File picture: Matthew Jordaan/Independent Media
Parliament – A day after the United Nations issued a notice announcing South Africa was revoking its intention to withdraw its membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a slight rumpus broke out during a parliamentary committee meant to discuss this very issue as MPs argued over sardines, sharks, ducks and even lizards.

Justice Minsiter Michael Masutha was ill and could not attend. Instead he sent the acting chief law advisor Ayesha Johaar to explain the legal ramifications of a North Gauteng High Court ruling last month declaring the process Masutha and the executive followed to effect the withdrawal as unconstitutional. The application was brought by the Democratic Alliance.

Johaar said cabinet abided by the court ruling and had set up a technical task team to "develop a compliance road map".

The absence of any cabinet ministers prompted opposition MPs to cry foul, saying the decision to withdraw from the ICC was a political one, meaning Masutha and his International Relations and Cooperation counterpart Maite Nkoana Mashabane should account to MPs.

"I find it very embarrassing...we engage sardines when the sharks are away," Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota said. "I don't want to hold bureaucrats to account, I want to hold politicians to account...."

Other opposition parties backed Lekota's call for ministers to appear before the international relations committee, including the Democratic Alliance, the Economic Freedom Fighters (who support the ICC withdrawal), and the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The African National Congress (ANC) however jumped to the defence of cabinet ministers, with MP Bhekiziwe Radebe, who declared several rulings in Parliament had been made against parliamentarians for referring to people as animals.

"When you referred to ministers as sharks, it is unparliamentary and it must be ruled upon," said Radebe.

"What the court has done, it is a good decision...we support the executive coming with corrective measures. I think we must support the minister [Masutha] in doing his job."

Committee chairman Moses Masango asked Lekota to explain himself "on fishes and ducks".

Lekota went on to school the committee. "I don't want to open an English class...because even in our mother tongue there are things called figures of speech...this is a simile," said Lekota.

Lekota remained stubborn even when Masango asked him not to refer to anyone as "lizards and sardines", saying: "It may be very distasteful for officials."

The Cope MP would not withdraw. "I won't do it. I simply guys make us children."

As ANC MPs continued to argue that the remarks were unparliamentary, EFF MP Hlengiwe Hlope could be heard saying: "Don't be petty man Radebe."

As the frivolity continued, DA MP Darren Bergman appealed to his colleague not to waste any more time as those watching the meeting on television would "get embarassed for us".

The briefing ended with Masango promising that he would try and get both Masutha and Nkoana-Mashabane before the committee to answer to MPs questions and respond to their concerns.