Cape Town - Members of the public order policing unit stormed into the National Assembly chamber on Thursday night, causing a scuffle in which several punches were thrown.
The drama unfolded after Economic Freedom Fighters MP Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela refused to leave the podium when she was ordered to do so by House chairman Cedrick Frolick.
Mashabela had called President Jacob Zuma a “thief” during a debate on the Grand Inga Hydro Project, and refused to withdraw her remarks.
Mashabela would not be moved when sergeant-at-arms Regina Mohlomi tried to escort her from the podium.
Police arrived minutes later - tugging at Mashabela - who could be heard shouting: “I don’t want to be touched.”
MPs from the opposition benches expressed outrage and jumped to Mashabela's defence.
Fists started flying when police pushed and shoved MPs from the Democratic Alliance and the EFF who intervened.
As the policemen emerged from the chamber with a clearly shaken Mashabela, members of Parliament's protection services started scolding the officers.
The officers were told they had no jurisdiction over the National Assembly chamber.
It remained unclear on whose instructions the police were acting.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen, who was in the middle of the scuffle inside the chamber, expressed outrage.
“Four of my (DA) members, two of them women, have been assaulted by police. They are Terri Stander, Gordon Mackay, Denise Robinson and Dean Macpherson,” Steenhuisen said.
“Terri Stander was thrown to the floor and stood on by police.”
The MPs would lay assault charges against police.
“I think this is the lowest point in the post-democratic history of this country. We've reached a crisis,” said Steenhuisen.
Steenhuisen said he approached Frolick, Speaker Baleka Mbete and the sergeant-at-arms, who all denied they had called police to the chamber.
“The sergeant-at-arms is the villain in this case. I have no doubt,” said Steenhuisen.
The EFF party said it would convene a meeting of its leadership to decide what action to take, but indicated that they too would lay criminal charges against the officers concerned.
“We must teach them a lesson, including the Speaker who called them,” said EFF whip Hlengiwe Maxon. - Sapa