It has been an unprecedented year in parliament riddled with controversy. With many firsts, such as an opposition party being violently physically removed from the House; walkouts and protesting students storming through the gates and into the parliamentary precinct, 2015 has been memorable.
From its very first step, parliament was off to a violent, rocky start and the year ended in much the same vein. President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address (Sona) in February was fraught with disruption after Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) members were physically manhandled out of the House.
The Democratic Alliance later walked out over a lack of clarity over the severity and composition of the security forces which included members from the SA National Defence Force. An EFF female member lodged a case of assault. Her assault had been captured by the media. The rules relating to security involvement has undergone revision.
Cellphones and electronic signals had been jammed to responsive shouts from media and opposition parties to change their tune and call for Zuma to “bring back the signal”. The EFF had issued a security threat prior to Sona that if Zuma did not “pay back the money” for Nkandla it would disrupt the event.
The EFF has used every opportunity in House sittings to call Zuma to answer to why he will not reimburse taxpayers for non-security upgrades to his private home. A motion of notice for a debate on Zuma’s fitness to hold office was quashed by the majority ANC cadres.
Leading up to Sona, parliamentary staff affiliated to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) had also threatened strike action over working conditions. While workers did not do it then, they did cause havoc in parliament later this year, forcing committee meetings to be cancelled or in mid-stream abandoned after workers bombarded the venues in parliament.
The medium-term budget policy statement in October to the National Assembly by then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was shaky. The address; which had the power to dismantle or build the economy left stock markets on their tenter hooks; was delayed because the red overall-clad EFF refused to entertain it.
In light of the university student protests that varsity fees had to fall; the EFF charged that a budget could not be released until the demands for no increase university fees were adhered to. Apparently unbeknown to most MPs and presiding officers in the National Assembly, stun grenades were being repeatedly volleyed into a volatile crowd of students outside.
They were met with force because they broke through the gates of parliament and breached the sacrosanct, legislative playing ground of government. This was the first time in the history of South Africa’s 21 year’s of democracy that parliament’s territory had been under siege by civilians.
Parliamentary staff appeared to have caught the bug and released all pent-up frustration that had festered. Threats of industrial action over unanswered responses; over working conditions and pension payouts; came to a head and the institution ground to a halt.
The ever prevalent regularity of coffee, tea, fruit, croissants, cheese platters, lamb and chicken legs had been swallowed into a black hole. Unlike the students, striking staff had no hassles with the ever-important security access card to get into the precinct and all of the committee meeting venues.
Plenary sittings had been postponed. Notable meetings, like the police committee which had been convened to deliberate on the Marikana Commission/Report, were disrupted. MPs from the police portfolio committee had to retreat from an over a hundred strong peaceful staff bombardment to another venue.
As protests continued on the ground; under the watchful eye of police and security; in one of the lofty ministerial boardrooms far from the madding crowd committee members got back to work. This was where they were informed by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko that the suspended national commissioner Riah Phiyega was guilty of misconduct and perjury when testifying before the Marikana Commission.
Only a few weeks ago Nehawu striking staff and management came to a “sort-of” agreement over pension payouts but Nehawu workers are still not happy at the end of this year. Many have been docked pay for not working during the striking days and the chapter going into the new year does not look like it’s closed.
Parliament has refreshed an interdict to hinder protest action into 2016. As an institution where heckling and nasty and personal snipes have become common place and intensified as government policy is debated, President Jacob Zuma has kept a smile.