The law provides for police officers to help eject errant MPs from Parliament as soon as the Speaker or chair of the House orders it, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakulasaid on Tuesday.
Police were caught off guard by the refusal of Economic Freedom Fighters’ MPs to leave the House when ordered to do so by Speaker Baleka Mbete on Thursday, Mapisa-Nqakula and her colleagues in the justice, crime prevention, and security (JCPS) cluster told journalists at Parliament.
“In our interpretation now, there was a clear instruction because the Speaker had requested the members to leave the House,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
“The Speaker… decided that the sergeant-at-arms should come in and escort the members out of the House, and when there was resistance to that, immediately all of us should have known that by the Speaker saying ‘sergeant-at-arms remove’… what it means is that your protection security services can come in and assist with the escorting of people out.”
Mapisa-Nqakula and Police Minister Nathi Nhleko denied there was an attempt to breach the constitutional imperative of a separation of powers, insisting the police service was responsible for security at Parliament.
According to their interpretation, the executive commanded the police and therefore had every right to intervene.
Mapisa-Nqakula blamed the police’s failure to act on confusion about the rules.
She cited both section 59 of the Constitution, which regulates, among others, the removal of people from the National Assembly, and section 11 of the legislation governing parliamentary powers.
“[The] Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004, section 11, provides for: if there is a person who creates or takes part in any disturbance in the precinct while Parliament, or the House or a committee is meeting, may be arrested and removed from the precinct on the order of the Speaker, or the chairperson, or a person designated by the Speaker or chairperson, by a staff member or a member of the security service.”
Mapisa-Nqakula stopped short of calling the EFF’s disruptive action a threat to national security.
“It posed a threat to everybody inside the chamber, but also the institution of Parliament,” she said.
Nhleko defended the officers’ action, saying it was an “abnormal situation”, and was in fact the first time in 20 years police were faced with having to intervene when the Assembly turned into a “circus”.
“Nobody would have expected that. It’s like walking into a church and expecting a dance party,” he said.
“Even at the point when the police arrived… they couldn’t act because they could only act on the basis of an express kind of order from the Speaker of the members who were disrupting the House.”
Nhleko said police exercised “a lot of restraint” after Mbete instructed EFF leader Julius Malemaand his fellow MPs to leave the House.
The ministers announced that a contingency plan would be put in place, but would not be drawn on specifics.
“The measures that are being put in place have got nothing to do with heavy-handedness,” Nhleko said.
The EFF resisted being removed. Their leader Julius Malema had expressed unhappiness about how President Jacob Zuma had answered questions on when he was going to repay part of the R246m spent on security upgrades to his private Nkandla residence in KwaZulu-Natal.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela had recommended in her report on Nkandla, titled “Secure in Comfort”, that Zuma repay that part of the money not spent on security measures, like the swimming pool and cattle kraal, among others.
Zuma has been accused of delaying responding in Parliament to Madonsela’s report after he said he would leave it to Nhleko to determine if he should repay any of the money.
Madonsela subsequently cautioned him in a letter that he was second-guessing her and that Nhleko did not have the power to do so.