Insidious cracks in SA’s democratic Parliament

2014-11-16 15:00

The morning after riot police stormed the National Assembly to remove an Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP, I tweeted that I was considering wearing a flak jacket and takkiesto work.

At about 10pm on Thursday, members of the public order policing unit – wearing protective gear from head to toe – pushed and shoved opposition MPs in the House.

The MPs, who had been part of a marathon sitting since 2pm, had intervened as police tried to remove the EFF’s Reneilwe Mashabela. She had insisted that President Jacob Zuma was a thief.

There must be a degree of sympathy for presiding officers who have been battling acts of extreme rudeness in the House lately – all of them triggered by the Nkandla saga. But it is a shocking disgrace and unbelievably paranoid to haul in the riot squad.

Thursday night was not an isolated incident.

The cracks in South Africa’s hard-fought democratic Parliament have been creeping up insidiously.

There was the incident of August?21, when police also moved in to deal with protesting EFF MPs.

In the national council of provinces a few weeks ago, I was one of a number of journalists refused re-entry to the upstairs press gallery while Zuma delivered a speech.

I was confronted not by parliamentary security, but, it is believed, a member of the presidential protection unit.

Parliament apologised unreservedly and promised to investigate, but it was chilling to witness parliamentary officials, whom I had called to assist me, being brusquely overruled by the bully-boy security official.

There are other worrying tendencies: increasing secrecy and attempts at blocking journalists from accessing reports emanating from portfolio committees (the Nkandla ad hoc committee is a case in point). Parliamentary security has tightened, and there are more police now.

When I moved into offices at the parliamentary precinct in May, I thought what a privilege it was to be based at an institution that’s the symbol of the country’s liberation and democratic principles.

I didn’t feel quite the same way when I walked through the gate on Friday morning.

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