Parliament has described open threats of violence or the propagation of “conspiracy theories” as distractions, as the EFF claims the institution intends using police officers to prevent disruptions during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the EFF claimed in a statement it had learnt that parliament’s security team was planning to “smuggle” police officers disguised as protection officers into the House, and was holding secret meetings in that regard.
The EFF made this claim after party leader Julius Malema said on Sunday that the party would disrupt Ramaphosa’s Sona if Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was not fired by then.
The party claimed on Tuesday that police officers dressed in white and black, which it previously referred to as the “white shirts”, will be brought in. This would be contrary to the rule that only the Serjeant-at-arms or Parliamentary Protection Services can remove a member from parliamentary precincts.
Police are not allowed to remove MPs from the chamber.
Parliament has, however, dismissed the claims as a distraction and “conspiracy theories”.
“The existing joint rules of parliament sufficiently protect the sittings of the House and committees against any form of disorder,” said spokesperson Moloto Mothapo on Tuesday.
“Open threats to disrupt the work of parliament, including propagation of conspiracy theories, are not in the interest of the public and serves only as an attempt to distract parliament from its duty. Any party or member of parliament with evidence of any alleged plot to unlawfully use police in the Chamber during Sona are advised to submit it to the Presiding Officers.”
Parliament is expected to host more than 2,000 guests on the night.
Parliament and public representatives had an obligation to ensure a conducive environment for Sona – which was aimed at addressing the hardships faced by many South Africans, Mothapo said.
Mothapo further told News24 that the chamber protection officers worked under the guidance of the Serjeant-at-arms, who assisted the presiding officers in ensuring the business of the House was conducted firmly in line with the rules.
“They are members of the staff. As presiding officers have stressed previously, parliament has appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that the business of the House is carried out with dignity and is consistent with the rules agreed upon by all parties.”
The EFF and parliament’s security officials have had multiple fractious encounters over the years.
During a late-night sitting in November 2014, EFF MP Reneiloe Mashabela repeatedly yelled that former president Jacob Zuma was a thief, and refused to withdraw her remark. Protection services, which included police officers, were called into the chamber and chaos ensued as DA MPs joined the fray to keep the police officers out of the chamber.
During the tumultuous Sona of 2015, public order police officers were involved in the violent removal of protesting EFF MPs.
In March 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled it was unconstitutional for police officers to remove MPs from parliament.
Later in 2016, rules were approved for the appointment of protection officers, colloquially called the “white shirts” – coined after the white shirts the police wore at Sona 2015.
In 2016, 69 longstanding protection officers took parliament to the Labour Court. They alleged unfair discrimination, claiming that parliament did not follow normal human resources processes and, as a result, they were denied a chance to apply for new posts, which was filled by former police officers.
In its responding papers, parliament said it recruited active police officers for the protection services because its existing protection officers did not have the necessary skills required to engage with and control unruly MPs.
In 2018, the Labour Court ruled in parliament’s favour.