Parliament last week

Catalytic events happen few and far between that bring change on the political landscape.  However, last week was a watershed between right and wrong, the fight for democracy and upholding the Rule of Law.

Outside Parliament, where DA members were assaulted and arrested. Photo: Michael Walker/Cape Times

Outside Parliament, where DA members were assaulted and arrested. Photo: Michael Walker/Cape Times

The State of the Nation Address on Thursday 12 February 2015 was one such event in parliament and in South Africa.

Two very serious transgressions of the Constitution and the Rules of Parliament were committed:

Firstly, all cellphone, data and television signals were blocked, including that of the media and the SABC’s live feed.

Secondly, SA security police services forcibly removed Members of Parliament from a formal sitting of the House.

Before we even started with proceedings, it became clear that all electronic communication signals were blocked.

The jamming of the cellular signal on Thursday was an unprecedented contravention of media freedom.

It meant that journalists inside the parliamentary press gallery couldn’t file their stories, document proceedings live via social networks, or communicate with their colleagues outside the House.

The media loudly chanted with the Democratic Alliance calling for the restoration thereof.  It was a Constitutional breach.

It was a serious clamp down of our right to freedom of speech in parliament and the right of our people to know, via the media, what is happening in parliament.

John Steenhuisen – MP, DA Chief Whip and Mmusi Maimane – MP, DA Parliamentary Leader, were absolutely correct when they called on the two presiding officers, the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to have the signals unblocked in terms of the Rules of Parliament and the Constitution before the sitting could commence.

After several ducking and diving remarks the DA won the battle.  However, it was only cellphone signal that was restored and not the data signal.

Needless to mention that in spite of Mmusi’s specific request to have the TV feed restored, there were several occasions where South Africans were not allowed to see what happened.

At the State of the Nation Address the EFF was rising on a “Point of Order” and a “Point of Privilege” to ask the question when the President was going to pay back the Nkandla money.

Eventually two MP’s were told by the Speaker to leave the House and upon refusal, security forces stormed in and brutally dragged all the EFF MP’s out of the House.

It is untenable for security forces (who take their instructions from the executive) to be brought in by the Speaker to muzzle MPs.

If this precedent is set, it will not take long for the Executive to consider itself unaccountable and require the Speaker to call in the police whenever MPs are “troublesome”.

If there is a need for discipline against members who refuse to abide by Parliament’s rules, Parliament has its own security (that takes orders from the Speaker, not from the executive) to restore order in the Chamber if necessary.

Once a Speaker has set a precedent of summoning state security forces (the police or the army) to impose the executive’s will on the legislature, accountability the essence of democracy is no longer possible.

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.

Tony Leon once said that if one likes sausage, one must not watch when these are made.  Well, this is exactly what happened on Thursday.

It is tough in parliament to fight against Luthuli House’s reign.  It is extremely hard to fight for “democracy” and to protect the Constitution, the Rules of Parliament and of course the rule of law in an environment where insiders look after themselves and forget about the law.

Some irritated members of society refer to the chaos in parliament.  Well, the chaos in parliament is exactly what the DA stood up against and it is the duty of the Speaker to uphold the rule of law, not break it.

The ANC has actually revealed to all South Africans that they are not in favour of the rule of law.  Luthuli House rules.  It is only the inner circle that counts and get enriched.

The Democratic Alliance is the only party in South Africa that is fighting to protect our Constitution and for democracy.

We will use every mechanism in Parliament to hold the Speaker to account for the scrambling of the communications signal, and to establish who was responsible for this gross violation of the Bill of Rights.

We will also seek to ensure that the Speaker’s ability to call in Security Services to deal with disruptions in the House is investigated.

The DA took the right course of action on Thursday in the House and we will continue to fight this extremely tough battle for all South Africans, justice and the rule of law.

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