight for answers on Nkandla outside the assembly chamber, the sitting should have gone ahead.
“We fought very hard to get the president into this house today…and the only people who benefit when the house collapses is the executive and the president,” he said.
The ACDP’s Cheryllyn Dudley said Parliament should not allow itself to “be held to ransom by one party”, referring to the EFF.
But, EFF leader Julius Malema remained defiant, saying: “The President will have to be answerable to this House and this over-protection of the President has collapsed this House. You [Mbete] and the president render this institution useless.”
Democracy in action,just respect the constitution then the rest will follow oldman...— Julius Sello Malema (@Julius_S_Malema) June 18, 2015
IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi asked for a vote, but Malema insisted a majority vote would not stop them.
“Whether you vote or not, we are going to ask the questions,” he said.
“We are not voting cattle. We are not here to vote. We are here to debate.”
EFF MPs then started chanting “pay back the money”, forcing Mbete’s hand.
“It is very clear that there are honourable members who want to block proceedings of the House. This shows disrespect to the people of South Africa who have voted for us,” she said while the chanting continued.
Mbete adjourned the House indefinitely.