The National Assembly on Thursday deteriorated in chaos and anarchy after the Members of Parliament for the Economic Freedom Fighters disrupted proceedings with chants of “pay back the money”. The furore started during the question and answer session with the President regarding the Nkandla debacle. The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Malema, questioned that and with the backing of the other MPs and their supporters in the public gallery, literally brought the house down. They started chanting “pay back the money” while Malema was asking the President to elaborate on when he would pay the money back. He attempted to get Zuma to give a date when he would pay back the money.
This follows an investigation that was done by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela who, in her report aptly entitled “Secure in Comfort” stated that President Jacob Zuma and his family benefitted improperly from the security upgrades that were carried out on his Nkandla home. The Public Protector recommended, among other things that the President reimburses the State part of the R246 million that was used for the upgrades. In his response to the report which came more than three months after it was expected, Jacob Zuma gave no specific action on his part and instead called on the Police Minister to establish what portion, if any, he would need to pay back.
On Thursday, following the questions put to him by the leader of EFF, Zuma’s response was merely that he had responded appropriately to Madonsela’s report and therefore did not feel that another response was necessary. This enraged the EFF MPs and supporters in the gallery, which led to more chants and songs which called for the President to be killed. When the speaker called on the EFF caucus to leave the chamber, they refused and continued with their song and chants. At some point, it looked like Mbete would call in the police into parliament to forcibly remove the red clad figures. However, she ended up asking the other members to vacate the National Assembly so that Malema and his entourage could be removed with less drama. The press could also not be removed from this clearly unfolding story and stayed put despite the insistence of the parliamentary officials. A violent confrontation was almost about to unfold when ANC MPs attempted to get back in, ostensibly to help get rid of the errant EFF members.
Commenting on the happenings, the spokesman for the ruling ANC, Zizi Kodwa said that his party was “appalled by the behavior of the honour able members” and further advised that if there was disagreement in parliament, it should be done with decorum and respect, adding that all South Africans were embarrassed by this incident. Mmusi Maimane, the Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader called on the EFF to remember that Parliament was a place to legislate for South Africans and not a rally. He was also unforgiving of Ms Mbete, whom he said had failed to control the House and had made the situation worse by calling for the intervention of the police. The speaker, Ms Mbete, in a press conference later on the day, apologized to fellow South Africans on the happenings in Parliament and blamed it all on the EFF who, she said, were being reckless with the dignity of South Africans who had elected them to Parliament. In defence of his party, Julius Malema said they were acting in the interest of their constituents. According to parliamentary regulations, despite the events on Thursday, the EFF will be able and allowed to take up their seats in the next National Assembly plenary session without any problems. If there is need for a harsher punishment for them, this has to be decided by a resolution of the House.