Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has struck a deal with opposition parties that disciplinary proceedings against the EFF will be held in abeyance in return for assurances that they will respect parliamentary rules.
“Are we going to put these things that happened into abeyance? Yes, because we are going to find political solutions, collectively as a collective of political leaders,” Ramaphosa said on Tuesday.
“Watch this space because what we want to do as leaders of our people in South Africa is to restore Parliament to its standing so that our people can look at all of us and say, yes, these people do represent us.”
Ramaphosa told media the opposition pledged to respect leaders of government, who would in turn come to Parliament regularly to account to the legislature and answer “difficult” questions.
This came out of a two-hour long crisis meeting between the deputy president and opposition leaders after riot police were sent into the National Assembly on Thursday to forcibly remove an Economic Freedom Fighters MP who called President Jacob Zuma a thief.
“We have agreed that we are going to create a climate, create a conducive climate for the executive to be accountable to come and answer questions in Parliament,” Ramaphosa said.
“Saying that we are going to create a climate so that there is respect, there are no insults, there is proper decorum in which all members of the executive can come and answer.”
With this, he appeared to be saying diplomatically that Zuma would heed opposition calls to return to the National Assembly to respond to questions.
This was one of the opposition’s grievances that drove tension with the ruling party to breaking point last week.
Zuma has failed to return to the chamber to complete presidential question time after he was heckled by the EFF on August 21. MPs demanded to know when he would reimburse the state for certain additions to his private Nkandla home in KwaZulu-Natal at taxpayers’ expense.
Democratic Alliance Chief Whip John Steenhuisen said a scheduled debate on an opposition motion calling for resolution to censure the president for failing to comply with the rules of the National Assembly would go ahead, but the DA would ask that it be amended.
“We will move an amendment that this morning’s meeting be noted,” Steenhuisen told Sapa.
But he added that the meeting had not made the DA withdraw a threat, made in the aftermath of Thursday’s pandemonium, to stop recognising Mbete as Speaker.
As she took her seat in the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Mbete told MPs that with 13 parties represented, she expected debate to be “vigorous”, robust and even tough”, but reminded them that freedom of speech was subject to the rules of the chamber.
Opposition parties say as chairwoman of the ruling party, Mbete is biased and last week heckled her, shouting “you must go”.
Ramaphosa told reporters there should be no need in future to resort to calling the police into the chamber and added that the independence of Parliament and the Speaker’s impartiality were a given.
“The independence of Parliament is an issue that is beyond question. It is enshrined in our Constitution… so Parliament is a separate independent institution,” he said.
“The principle that we have all reaffirmed is that the presiding officers in Parliament must be impartial, they must apply rules consistently, without any prejudice. They must demonstrate that in reality.”
The Assembly was on Tuesday due to consider a report from the powers and privileges committee finding 20 EFF MPs, including party leader Julius Malema, guilty of misconduct charges stemming from the August 21 heckling of Zuma.
On Tuesday morning it was reported that the EFF was planning to seek an urgent court interdict preventing discussion of the report, which was likely to result in the suspension of the EFF members from Parliament for up to 30 working days.
By the time Ramaphosa met DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane and his peers, the item had disappeared off the parliamentary schedule.
The meeting also agreed that a committee chaired by Ramaphosa, with Maimane and ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani, would be set up to ensure the “proper functioning” of Parliament, and consider last week’s events. This included the fact that the live feed from the chamber was cut when the police entered, something Ramaphosa said was “of concern”.
The committee will hold its first meeting next week.
The opposition members who met with Ramaphosa included Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosutho Buthelezi, EFF MP Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala, the United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa, the African Christian Democratic Party’s Kenneth Meshoe, the Congress of the People’s Mosiuoa Lekota, and the Freedom Front Plus’s Pieter Mulder. SAPA