Cape Town - It was was open war between two leaders of the DA while opposition parties listened in astonishment as DA speaker Masizole Mnqasela and his deputy Beverley Schäfer laid into each other over corruption allegations against Mnqasela and calls for him to step aside.
Opposition leaders from the provincial legislature said they were shocked at the open conflict between the two at a meeting called to explain the implications of the current situation, where the DA is fighting its own speaker.
At the same time, the DA on Tuesday served speaker Masizole Mnqasela with a letter of intention to suspend him from all party activities, pending the finalisation of an investigation and/or the institution of disciplinary proceedings against him.
DA spokesperson Richard Newton said Mnqasela had been asked to respond to the letter within 24 hours, providing reasons as to why he should not be suspended pending the finalisation of the investigation and/ or institution of a disciplinary hearing.
Newton said: “This intention to suspend does not affect his duties as the speaker of the provincial legislature.”
Asked whether Mnqasela had responded to the letter, chairperson of the provincial executive committee (PEC) Jaco Londt said: “Mr Mnqasela did give a response. That will now be taken through the internal party processes and will not be shared with the media.”
Meanwhile, participants at the legislature’s multi-party leadership forum all confirmed that there was tension between speaker Masizole Mnqasela and deputy speaker Beverley Schäfer, who have both laid complaints against each other, in the legislature’s conduct committee.
The meeting was a hybrid one with some participants – MPL Ferlon Christians (ACDP) and MPL Peter Marais (FF+) – sitting in the speaker’s office, while the rest of the political party leaders, the DA chief whip, and deputy speaker were on the virtual platform.
Leader of the official opposition in the legislature Cameron Dugmore (ANC) said that after the meeting it was very clear that the internal war within the DA was intensifying.
Dugmore said: “It was literal fireworks. Especially at the beginning.”
He said the participants have previously raised concerns about the impact of the DA’s internal factional war on governance in the province and, indeed, the functioning of the legislature itself.
“We will be asking the premier directly to confirm or deny that he asked the speaker to step down,” added Dugmore.
EFF provincial chairperson Melikhaya Xego said that, from the meeting, it was “very clear that the guns are out for the speaker and that is surely being led by the premier and his white caucus”.
He said the DA was dragging the image of the legislature into disrepute with petty political infighting.
Freedom Front Plus MPL Peter Marais said: “The deputy speaker, who also attended today’s meeting, indicated she’s sitting there as a DA member, not as deputy speaker.
He said that Schäfer sat there, opposing the speaker, whereas she is part of his office, and that the other participants found that strange.
On the issue of whether the premier had asked Mnqasela to resign, Marais said: “Unlike MECs that the premier can fire at will, like in the case of Albert Fritz, the speaker is elected by the legislature.”
On what was actually said at the meeting, GOOD Party MPL Shaun August said: “There was a lot of ducking and diving on the part of the speaker and he didn’t say much, other than that the matter is before the conduct committee, which means we can’t really speak about it.”
He said they asked the speaker if the premier said he should step down, but did not get a straight answer.
When reached for comment on the meeting, the Office of The Speaker would only say that the multi-party leadership forum is not a formal committee of the House, in any shape or form.
“This is the speaker’s initiative to consult with the provincial government, chief whips, and leaders of political parties, on matters of mutual concern,” said a spokesperson for the Office of The Speaker.
A spokesperson said the press had never been invited to attend meetings of the forum, but the media was welcome to talk to participants before or after the forum.