The Economic Freedom Fighters came under attack in the National Assembly on Tuesday as fellow opposition parties suggested stronger punishment for unruly behaviour by elected representatives.
Responding to EFF MPs last week trying to prevent Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan delivering his department’s budget vote speech, opposition MPs said this was not democracy at work, asking for new rules on unparliamentary conduct.
EFF MPs were physically ejected from the chamber with scuffles ensuing among parliamentarians and security staff after they walked up to the podium in protest against Gordhan, who was implicated in two controversial reports by the public protector, both of which are being taken on review in court.
Speaking in the debate on parliament’s budget, Inkatha Freedom Party MP Narend Singh said while he preferred not to engage on the merits of the EFF’s action, parliament needed to develop new measures, through the rules committee, to ensure “the punishment fits the crime”.
“In other words, incidents like that which occurred during the public enterprises budget vote must be investigated fully and be followed by harsh consequences,” Singh told MPs.
Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corne Mulder suggested the best way to ensure MPs followed the rules was to hit them where it hurts most – their wallets.
“If they misbehave, we deduct from their salaries until they cannot pay their Gucci accounts and they cannot pay their expensive German vehicles…,” he said to loud jeering from EFF benches.
Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen went further, accusing the EFF of thuggery.
“Stopping somebody from speaking in this house is not a debate, neither is it an act of accountability, it is an act of thuggery and democratic sabotage which should never ever be tolerated,” said Steenhuisen.
“This house must be an arena of debate where words, arguments and opinions prevail. The only clash should be the clash of ideas, not the clash of fists, the only disruption should be disruptive ideas. Let me be clear, the scenes we witnessed last week were not democracy in action, no matter how hard the EFF try to cloak them as such. They were the very antithesis of what this house means and what it represents.”
EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi was unrepentant.
“Your rules are made to make sure that this place, these people who steal money, who defy courts come here and have business as usual so we defy them in protest to show them they are not untouchable and we make no apology about that,” he said.
“Never show contempt to the public protector. It doesn’t matter who holds that office, it doesn’t matter the incumbent – protect and respect chapter 9 institutions or else you are going to be met with protest here and we are ready for anything – the army, your hooligans that you call security, we are ready for all of them.”