Parliament - In the aftermath of riot police rushing into Parliament, the Speaker and official opposition on Friday blamed each other for the legislature descending into chaos.
Speaker Baleka Mbete defended the bodily removal of an Economic Freedom Fighters MP from the National Assembly, saying she had a duty to protect Parliament as the opposition was trying to tarnish the legislature.
“We could not sit here in this institution and forever allow disruptions and outrageous conduct of honourable members who have come here not to work as we all do, but to come here and just push the boundaries in the process to rubbish this institution of the people,” she told a media briefing.
“We have never had reason to call the police. It must be understood that it is incident after incident,” she said.
Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane told a separate media briefing his party would no longer recognise Mbete as Speaker.
“(Speaker) Baleka Mbete lost control of the House and destroyed her credibility as Speaker. Accordingly, we will cease to recognise her authority as Speaker.”
Every time Mbete presided over the House, “the DA will send only its Chief Whip, its deputy Chief Whip, and those members participating in the debate itself”, he said.
Mbete said Thursday's chaos in the National Assembly was plotted in advance by opposition parties and marked the culmination of a strategy that became apparent on June 17, when the fifth Parliament formally opened.
“It was in that debate that this trend that we have been observing started to show,” she said.
“There is no way we are going to allow ourselves to come here and each time just be disrupted.”
Asked who gave an order to briefly cut the television feed from the Chamber when chaos erupted on Thursday night, Mbete did not answer directly but denied that the move constituted censorship.
“We don't have a policy of censorship. We all know the attitude of our democracy on those matters, but all those issues have limitations.
“Parliament is here for a purpose and that purpose has to be protected.”
Opposition parties on Thursday launched the longest filibuster yet in the post-apartheid Parliament ahead of the debate on a parliamentary report absolving President Jacob Zuma from responsibility for the abuse of state funds on improvements at his private home, testing Mbete and Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli's patience.
About two hours after the report was voted through by the African National Congress, EFF MP Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela repeatedly said Zuma was “the greatest thief in the world”. She ignored demands by acting Speaker Cedric Frolick that she withdraw the remark and leave the Chamber, as well as attempts by the sergeant-at-arms to lead her out.
At this point, public order police were called and Mashabela was heard saying: “I don't want to be touched,” before the television feed was cut.
DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said members of his party tried to block the police and several were injured in an ensuing scuffle.
Mbete said she was not only disappointed, but was “depressed” by the events. She has yet to decide on any steps to be taken against opposition MPs.
“At this point we have not had those discussions as an institution. We are still actually going to go and sit and analyse in depth from different angles
“We analyse together and then we can determine a course of action.”
Opposition parties have for months accused Mbete of bias because she is also the chairwoman of the ruling party, and on Thursday they chanted “you must go” at her.
Responding to this, Mbete said the allegation of bias was unfounded because all members of Parliament belonged to political parties.
When reminded that ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has called on the legislature to protect Zuma she said: “He does not run Parliament.”
She said Mantashe had been in Parliament on Thursday to brief ruling party members on developments surrounding the expulsion of the National Metalworkers Union of SA from the Congress of SA Trade Unions, and that he may have been in the gallery during the afternoon's debate, but was adamant that she did not take instructions from him.
“He has nothing to do with the running of this place.”