The ruling party benches chanted “ANC”, ululated, and cheered when they saw President Jacob Zuma’s cavalcade on the television screen inside the house.
The chants rose above those from the press gallery and the opposition benches.
Not wanting to be outdone, members of the Economic Freedom Fighters jumped out their seats to shout “bring back the signal”.
Around 25 journalists had launched a protest in the press gallery over not having any cellphone reception to file their stories.
“Bring back the signal, bring back the signal,” they chanted, waving their cellphones at an electronic black box believed to be jamming signal.
They were joined by Democratic Alliance and EFF MPs who chanted in their seats below and held up their cellphones.
The media sent Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa to call President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman from a nearby gallery to complain.
Mamoepa said Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj could not come to address journalists.
Parliamentary staff said they had been trying to address the problem for half an hour.
“This is unbelievable. How can they do this?” said former deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad when he walked past the press gallery and learned of the problem.
Media houses were considering not reporting on the state-of-the-nation address in Cape Town at 7pm unless the signal was restored.
Two Sapa correspondents had to hang out of a second story window in Parliament to file. Male correspondents were chewing to get a spot in the men’s toilet, where they could briefly find signal.
The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) condemned the jamming of cellphone signals inside the National Assembly.
“This disrupts the functioning of the media particularly as journalists are filing using cellphone signal for digital platforms, sending pictures back to their main offices and updating Facebook and Twitter accounts for various publications,” Sanef executive director Mthatha Tsedu said.
“We call on the leadership of Parliament to reverse this decision immediately in the interest of a free and democratic Parliament which is the cornerstone of our democracy.”
Many journalists complained on Twitter that once they had entered the House they could no longer use their cellphones.
Tsedu said if Parliament refused to unjam the signal it would amount to censorship.
“[They will be] censoring what South Africans must see or hear or read about what will be happening today [Thursday].”
The EFF has vowed to disrupt Zuma’s address unless a special sitting of the National Assembly is scheduled beforehand for him to answer questions about the upgrades to his private homestead at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal.
There is a probability that if the House descends into chaos like last year that the parliamentary in-house television feed could be cut.
Tsedu said Sanef had been in talks with Parliament regarding this.
“We have said to them if they are going to cut the feed when other interesting things are happening they should allow others such as SABC or ANN7 or others to bring in their own cameras,” he said.