Parliament - President Jacob Zuma did not return to the National Assembly to complete Thursday afternoon’s questions session after the Economic Freedom Fighters brought the House to a standstill with shouts of “Where is the money?” related to the taxpayer-funded security upgrades at his Nkandla homestead.
“Honourable members, we are faced with a situation we are unable to continue with the sitting and have allowed the president to proceed with the work of his office,” National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete announced after MPs were allowed to return to the chamber after more than an hour.
Chaos broke out when EFF MPs insisted Zuma respond to their follow-up question on when he would repay the money spent on the Nkandla security upgrades, shouting “Where is the money?”.
EFF parliamentary leader Julius Malema had asked the question when the president would respond to the public protector’s report - she found he had to repay at least some of the costs of the non-security upgrades like the swimming pool, cattle kraal and visitors’ centre. Zuma earlier simply said he had responded to the public protector findings and other reports in his response to Parliament last Thursday.
After an acrimonious exchange on points of order - the EFF insisted Zuma had to answer, the Speaker said he had and must move on - Mbete suspended the House.
All MPs stayed in their seats until she returned to say security staff had ask everyone to vacate. Parliamentary staff and police initially tried to evict the media from the press gallery. However, agreement was eventually reached with the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association (PGA), for journalists to stay on.
During the break unfolded various negotiations involving Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, State Security Minister David Mahlobo and - surprisingly -Telecommunications and Postal Services Minister Siyabonga Cwele, the former state security minister. Western Cape police commissioner General Arno Lamoer was also in the House. The Presidency was also consulted.
At one stage Nhleko and Mahlobo talked with Malema, EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu and another EFF MP.
However the 25 EFF MPs stayed put and sung struggle songs, vowed to sleep in the Chamber and sung “iSono sethu yile Nkandla [Our only sin is Nkandla]”.
Shortly after 4pm MPs were allowed back into the House, and Mbete made her announcement that proceedings would not resume, leaving three presidential questions unanswered.
Zuma’s question time in the House was the first this year. Parliament and the presidency cited diary challenges for not having secured slots in either the first term of this Parliament or the last term of the past Parliament before the May 7 elections. Under the current custom, the president is supposed to answer questions in the House at least once a term.
It is unclear when he will do so.