The scenes last night inside Parliament’s chambers tell the story of a national embarrassment that played itself out not just here, but on news networks across the globe.
The forceful invasion of the chambers by armed police officers was a fundamental violation of the Constitution, and the separation of powers between two spheres of state.
This was not a haphazard operation. It was planned with military precision by the security forces, in direct collaboration with the Speaker.
Before the sitting even began, water cannons, and armed riot police staged a forceful crackdown on DA supporters outside the precinct. These were peaceful spectators to a state event who wanted to make their voices heard about South Africa’s electricity crisis.
In doing so, riot police cited “instructions from above” to remove us from Adderley Street “before the President comes”. Five arrests were made in the process, including the DA’s National Spokesperson.
This was followed by the scrambling of signal in the National Assembly, violating the constitutional freedoms of all those in its chambers.
It is not hard to see how this would culminate in armed police entering the chambers.
The police report to the executive. They cannot, under the threat of lethal force, seize control of South Africa’s Parliament.
The fact that this was a result of a direct order by the Speaker and Chairperson of the National Council Provinces, is a grave violation of their constitutional obligations. They preside over Parliament; they cannot be central to breaking it down.
The DA is consulting with our lawyers on the legal recourse available to us to prevent the armed police from entering the chambers of Parliament unless there is a clear and present danger to life and limb.
We are also giving written notice asking the house to refer both Presiding Officers to the Powers and Privileges Committee for investigation and sanction.
We believe that the conduct of the Presiding Officers warrants the harshest sanction: they must be removed from office in line with section 12 (5) (e) of the Powers and Privileges Act.
There must be accountability for the disgraceful events of last night so they do not see a repeat of them.
This process, however, must not detract from Parliament’s role of holding the President accountable for the state of the nation.
We must make it the number one priority to urgently return Parliament’s business to the crises facing our nation.
The crises of electricity, unemployment and crime remain with us today.
As elected representatives of the people, we have an obligation to South Africans to put the real issues at the centre of Parliament’s agenda.
We will return to Parliament on Tuesday to do just this. President Zuma delivered a criminally weak account of the state of our nation last night.
It is clear from his address that Jacob Zuma is no longer a President. He has completely lost touch with South Africans, and is today no more than a man trying to stay out of court on 783 counts of corruption, fraud and racketeering.
Next week it is crucial that the true state of the nation becomes Parliament’s focus.