Faced with a clearly combative opposition, the ANC on Thursday night abandoned a debate in the National Assembly on a report calling for the suspension of 20 Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from the legislature.
The decision came after five hours of tense meetings in Parliament, while riot police were again brought into the precinct a week after they were sent into the Chamber to evict an EFF MP.
“They have agreed to continue with the sitting but to make the report stand over and to call another sitting next week Tuesday,” EFF MP Sipho Mbatha told Sapa as ANC MPs filed into their second caucus meeting for the night.
Mbatha said it was also agreed at a meeting of chief whips that talks to end the political impasse in Parliament would continue in the meanwhile.
This was confirmed by a Democratic Alliance source, who added: “The ANC had their back against the wall.” DA spokesman Mabine Seabe said it was agreed that political parties would hold another meeting with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who brokered a fragile truce between political parties in Parliament on Tuesday, only to declare it “in tatters” less than 48 hours later.
The meeting would take place on Monday or Tuesday, Seabe said.
Ramaphosa’s spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said the deputy resident had received a request from several parties represented in Parliament for meeting.
“He is considering the request favourably,” Mamoepa said.
Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli told MPs the item had been taken off the agenda, leaving the house to commence a late sitting on less contentious matters.
It was Ramaphosa who had announced on Wednesday that the report of the powers and privileges committee calling for the strongest possible punishment for EFF politicians who heckled President Jacob Zuma in August was back on the agenda.
The move came in retaliation for the Democratic Alliance’s insistence on proceeding with a motion accusing Zuma of ducking questions on the R246 million security upgrade of his Nkandla homestead.
The motion calling for Zuma’s censure was easily voted down by the ANC majority, but the debate saw the ANC heavyweights savage newly-minted parliamentary opposition leader Mmusi Maimane.
They accused him of sabotaging Ramaphosa’s deal by failing to secure the support of his party to withdraw the motion.
On Thursday morning DA leader Helen Zille stood next to Maimane in an anti-Zuma protest on the steps of Parliament and told reporters that shelving the debate was never part of the agreement brokered to restore decorum to the legislature.
On Thursday night, it was the ruling party that had to contend with signs of divisions as it grappled for hours with whether to bow to a restive opposition.
Mbatha said the EFF would not have taken it lying down if the ANC had proceeded with consideration of the report.
“If they did not withdraw the report, we were going to be very angry.” When the sitting resumed shortly before 9pm, ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani tabled a motion that the report be held back to allow political consultation to continue.
All parties immediately agreed. They also agreed that there would be no further motions for the sitting.
Earlier Sizani had sought to prevent an opposition filibuster — designed to delay the report on the EFF — by moving that motions be placed last on the agenda for the day.
It echoed an attempt by Speaker Baleka Mbete last Thursday to limit the time for motions to 45 minutes. The opposition objected vehemently and for the third consecutive day insults flew across the floor.
EFF Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu said the proposal should have gone to the National Assembly programming committee.
“It is wrong for the programme to be foisted on us. It is not tradition that this be done… We should have agreed on this programme before it comes here.” Shivambu found support from the Freedom Front Plus’s Corne Mulder, who said Sizani was abandoning traditions respecting multi-party democracy — a frequent complaint from the opposition who accuse ANC leaders in Parliament of undermining the legislature to shield Zuma from scrutiny.
“All the structures of Parliament are falling by the wayside,” he said.
At this point Ramaphosa issued another statement saying he remained open to further negotiations with political parties to restore calm to Parliament. SAPA