By Staff Reporter
Footage of the National Assembly sitting shows Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela, a lawmaker from the Economic Freedom Fighters who was dressed in a red maid’s uniform, refusing to withdraw her remark or leave the chamber after being ordered to do so by Chairman Cedric Frolick. Four members of the main oppositionDemocratic Alliance and one EFF member were injured when police dressed in riot gear tried to remove Mashabela, the DA’s parliamentary leader told reporters in Cape Town today.
“Yesterday wasn’t simply an assault on the members who are in this house, it was an assault on the constitution,” Mmusi Maimane said. “Members acted to defend the constitution and defend their fellow colleagues, who were then pushed to the floor.”
Earlier, the African National Congress-dominated National Assembly absolved Zuma of wrongdoing in a dispute surrounding the 215 million-rand ($19.2 million) state-funded makeover of his private home, contradicting the findings of the nation’s graft ombudsman. Parliament has been disrupted several times this year as opposition party members staged walkouts and heckled Zuma.
Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete, who is also chairwoman of the ruling ANC, told reporters inCape Town that officials were forced to call in police to restore order.
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“We could not sit here in this institution and further allow disruptions and outrageous conduct,” Mbete said.
No lawmakers were injured, Zelda Holtzman, head of parliamentary protection services, told reporters, contradicting the DA’s claim that one of its lawmaker’s had his lip split and another was bruised after being pushed to the floor.
The DA said it no longer recognized Mbete’s authority and called for her to be replaced.
“The speaker has sanctioned the use of riot police inside Parliament to assault opposition MPs,” Maimane said. “She abused her position.”
Thuli Madonsela, the graft ombudsman, said in a March 19 report that Zuma, 72, should repay part of the money spent on his home in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province because he had benefited unduly and failed to safeguard public resources. The renovations included a swimming pool, chicken run and cattle enclosure.
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A panel of ANC lawmakers set up in August to consider Madonsela’s findings blamed government officials for overspending. Opposition parties walked out of the panel on Sept. 26, accusing it of failing to conduct a proper investigation.
“There is nothing to pin the president on,” Dorris Dlakude, the ANC’s deputy chief whip who sat on the panel, told the legislature yesterday.
Animosity toward Zuma in the legislature has intensified this year after the EFF, led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, won 25 of the 400 parliamentary seats in May elections. EFF members forced the unprecedented cancellation of a parliamentary session on Aug. 21 when they chanted at Zuma to pay back the money spent on his home.
“The EFF is not going to retreat from making sure that no one, including the majority part, renders parliament as toothless,” the party said in an e-mailed statement today.
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“Parliament must robustly hold the government and president accountable and no amount of kangaroo disciplinary hearings, police harassment will deter us from fulfilling this task,” the EFF said.
The ANC said in a statement today it supported the ejection of the “wild and disorderly” EFF member and that it was “becoming clear that these parliamentary opposition parties are embarking on desperate and undemocratic tactics.”
A former intelligence operative, Zuma won control of the ANC from Thabo Mbeki in 2007 and was appointed president in May 2009. He secured a second and final five-year term after the ANC won 62 percent of the vote in the election, giving the party 249 seats in parliament.
Maimane yesterday called for Zuma to be impeached.
“There is absolutely no justification for the public funds to be diverted so the president’s cattle can have a better life than the people of South Africa,” he told the National Assembly. “The president has been party to a deception of the grandest scale.”