The “proto-fascist” EFF was roundly condemned on Tuesday as their disruptions at the start of Thursday evening’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) cast a pall on the Sona debate on Tuesday.
The debate of at least 10 hours started in the afternoon, introduced by ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude.
She commended Thursday evening’s presiding officers – National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise and chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Amos Masondo – for “erring on the side of caution in the face of the utmost provocation”.
She also thanked the members of the House – “except [those] from one party” – for exercising discipline.
She said Sona was not a platform for the EFF to disrupt sittings and suggested a change of rules to make it harder for anyone to do so.
DA interim leader John Steenhuisen was the next speaker.
“You are not Maimane!” EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi cried, in reference to former DA leader Mmusi Maimane, when Steenhuisen started speaking.
Steenhuisen said South Africa was at a turning point and that everyone could feel it.
“But there can be no excuse for what transpired here in parliament on Thursday night. I think most of us here were deeply embarrassed by what happened before the president’s speech,” Steenhuisen said.
He said they did not have to agree with each other, like each other, or be nice to each other as colleagues.
“But we do have to respect the rules of this House. Collectively, we represent 58 million South Africans – people who dream of a better life and a better country, people who need us to work together to find real solutions to their problems. Not grandstand for the television cameras. They demand better from us.”
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said most South Africans looked to Parliament to unpack the government’s plans “to create a better life for all”, but added that as parliamentary leaders, they had allowed “opportunistic elements to derail and defocus us”.
“The theatrics we witnessed here last week from the EFF will not transform society, will not create jobs and will not grow our economy. Instead of engaging in a battle of ideas, we were subjected to spurious points of order, childish antics and unruly behaviour,” Mthembu said.
“We agree with Father Michael Lapsley in his characterisation of the EFF’s behaviour in this House as anti-democratic, totally unacceptable and actually reprehensible. Their uncouth and disrespectful behaviour demonstrates the disdain they have for this august House and the people of South Africa.”
Mthembu said Ramaphosa was the one and only commander-in-chief in the country.
“It is you, in terms of our Constitution, who decides when to appoint or disappoint ministers in your Cabinet. Those who are seized by delusions of grandeur, fashion themselves as commanders-in-chief and instruct the head of state to fire a minister, need to have the state of their heads examined.”
After Mthembu, it was Malema’s turn.
He started off by thanking Modise and Masondo for understanding that Parliament was a democratic institution.
But proceedings quickly turned farcical.
Malema took the unusual step of allowing a question to be asked while he was delivering his speech. ANC MP Jacob Boy Mamabolo asked him if he abused his wife, but Malema did not immediately answer.
Several ANC MPs raised points of order. Some stood up even though Masondo did not recognise them and much shouting ensued.
“I’m in charge,” Malema declared.
“I’m standing here so I can irritate you.”
At the end of his speech – which took up almost all of the time allotted to the EFF for the debate – Malema left his typed speech behind and occasionally looked at his phone, which appeared to display a messaging app. He said he never laid a hand on his wife nor any of his previous partners.
He then claimed that he had information that Ramaphosa abused his former wife, the late Nomazizi Mtshotshisa.
ANC MP Tandi Mahambehlala raised a point of order, saying Malema impugned Ramaphosa.
Amid much yelling from the ANC, Malema continued with his accusation, claiming that former president Jacob Zuma could confirm it. Masondo asked Malema to withdraw his remarks but he refused.
“You don’t want the truth!” he charged.
He left the podium and the chamber, with fellow EFF MPs falling in behind him and yelling at other MPs. EFF MP Primrose Sonti called someone “Satan”.
Ramaphosa sat stone-faced throughout the imbroglio as he did through much of the debate.
After the EFF left, ANC MP Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone decried the use of allegations of gender-based violence to score political points.
With the EFF out, calm resumed.
IFP parliamentary leader and president emeritus Mangosuthu Buthelezi said that the EFF ironically gave the House a valuable lesson on Thursday.
“They proved that diverse people can be united when faced with a shared problem. I agree with our chief whip that the joint rules need to be revisited to close the door to the kind of embarrassing display we endured last week.”
ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe said he was extremely disappointed by the “toxic atmosphere that some presiding officers allowed to prevail in the House” and complained that rulings were not enforced.
“The dignity and decorum of this House need to be restored as a matter of priority,” he said.
“We are tired of people on the ground saying: ‘When is the circus starting?'”
ANC MP Fikile Masiko described the EFF as the “enemy of the people” and the “axis of evil”.
She said they claimed to advance young people’s interests.
“How can they champion anyone’s plight when they themselves need help?” she asked.
She also said one of the bottles EFF MPs threw as they left the House during the SONA hit her.
“Who knew the first time I would experience violence as a woman would be from an honourable member?”
ANC MP Mikateko Mahlaule said fascists always liked uniforms and gave themselves quasi-military names such as “commander-in-chief” and “commissar” even if they had never seen a battle.
He said the EFF was a “proto-fascist organisation” and Malema’s speeches resembled those of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Idi Amin.
The debate is expected to continue on Wednesday and Ramaphosa is expected to respond on Thursday.