Cabinet ministers have termed the loss of cellphone signal in the National Assembly during the opening of Parliament a “technical glitch”, and said the violence that marred the event would not dissuade foreign investors or tourists from coming to South Africa.
“I will call it a technical glitch until there is a full investigation called upon by the presidency and Parliament to say we need to all know what happened, and then call it by its rightful name,” International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told a media briefing today by Cabinet’s international co-operation, trade and security cluster.
She added no foreign diplomat who attended Thursday night’s opening, as well as the Ubuntu awards ceremony last night, had remarked on the signal disruption that prompted media houses to prepare a court petition to prevent a repeat of the incident.
“Not a single ambassador asked us about this because these technical glitches happen everywhere. I remember when I was sitting in Parliament and the president was to speak and his mike was not on, so we all want to know what happened and let’s take it easy.”
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said ministers were as surprised as journalists to find the cellphone signal had disappeared in the National Assembly as the Chamber waited for President Jacob Zuma to begin his address.
Telecommunications Minister Siyabonga Cwele, the former intelligence minister, said he had no idea of the veracity of reports that a signal scrambling device was noticed in the House.
“There is an investigation on the glitches of last Thursday. There was a signal thing. There was also the control of microphones of the president. Those are the things that we are worried about, but let’s have the proper report and let’s all wait for it because speculation would be dangerous.
“Somebody said there was a gadget inside. I don’t know if there was a gadget inside.”
Asked about police forcibly removing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs from the Chamber, Cwele said it was wrong to let this overshadow the content of Zuma’s speech, which contained confirmation of plans to ban foreign land ownership.
“The things that were happening there, they are very unfortunate and they don’t reflect the culture and the behaviour of the majority of South African citizens. So we can’t then make them as the issue,” he said.
Hanekom expressed dismay at the disruption, but downplayed its potential impact on the country’s image.
“Later that night I went and encountered some tourists who were blissfully unaware of what was happening at Sona.
“This is a very small event, big for us, we don’t like it, but in the global context very small, so very unlikely to have any significant impact on tourism, if any at all.”
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies added: “I think I want to convey a very similar sentiment to Minister Hanekom, that whatever events we have in our country and unfortunate as they may be, these are not the dominant issues that concern investors.”