‘Tight SONA security was all in your imagination’

2017-02-12 06:01
President Zuma in Parliament for the state of the nation address. Picture: Schalk van Zuydam, Pool/AP

President Zuma in Parliament for the state of the nation address. Picture: Schalk van Zuydam, Pool/AP

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Cape Town - The country’s security agencies have dismissed as “a perception” commentary about the stringent security measures which were carried out in and around Parliament for this week’s state of the nation address (Sona).

Police were highly visible, positioned as they were in Cape Town’s central business district in groups of about 10 every few metres, milling around the area and at entry points to it. More manpower was deployed inside the parliamentary precinct, including plain-clothed officers and members of the intelligence community.

But those in charge of the security plan claim the numbers have been exaggerated and nothing was extraordinary about this year’s Sona security plan.

While refusing to divulge how many security personnel were deployed in Cape Town for the event, the police’s Vish Naidoo was adamant this Sona was no different from previous years.

“We will not disclose numbers because [doing so] would have the potential to compromise our security for future events of a similar nature,” he explained, adding: “There wasn’t so much security.”

Naidoo said observations over the past few days about the security detail in Cape Town had been based on “perception”.

“The security planning this year was no different to previous years. It is the same. It has been the same.”

He said the police were responsible for road, city and venue security, as well as crowd management, which were the same duties accorded to them previously.

He refused to respond to questions about whether active police officers were part of the security personnel who removed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs from the House, referring these to Parliament.

EFF leader Julius Malema, rising on a point of order at Sona on Thursday, claimed his party had information about 21 active police officers who were deployed among the so-called “white shirts”.

Brian Dube, head of communications at the State Security Agency, echoed the police’s sentiments, saying while there were perceptions of extra security, the reality for those involved [in security planning] was that nothing extraordinary had happened this year.

“We are not moving to a state that is securitised. It is always about what the threat is, and we respond to that accordingly and still allow people to hold their views and have their marches, as is allowed in the law,” said Dube.

Legal action

The DA has approached the courts, seeking a declaration that Thursday’s deployment of SA National Defence Force members to the parliamentary precinct for non-ceremonial purposes was unconstitutional and unlawful. The party added that it was taking legal action to ensure that the gradual securitisation and militarisation of Parliament was halted once and for all.

“The presence of the national defence force, in a way that far exceeded a mere ceremonial role, can never be tolerated again,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

He said the presence of armed military police with live ammunition on the precinct of Parliament was untenable in a constitutional democracy.

“Our court action is [being taken] to ensure that the integrity of Parliament is restored and that we can make the work of Parliament about the people of South Africa once more.

“It ought to be an institution in which we can fight for the poor and the excluded, an institution which vigorously holds power to account,” he added.

National defence force spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini declined to comment on whether there were military personnel on the precinct besides those who were there for ceremonial purposes.

He referred the questions to Parliament, saying it was dealing with the matter.

In a statement issued on Friday, Parliament said the Secretary to Parliament, Gengezi Mgidlana, had established an interdivisional committee to investigate various allegations surrounding the incidents that took place on Thursday night and would report back early this week.

Parliament said eight officials in the parliamentary protection services got injured while escorting EFF MPs out of the chamber and were receiving medical and counselling services.

“The officials were beaten with plastic hats and bricks, and punched,” read Parliament’s statement.

It went on to say allegations of brutality levelled at the protection services officials were unfair, unfounded and baseless, and that evidence indicated that these officials were brutally assaulted while they were merely doing their work of removing some MPs.

The parliamentary debate about President Jacob Zuma’s Sona address will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday, after which he will respond.

Yesterday, the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) strongly condemned the events which unfolded in Parliament this week, saying it had restricted the ability of journalists to do their work.

“Some journalists were intermittently prevented from doing their jobs as Sona events unfolded, including the dramatic ejection of parliamentarians,” the organisation said in a statement.

“Civilian-clothed police officials prevented camera persons and journalists from moving freely through parliamentary corridors as events unfolded,” it added.

“Journalists based at Parliament’s media offices were hampered in leaving and returning to their offices as a line of riot police blocked off the access road.

“Police also attempted to prevent some photographers from capturing scenes in the precinct.”

The organisation went on to say that at a media briefing a week before Sona, “Mgidlana told journalists that there was no foundation to [claims about] the securitisation of Parliament and no basis of fact [backing up] concerns of [such] securitisation”.

“Sanef calls on Parliament’s political and administrative leadership to seriously reconsider and review the progressive heightening of security measures and securitisation at Parliament,” it said.

Read more on:    cape town  |  sona 2017  |  security  |  parliament 2017

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