South Africa

Parliament diary: SONA disruptions? What SONA disruptions?

By Rebecca Davis 5 February 2015

Parliament hosted a media briefing on Wednesday to discuss the institution’s state of readiness for next week’s State of the Nation Address. Predictably, the one thing everyone wanted to know – whether they have a contingency plan in place if the EFF disrupts the President’s speech – was the one thing they wouldn’t be drawn on. Meanwhile, the EFF’s website currently boasts a countdown clock merrily ticking down the hours till #Paybackthemoney Round 2. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Who wants to talk about the possible disruption of SONA by the EFF? The Fighters themselves clearly do, since they are cheerfully advertising the countdown to the event. From most other involved parties, there’s a shroud of secrecy over it all.

When national police commissioner Riah Piyega was asked whether police would be increased in the parliamentary precinct during SONA, Phiyega “declined to comment”, IOL reported.

On Tuesday, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe told journalists that the Cabinet would not be discussing the matter at their meeting.

“That is the issue of Parliament, we are here as the national executive,” he said.

But Parliament, it seems, is similarly reluctant to talk about the matter.

At Wednesday’s media briefing on Parliament’s readiness to host SONA, Secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana repeatedly refused to be drawn into a discussion of whether there were plans in place to handle an EFF disruption.

“We have planned for a successful event,” said Mgidlana. “If you are planning for any successful event, you have planned for, you know, to carry out our business in terms of having a successful event. Because really, what you are asking me – what is the possibility, and so forth…I can’t be engaging in issues of ‘if’.”

Mgidlana added: “There are many hundreds of possibilities out there. And if you are planning for an event, you look at possibilities that are there, and so forth. But we can’t be planning for possibilities that may or may not happen…Are there any extraordinary measures that are taken to address a specific issue? My answer to you is no.”

Got it. Sort of.

On the one hand, it is of course completely reasonable that Parliament would not openly discuss security measures for an event which brings together not just the most powerful political figures in the country but also luminaries of business, former Presidents, international diplomats, and even some pop culture celebrities.

On the other hand, the issue of security in Parliament has taken on a fraught dimension since the calling of public order police into the National Assembly last year, an act widely condemned. What journalists wanted to know was not the details of the general security plan but which security body would be responsible for maintaining order in the National Assembly in the event of serious disruption: Parliament’s own security services? SAPS? SANDF members? Members of the Presidential guard?

“Parliament has not involved the Presidential guard,” Mgidlana was able to clarify. For the rest, there were no details forthcoming. Asked if it would be possible for the National Assembly to refuse entry to – cough – any MPs, he replied that he did not believe it possible for any MPs to be barred.

Another thorny issue on the table involves the parliamentary live video feed of events, which was controversially cut last year when police entered the House. Mgidlana said that the feed would be broadcast for as long as the official proceedings of Parliament were ongoing, presided over by the Speaker.

On other SONA-related matters, the secretary was somewhat more forthright. Belt-tightening has hit the event, which has a budget of R4 million. Mgidlana said this was substantially down from last year’s February SONA budget of R9 million. (Somewhat confusingly, it was reported two days before last year’s SONA that the 2014 SONA budget was R5,7 million.)

Austerity measures have been applied to transport, catering and alcohol, and guest numbers will be slightly reduced.

Will the lights stay on long enough for the nation to see the spectacle unfold? In essence: hopefully.

Mgidlana said that Parliament had been having regular meetings with Eskom and the City of Cape Town on this point. It was not just important that load-shedding did not hit the National Assembly, he said – though Parliament has back-up generators – but also that load-shedding did not affect the general public sitting at home glued to their TV screens.

Mgidlana said that Eskom had given Parliament “guarantees” – but “whether they can give us total guarantees…I think is a difficult thing”. He added, however, that they had “no reason” to think that it wouldn’t be possible to maintain electricity throughout the broadcast – despite skepticism from journalists who pointed out that the current load-shedding schedule seems subject to change several times per day.

“The event is a very important one, important in the calendar of the nation,” Mgidlana said. “It’s important in the discourse of the people.”

One can only imagine the frustration of the ruling party at the manner in which the EFF has managed to turn the focus of that discourse on to the Fighters in advance of the event. DM

Read more:

  • No extra security for SONA, on IOL

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma (2-L) stands on the steps of parliament ahead of delivering his State of the Nation address, Cape Town, South Africa, 17 June 2014. President Jacob Zuma is under pressure to deliver in his second term in office as he gives his State of the Nation address with the new parliament gathering following the April general elections. EPA/Sumaya Hisham / POOL


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