To deal with mounting unrest, tough measures are being ordered to “restore and maintain law and order”. “Appropriate steps” cannot be disclosed but they are strong and uncompromising. Not only the rule of law but also the fate of the nation is at stake in the growing unrest. “I am committed to maintaining law, order and stability in our society.” You might think these are the words of one of the security cluster ministers speaking at a media briefing at Parliament on Tuesday. Actually, this was the former Apartheid president PW Botha speaking in Parliament in March 1985. Remarkably similar, isn’t it? Terrifyingly so. Welcome to the reinvention of ‘Kragdadigheid’. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
President Jacob Zuma’s frontline defenders, the security cluster ministers, trotted out on Tuesday morning to announce to the media a “contingency plan” to prevent disruptions to parliamentary proceedings. This was in reaction to last Thursday’s pandemonium in the National Assembly during the president’s question time, when the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) disrupted proceedings and demanded that Zuma pay back the money for undue benefits he received at his Nkandla home.
The security cluster previously featured in the special operations to contain the fallout over the Gupta family using the Waterkloof Air Force Base as their personal landing strip, and to run interference during Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s investigation into the security upgrades at Nkandla. The security cluster now has some new faces as the Justice, Police and State Security ministers have been changed.
Their brief is the same, however: employ whatever means possible to undermine the public’s intelligence and do damage control.
So there they were on Tuesday, with looks of pending calamity on their faces, warning how people’s lives were in danger and peace had been under threat because EFF MPs were chanting and banging the tables in the National Assembly.
‘Over the top’ has never been so high powered and comical at the same time.
The ministers would not give details of this contingency plan, save to say that the South African Police Service would be positioned to deal with any form of disorder swiftly and decisively. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the security ministers could not “stand idle as our democracy is undermined”.
“It posed a threat to everybody inside the chamber, but also the institution of Parliament,” she said.
It also emerged at the briefing that it had been Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko who had summoned the riot police to Parliament to remove the EFF MPs out of the House. The minister has in fact no powers to order police operations, but in the general carnival of already blurred lines being crossed, that appears to be the least shocking thing that happened.
Nhleko said there was an “abnormal situation”, forcing the police to intervene when Parliament was turned into a “circus”. He said the riot police could not act, however, until being given permission to do so by Speaker Baleka Mbete.
The ministers denied that their envisaged new measures were a heavy-handed reaction to the new vigorous political opposition Julius Malema and his contingent had introduced to Parliament. They also did not consider their intervention to be impeding on the separation of powers between the Executive and Parliament.
Some of the ministers’ statements were uncannily similar to those uttered at that very Parliament, albeit in a different chamber, 29 years ago.
In early 1985, the anti-Apartheid campaign was really unnerving the then South African government. The state of emergency and security laws, imposed by the state to maintain “law and order”, were only inflaming the situation, with civil disobedience, protests and violence prevalent throughout the country. PW Botha made a surprise appearance in Parliament and threatened a crackdown. He had also called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet and had held talks with his security chiefs.
Botha also did not reveal what measures he would take but also said the security of the state was being threatened. This was kragdadigheid in all its glory, the use of maximum force by the state security forces to clamp down on the civilian population demanding change.
What apparently tipped Botha over the edge was a march to Parliament, led by church leaders, calling for an end to Apartheid. The police arrested 264 people, who were charged with demonstrating near Parliament without a permit. Botha warned that his government will allow “no person or institution (to be) above the law or act as if this was the case and go unpunished”.
Yes, this is really amusing in light of the past week’s events and threats uttered by government and ANC officials. They have used terms like “anarchy”, “rebels”, “fascists” and “danger to the state” to describe elected parliamentarians demanding answers in the National Assembly. The irony is dazzling.
Even more bizarre is that the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe invoked the memory of Apartheid’s architect, former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, being stabbed in Parliament as justification for a security clampdown in the National Assembly.
Both the security cluster ministers and Mantashe have cited section 11 of the Powers, Privileges, and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act of 2004 to justify police intervention in what is essentially a political dispute. The Act states: “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”.
However, while this legislation talks about “disturbance” in the “precinct”, the Constitution is much clearer in stating that Members of Parliament cannot be arrested for “anything they have said in, produced before or submitted to the Assembly or any of its committees”. This is the reason no EFF MP has yet been charged for what happened in the House last Thursday.
After deliberating on this over the past few days, Mbete announced on Tuesday that she was considering suspending the EFF representatives for the disruption. She said the matter was being referred to the powers and privileges committee to discuss whether the actions of Malema and his MPs constituted contempt of the legislature.
“I’m considering the implementation of item 10 of the schedule of the rules which makes provision for the suspension of members where the allegations against them are of a serious nature,” Mbete said. EFF MPs could provide reasons to her in writing why they should not be suspended.
While Parliament is going into lockdown to contain the EFF, the ANC is waging another spectacular battle with the Public Protector on the Nkandla issue.
At a media briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Mantashe said Madonsela was treating the president “almost as her personal project” and there was a sense she was abusing her office. He said the Public Protector was not above the Constitution and the ANC was concerned by her “behaviour and conduct”, particularly because she was not giving Parliament the “space and time” to process her report on the Nkandla upgrades.
He claimed Madonsela had embarked on an international roadshow to “badmouth” the country and cast it in a “bad light”. This included an alleged claim by Madonsela that a Cabinet Minister was involved in drug dealing. Mantashe’s deputy Jessie Duarte called Madonsela a “populist” who saw herself as being “superior” to Parliament.
They also attacked Madonsela for the leak of her recent letter to Zuma to the media. They challenged her to publicly name the ANC leader she had claimed was behind the leak to two Sunday newspapers.
It had become the norm for every report of the Public Protector to be leaked to the media, Mantashe said. The ANC was also concerned about “the coincidence of the Public Protector writing the letter to the president on the same day that the EFF disrupted Parliament”, Mantashe said. Both Madonsela and the EFF raised the same issues.
Mantashe said some MPs claimed they saw Madonsela in the parliamentary precinct on Thursday. He would not say straight out whether he thought there had been collusion between the EFF and Madonsela, but said the ANC was “observing an anti-majoritarian liberal offensive on the movement”.
Mantashe said the ANC did not, however, want to remove Madonsela from her post, but wanted her to “behave correctly”.
Madonsela had issued a statement on Monday night saying she was concerned by the “extraordinary and unwarranted attacks” on her person and her office by the ANC. During the ANC media conference on Tuesday, she took to Twitter to fight back. In a series of tweets, she said:
“Let’s face the truth. What’s embarrassing the country is attempts to subvert the rule of law & not administrative scrutiny. #constitutionalism”
“We are in trouble when politicians meddle in the investigation processes and leak documents then cry foul #constitutionalism”
“Can someone please say how exactly is the deepening of accountability a weakening of parliamentary democracy”
The Nkandla issue was always heading towards a constitutional confrontation, considering it involved the president who notoriously refuses to take responsibility for anything done by him, for him or in his name. In the past, Zuma has always been able to defer blame to others and walk away.
The difference this time is that he is facing the heat from two different quarters – the EFF and the Public Protector – and it is becoming more and more difficult for him to evade accounting for the upgrades at Nkandla.
In order to crush this pressure, the ANC and the security ministers are employing an Iron Fist approach, which ironically was used on them in their previous incarnation during the fight against Apartheid. Bullying, threats and kragdadigheid did not work then, and in all likelihood will not work now. What these tactics do achieve is to sway public opinion against the enforcers.
It took a long while for the Apartheid government to realise this. It remains to be seen how long the party of liberation will take to read the public mood. DM
Photo: Julius Malema, Thuli Madonsela (Sapa)