Western Cape legislature Speaker Sharna Fernandez purposely refused to call in police to remove disruptive ANC MPLs on Friday because of her own experience a week earlier, when she saw armed security guards seated among members in the National Assembly.
At least one of the men, who later took part in forcibly removing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members, was carrying a gun, Fernandez told City Press.
Despite ANC MPLs defying her rulings and ignoring her instructions to leave the Western Cape legislature during Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s state of the province address on Friday, Fernandez remained calm and adjourned the sitting, instead of having them ejected from the House.
This was the first time in the democratic dispensation that a premier of a province has been barred from delivering a state of the province address.
Instead, Zille was forced to table her speech to the legislature after a two-and-a-half-hour standoff in the legislature between ANC MPLs and Fernandez.
At some point during the standoff, Fernandez announced to the sitting that as much as she was being pushed, she had no plans to call the police to the chamber because she had been traumatised by what she saw in Parliament a week earlier when police disguised as Parliament’s security detail violently ejected EFF MPs from the National Assembly chamber.
She later told City Press during an interview how she had sat on a bench with other provincial speakers in the National Assembly during President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address.
Three armed men who were part of the security detail joined them in the speakers’ bay.
“That upset me. I was traumatised before we even began. They had black suits on and they sat on the speakers’ bench,” she said.
Fernandez said at first she had thought the men were speakers, but as one of them sat down – directly behind Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng – she saw a gun in his jacket.
She said while she was anxious and frightened, she could not communicate with her colleagues because the cellphone network signal was jammed.
Fernandez said when National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete called in security to remove EFF MPs, the three armed men “piled in on to the EFF”.
ANC chief whip in the Western Cape legislature Pierre Uys had earlier criticised Fernandez for walking out with members of the DA caucus in Parliament.
She admitted to City Press that, on principle, she felt compromised by the walkout because she was there to represent a group of 42 Western Cape MPLs as speaker. “But I had great difficulty coming to terms with that [the presence of security men in the chamber].
“I was not signifying allegiance, nor had a hidden agenda, but I was compromised in principle in that we know the doctrine of the separation of powers; we cannot have the police in the chamber with guns. It just does not happen.”
She said she would not call the police, although she suspected the ANC MPLs were pushing for this on Friday.
“I wouldn’t do anything that would be more detrimental than the damage that had already been done,” she said.
In the provincial legislature, Fernandez was accused by the ANC of being unfair and partisan by unilaterally changing a “resolution of the House” that was taken in her absence in December.
ANC MPLs successfully blocked the legislature from proceeding with the business of the day – Zille’s state of the province address – and demanded that Fernandez recuse herself from the chair.
At issue was the suspension of a “resolution” taken in December to refer “unparliamentary and racist” statements allegedly made in the House to the Western Cape judge president after the legislature had reached a deadlock on the matter.
The ANC claims it was a resolution of the House to refer the matter to a judge. The DA and Fernandez claim there was no resolution, it was merely a “gentleman’s agreement”.
Fernandez announced at the beginning of Friday’s sitting that the matter would be referred to the legislature’s rules committee instead of the judge president.
The speaker contended that she could only act on a resolution of the House as it was the overriding authority.
She said the issue was not one of the businesses of the day and the state of the province address was not a platform to raise a point of order.
The ANC objected to this announcement and about three hours after the House convened, and following two suspensions of the sitting, Fernandez adjourned the sitting with Zille not being able to deliver her state of the province address.