South Africa

Televised elections debate turns violent as chairs fly in Hangberg

By Tessa Knight 5 April 2019

Supporters and representatives of multiple political parties throw chairs at each other during a SABC MorningLive election debate in Hangberg, Cape Town on 5 April 2019. Image: Screenshot

Friday morning's elections debate hosted by the SABC saw chairs flying across the room as political representatives from the EFF clashed with members of the BLF and the Land Party.

In South Africa it is politicians and their supporters, not special effects, witchcraft or gravity-defying physics, that cause chairs to fly across rooms.

Such was the case at an elections debate in Hangberg, Hout Bay on Friday morning. During an SABC MorningLive broadcast tensions rose as political representatives vied for screen time. Members of the EFF and the Land Party appear most involved in the conflict, although the footage also shows citizens without obvious party paraphernalia joining in the scuffle. Although the footage was broadcast live, it is difficult to make out who started the fight.

The primary cause of concern appears to have been over the scheduling of the panellists, according to Ncedisa Mpemnayam, Western Cape Chairperson of the BLF.

There was a problematic format in which (the debate) was done. The everyday mainstream political parties were given first preference on the first panel … and they were given too much time, they were eating away at our time,” said Mpemnayam, who was speaking when the fight broke out.

According to Mandy Owens, spokesperson for the newly formed Land Party, political parties who are not currently represented in Parliament or government were placed on to a second panel. Mpemnayam told Daily Maverick that the parties who formed part of the second panel became worried that they would not have enough time to speak. Party representatives as well as supporters allegedly started to become agitated, and demanded that the panels change as the debate went past 90 minutes.

In a tweet during the first panel, GOOD Party founder Patricia de Lille said that: “These old political parties are failing us! They taking our speaking time with no solutions.” The GOOD Party were to be part of the second panel, and, although representatives in orange can be seen in the original television clip, it appears that the party were not actively involved in the scuffle.

According to Melikhaya Xego, Western Cape Chairperson of the EFF, members of political parties who were not on the first panel created disruption, and “members of the BLF and the Land Party instructed EFF supporters to get out of the room” when the second panel commenced. Xego claims this altercation is what sparked the conflict, however, representatives of both the Land Party and BLF stated that the EFF started the fight.

The EFF started hitting us with chairs,” said Owens. In response to Xego’s claim that the BLF incited the altercation, Owens stated that “the BLF actually helped to stop the EFF from attacking us”.

The BLF’s Mpemnayam said that the party blames the EFF for “its hooliganism, which is uncontrollable”. However Mpemnayam also told Daily Maverick that the public broadcaster’s “inability to give everyone a proper chance to speak” exacerbated tensions that are already present due to the upcoming elections.

Despite claims of increased election-based violence, Western Cape Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Western Cape Electoral Officer Courtney Sampson told Daily Maverick that the IEC condemns any form of political violence. “Because the IEC weren’t present, the situation has to be brought to the Commission as a complaint from either the SABC or the political parties involved, and the IEC encourages this.”

Both the EFF and the Land Party told Daily Maverick that the parties would be laying a complaint with the IEC over the incident in Hangberg this morning. According to the Electoral Code of Conduct, political parties must “speak out against political violence” and are prohibited from inciting violence. Parties that breach the code can be fined, be prevented from working in an area or have their votes in an area cancelled.

However, complaints are not necessarily dealt with before an election, unless the Electoral Court deems the complaint will impact voting.

In a statement released by the national branch of the EFF, the party claims to condemn the “violent disruptions” created by its own members earlier today. DM

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