AFRICANGLOBE – Opposition parties riotously forced South Africa’s National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete into a climb down on Thursday after she tried to restrict the time set out for tabling motions in the House.
They waved white pages, containing their motions, after 40 minutes of protest during which the Economic Freedom Fighters and others rose at one point and shouted: “She must go.”
“Reverse the decision,” DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane snapped at Mbete.
“We request that the debate continue as per schedule,” Maimane added. Mbete told him to take his seat, but he retorted: “I refuse.”
After Mbete relented, the opposition began tabling motions severely critical of government, and in particular of President Jacob Zuma.
“I move that at its next sitting this House debates the cost of defending President Jacob Zuma in the spy tapes saga,” the DA’s James Selfe moved.
“I move that at its next sitting this House debate the cost of installing a heli-pad at President Jacob Zuma’s home,” his DA colleague James Lorimer said when his turn came.
Other opposition MPs moved that the Chamber debate the cost of garages and other features at Zuma’s rural KwaZulu-Natal mansion, and set out a list of alleged failures of his government on various fronts, from education to mining hostel conditions, to be debated.
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard called for a debate on the “unwillingness of the ANC” to discipline party members who undermine the authority of the Public Protector.
This was another reference to the Nkandla saga, in which senior party members and the president himself have rejected Thuli Madonsela’s findings.
DA MP Mike Waters moved for a debate on why Zuma’s diary was “too full” to allow him to spend adequate time in Parliament.
Earlier, Waters was ordered out of the Chamber by Mbete after he protested loudly at her attempt to curtail motions, but he refused to budge.
The pandemonium began shortly after 2pm and was reminiscent of the heckling Zuma faced on August 21 when the EFF shouted “pay back the money” at him in reference to Madonsela’s finding that he was liable to reimburse the state a portion of the R246m spent on his mansion in Nkandla.
The first formal item on Thursday’s agenda was a debate on the report adopted this week by the ad hoc committee on Nkandla.
The Economic Freedom Fighters led the charge against Mbete, with several members rising at once and clamouring to be recognised.
“I would ask with respect that you surrender your chair to the honourable [House chairman Cedric] Frolick. You have lost control of the house for the second time, you have pushed us to the brink of a constitutional crisis,” DA chief whip John Steenhuisen charged.
“You are abusing your powers. I only hope that you are doing this because [African National Congress secretary general] Gwede [Mantashe] told you to.”
Steenhuisen argued that since opposition parties had given warning of motions during a meeting of the programming committee earlier on Thursday, Mbete could not limit the time for “unforeseen events” because they did not qualify as such.
Mbete sought to remain calm amid the heckling and said: “I’m amazed by your excitement. I just don’t understand it.”
The ANC hit back in the person of Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery, who brought a motion decrying the opposition’s conduct, saying democracy was being undermined by parties representing “a fraction of the population”.
It was jeered by the EFF and other members of the opposition.
By: Emsie Ferreira