Fist-fights and shouting matches at SONA
Johannesburg - The State of the Nation Address (SONA) turned into chaos on Thursday night with the DA and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) staging a walkout, while the EFF were shown the door.
DA MPs left in droves after Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete and National Council of Provinces chair Thandi Modise refused to answer questions around security.
EFF leader Julius Malema and other party members were forced out for insisting on asking President Jacob Zuma when he would pay back the money they believe he owed the taxpayers for security upgrades to his Nkandla home.
Mbete ordered the Sergeant at Arms, who was assisted by unidentified security forces, to remove the EFF MPs.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane led his party’s walkout after saying: “If you cannot confirm it was the police… our party will leave the House.”
The DA took issue if armed police had helped assist in marching out the EFF as Parliament was meant to be protected by its own protection services.
The start of proceedings was marred by shouting matches, with various MPs attempting to raise points of order.
The interruption was expected. Malema had warned for months he would be demanding answers from Zuma. “Is it in his speech when the money is going be paid back?” one EFF MP wanted to know.
Zuma has been accused of avoiding Parliament so that he does not have to answer questions about Nkandla.
A calm and determined Mbete was adamant that the president would answer questions, but SONA was not the appropriate platform.
“If you insist on raising questions… this House has to proceed with the business of the State of the Nation address being delivered today, without hindrance,” she said.
Before Malema was thrown out, he said: “You are not doing me any favours, it is within my right to speak as a member of this House. The rules must apply when the president speaks. We want the president to answer a simple question, ‘when is he paying the money, as directed by the Public Protector?’ Do not be emotional about it.”
This is the first time MPs had been shown the door during SONA.
On the steps of the National Assembly, Maimane said “the constitution has been violated”.
He added: “The legislature must conduct its business in an open manner. The Speaker cannot escalate the situation by sending in the police.
“This Parliament is a free space. It cannot be a space where the executive determine what can and what cannot be discussed.”
The UDM’s Bantu Holomisa said “I’m not going to be part of this fiasco”, adding that the ANC had overstepped the mark. “This is a police state!”
The MPs tried to stand their ground after the Speaker ordered them to leave, but officers dragged them out.
Fist-fights broke out as the EFF MPs were dragged out of the National Assembly
EFF MP Floyd Shivambu confronted a few officers and another fight broke out.
Some of the protection officers’ shirts were ripped off and they stood around bare-chested.
Security officers blocked journalists from going near the EFF MPs. Police and protection officers were apparently taking the rowdy EFF MPs to a location on the precinct.
Before their departure, several EFF MPs clapped for the DA MPs as they walked out of the House - and launched into “Pay back the money” chants.
Earlier, the State of the Nation address got off to a rocky start over the blocking of cellphone signals in Parliament.
The DA and the Freedom Front Plus told the Speaker that the proceedings could not continue before the cellphone signal had been unblocked.
Maimane even threatened to go to court over the matter.
Shivambu called for an adjournment until that matter had been resolved.
Opposition parties argued that the constitution was being violated.
The Star, Political Bureau and Sapa