What was expected to be sober debate on the gender-based violence and attacks on foreigners on Tuesday degenerated into a shouting match between defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and DA chief whip John Steenhuisen.
The screaming match started when Mapisa-Nqakula, at the end of her speech in parliament, accused Steenhuisen, who had been heckling her, of “making a mockery” of the debate.
Steenhuisen retaliated by calling Mapisa-Nqakula a “human trafficker”.
“I am amazed that you make a mockery of such an important debate, at a very difficult time. Our people are dying,” said Mapisa-Nqakula, before her voice was drowned by those of Steenhuisen and ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude, the latter raising a point of order to defend the minister.
The debate had been sponsored by veteran MP and former IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Referring to allegations that emerged in 2016 in which she was accused of using an SA Air Force jet to smuggle into the country her late son’s girlfriend, Steenhuisen branded Mapisa-Nqakula a “human trafficker” who should not be taking part in the debate.
“I am amazed that you would talk about morals and ethics when you’re a human trafficker who brings people into the country illegally. That is amazing. You’re a human trafficker,” screamed Steenhuisen amid counter-shouting from Dlakude.
“The honourable chief whip of the DA is out of order,” Dlakude said. “If he has something against [the] honourable minister, he know the rules; he must submit to the speaker a substantive motion of what he’s talking about. We can’t take it that he will attack the minister on the podium during the time of this debate and the current situation in the country. It shows that some people have their own agenda.”
At that point, deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli called for restraint.
“Can we please respect the moment. This is a critical moment in our institution and country’s life to be doing what you are doing now,” said Tsenoli.
Steenhuisen then offered an apology, although he repeated his allegation against the defence minister.
“Deputy speaker, may I extend by apology to you, sir, for that interaction … And I’m quite happy to bring a substantive motion about the human trafficking that the minister did because it’s a matter of public record.
“But deputy speaker, with respect, the honourable member’s time had expired and you indicated to her and she started attacking me from the podium. That also needs to be looked at.”