Parliament - When is a member of the National Assembly lying, and when is he not telling the truth?
This question proved too much for EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu on Wednesday, after he accused Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Buti Manamela, of lying.
Earlier, Manamela had drawn an apparent comparison between former German dictator Adolf Hitler and Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.
Shivambu told Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli that he objected to the comparison, and - in his point of order - referred to Manamela as Buti, using the deputy minister's first name.
Chastised for this by Tsenoli, Shivambu then asked him: “How do you refer to Buti as honourable, when he's not honourable? And he's lying now. “
Tsenoli responded: “Honourable member, you can't say a member is lying, you have to withdraw. You are making it difficult for us... so withdraw.”
Shivambu asked: “Chair, how do I say that he is not telling the truth? What is the proper word? At least guide me so that I know the rules. The reality is that he's not telling the truth.”
Tsenoli told him there were House rules that he had to obey, but Shivambu appeared to miss the point.
“Give me guidance in terms of what should I say that this guy's lying,” he told Tsenoli.
An exasperated Tsenoli told Shivambu he could not continue to say Manamela was lying, and he should withdraw.
“But he's not telling the truth! What should I withdraw? The word, or the fact that he's not telling the truth?”
“Withdraw you calling him a liar,” Tsenoli told him.
Shivambu eventually agreed
“Okay, I'll withdraw the word liar, but he's not telling the truth,” he insisted.
Moments later there was pandemonium in the House when Manamela wound up his speech with yet another reference to Hitler.
“At all times I prefer the party position, the party collective and the party discipline... The painful idea that we prefer the person over the party... makes me shake in my boots, because here, before our eyes, not Eugene Terre'Blanche... Adolf Hitler has come back from the dead,” he said.
This provoked an outburst from EFF benches.
Called to withdraw by Tsenoli, Manamela agreed to withdraw his use of the name Hitler.
Tension flared again during the speech of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba as Shivambu rose to say he knew of no rule obliging him to address fellow MPs as honourable.
He added: “The majority of the people here are not honourable really.”
Justice Minister Michael Masutha was moved to rise and tell Shivambu that if he did not like the rules, he should raise his objections in the rules committee, not the debate.
But that was not the end, because Gigaba proceeded to refer to the EFF as “political opportunists”, prompting the party's MPs to once again leap to their feet and demand he withdraw immediately.
Tsenoli asked Gigaba “not to inflame the situation”.
Gigaba resumed, but only to wittily replace the offending phrase with “dot, dot, dot”. He added that voters would not be fooled by the populist dress code of the ultra-left party to forget the track record of its leaders, which included “financial impropriety, self enrichment and tax evasion”.
The objections grew louder still until Tsenoli simply told the EFF members to sit down, but the sniping continued with Gigaba hurling a barb about visiting shebeens right back at the EFF.
With his speech, and the debate, over, Tsenoli lectured MPs at length on proper debating conduct, and without naming Gigaba, warned that it be left to the courts to rule on crime.