Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are set to face a parliamentary inquiry into their conduct after delaying the start of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) by more than 90 minutes on Thursday night.
The party objected to the presence of former President FW De Klerk, whom they labelled a “murderer” and an apologist for apartheid – and Ramaphosa’s failure to meet their ultimatum for him to fire Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan or face chaos.
In an unprecedented move, National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise was forced to briefly suspend proceedings after the EFF raised multiple points of order, each time Ramaphosa started to speak.
Led by its leader Julius Malema, the entire EFF caucus staged a walkout after proceedings resumed, and Ramaphosa went on to deliver his speech.
A call by Democratic Alliance (DA) interim leader John Steenhuisen for the EFF members to be charged with contempt of Parliament won the backing of the African National Congress (ANC) and most other opposition parties.
“I would submit the behaviour that we’ve witnessed, including the hurling of water bottles at female members at the back of the House, is conduct constituting contempt and that the members involved must be referred to the Powers Privileges and Immunities Committee of this House,” Steenhuisen said.
Modise made her ruling: “We agree with all the parties who are saying that the matters are grave and that the conduct of all the members who’ve left this House must be referred to the Powers and Privileges Committee.”
The committee is Parliament’s top structure when it comes to disciplining Members of Parliament (MPs), but was criticised for being toothless.
Modise also wanted a review of the rules, saying they made it difficult to summarily eject misbehaving MPs, especially when they did not sit down when told to – and fines for misconduct, that would “touch them in their pockets”.
Before walking out with his caucus, Malema warned Ramaphosa they would continue to make his life difficult as long as Gordhan remained in his Cabinet.