Physical Removal of MPs from Chamber: Subcommittee Report

Rules of the National Assembly

23 June 2022
Chairperson: Mr L Tsenoli (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

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Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliaments and Provincial Legislatures Act 4 of 2004
Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Amendment Act 9 of 2019

National Assembly Rules

NA: Unrevised Hansard

The Subcommittee on the Physical Removal of MPs from the Chamber met on a virtual platform to receive a briefing and have a discussion on the physical removal of MPs from the National Assembly Chamber which had taken place on 9 and 10 June 2022. The report of the Speaker giving an account of what had taken place on those two days was provided. It noted that the Speaker had instructed Parliamentary Protection Services to remove disruptive Members of Parliament in accordance with Rules 70 and 92 of the National Assembly Rules.

The Subcommittee members who were present unanimously attested to the account given by the Speaker in the report as a true reflection of the events of those two days. They commended the Speaker’s approach in handling the matter with great restraint and agreed that the Speaker’s decision to remove disruptive Members from the Chamber with the assistance of Parliamentary Protection Services was appropriate. All Subcommittee members present condemned the behaviour of those Members and that their behaviour was a violation of the rights of other Members and an attack on the dignity of Parliament and of the entire nation.

It was noted that no members of the Economic Freedom Fighters were present at the subcommittee meeting despite having been notified of the meeting.

The Report of the Subcommittee stated that it found that during the sittings the Speaker had done everything within her powers to maintain order, even though the Members persisted in disturbing the proceedings.

Meeting report

Physical Removal of MPs from the Chamber: briefing
Mr Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, took the Committee through the report.

The report from the Speaker accounted for the removal of members from the House in terms of Rule 73 of the National Assembly which happened on 9 June 2022. Rule 73 states that if a member refuses to leave the chamber when ordered to do so by the presiding officer in terms of Rules 70 and 71, the presiding officer must instruct the sergeant-at-arms to remove the member from the chamber. If the sergeant-at-arms is unable to remove the member on his/her own, the parliamentary protection services may be called upon to assist to remove a member from the chamber. Rule 73(5) provides that no member may interfere with the removal of another member from the chamber. In the event that does happen, the Speaker may instruct that the member who interferes should also be removed. Rule 73(12) states that whenever a member is physically removed from the chamber, the circumstances of such removal must be referred by the Speaker, within 24 hours, for consideration to a subcommittee of the Rules Committee appointed for that purpose.

The Subcommittee on Physical Removal of Member from Chamber is provided for by Rules 201 to 204:
203. Functions and powers
(1) The subcommittee must consider the circumstances of the physical removal of a member from the Chamber as reported to it by the Speaker in terms of Rule 73(12), taking into account all relevant aspects including —
(a) the conduct of the member concerned;
(b) the ruling by the relevant presiding officer; and
(c) the manner in which the member was removed.
(2) In carrying out its function, the subcommittee may exercise such powers contained in Rule 167 as it may require.
(3) The subcommittee’s mandate in considering the circumstances referred to it does not extend to disciplinary proceedings against the member nor a formal review of the presiding officer’s ruling.
(4) The subcommittee must report its findings to the Rules Committee within 10 working days, including any recommendations it may make based on those findings.

Mr Xaso indicated that the ten days would expire on 28 June 2022.

Mr Xaso noted that the Speaker in her report had emphasised that the Speaker had not instructed to physically remove members from the chamber before exhausting other mechanisms as corroborated by the videotapes.

Mr Xaso made the distinction that although the Speaker had received allegations of assault and gender-based violence from Members and staff, that would be a separate process which was not the issue to be discussed by this subcommittee.

On 9 June 2022 five Members of Parliament were forcibly removed from the Chamber. Those five members were Ms E Ntlangwini (EFF), Mr A Matumba (EFF), Mr W Mafanya (EFF), Ms N Tafeni (EFF) and Ms B Mathulelwa (EFF).

On 10 June 2022, 12 Members of Parliament were physically removed from the House on the order of the presiding officer. They were Ms P Marais (EFF), Ms N Chirwa (EFF), Mr S Tambo (EFF), Ms B Mathulelwa (EFF), Ms E Ntlangwini (EFF), Ms Y Yako (EFF), Ms P Madokwe (EFF), Mr B Madlingozi (EFF), Ms N Tafeni (EFF), Mr A Matumba (EFF), and Ms S Mokgotho (EFF).

Rule 70 mandates the presiding officer with the authority to remove Members from the chamber:
70. Member ordered to leave Chamber
(1) If the presiding officer is of the opinion that a member is deliberately contravening a provision of these rules, or that a member is disregarding the authority of the Chair, or that a member’s conduct is grossly disorderly, he or she may order the member to leave the Chamber immediately for the remainder of the day’s sitting.

Mr Xaso emphasised that as a principle, Members are not being removed for what they say but rather for disobeying the chair from withdrawing what they say or desisting what they are doing.

Section 58(1)(a) of the Constitution provides that Cabinet members, Deputy Ministers and members of the National Assembly have freedom of speech in the Assembly and in its committees, subject to its rules and orders.

The Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act states that a Member is guilty of contempt of Parliament, if a Member improperly interferes with or impedes the exercise or performance by Parliament or a House or committee of its authority or functions; ….or fails or refuses to comply with an instruction by a duly authorised staff member, or wilfully fails or refuses to obey any rule, order or resolution of the House.

Rule 26 states that in exercising authority, the Speaker must maintain and preserve the order of and the proper decorum in the House, and is responsible for the strict observance of the rules of the House and must decide questions of order and practice in the House, such a ruling being final and binding as provided for in Rule 92. The Speaker must act fairly and impartially and apply the rules with due regard to ensuring the participation of members of all parties in a manner consistent with democracy. The ruling of the Speaker is final and binding and may not be challenged or questioned in the House but Members have the right to approach the Rules Committee if they are unhappy with the Speaker's ruling.

Rule 67 states that "whenever the presiding officer addresses the House during a debate, any member then speaking or offering to speak must resume his or her seat, and the presiding officer must be heard without interruption".

Rule 69 states that Members may not engage in grossly disorderly conduct in the House and its forums, including
(a) deliberately creating serious disorder or disruption;
(b) in any manner whatsoever physically intervening, preventing, obstructing or hindering the removal of a Member from the House who has been ordered to leave the House;
(c) repeatedly undermining the authority of the presiding officer or repeatedly refusing to obey rulings of the presiding officer or repeatedly disrespecting and interrupting the presiding officer while the latter is addressing the House;
(d) persisting in making serious allegations against a Member without adequate substantiation or following the correct procedure;
(e) using or threatening violence against a Member or other person; or
(f) acting in any other way to the serious detriment of the dignity, decorum or orderly procedure of the House.

Mr Xaso concluded his briefing on the National Assembly Rules by indicating that he was open to going into the details of the events as well as playing the videotape to assist the Subcommittee should it request that.

Discussion
Deputy Speaker Tsenoli invited Members to make their inputs. He presumed that Members had read the report and some may have been present when the events took place. Thus he asked Members to comment on whether the presiding officer had made the appropriate ruling in accordance with the Rules as had been read out by Mr Xaso.

Mr B Radebe (ANC) expressed his appreciation for the report and affirmed the validity of the report that truthfully described the occurrence of the events, as well as the explanations of the various violations of the Rules. He described those two days as "sad days" because the democratically elected representatives of the people were prevented from listening to the President. Those representatives who violated the rules of parliament also abused their own powers and privileges. Rule 69 clearly affords Members of the Cabinet the same privileges as afforded to Members of Parliament even if that Member of the Cabinet is not a Member of Parliament such as the President. The President’s dignity had been assaulted on that day by those Members who had repeatedly made allegations such as theft and money laundering without any substantive evidence. The sacred place of Parliament was violated on that day and the entire nation had been disrupted from listening to the President's budget vote speech by that political party.

Mr B Herron (GOOD) affirmed that the report of the Speaker was true and reflected what had transpired since he was present when it happened. He commended the Speaker for exercising great restraint in handling the situation. The Subcommittee should proceed with adopting its report.

Ms N Mazzone (DA) validated the report and affirmed the truthfulness of what had transpired on that day. She commended the Speaker’s restraint and recommended that the matter be referred to the Powers and Privileges Committee. The chaos in Parliament was a new level of low and Parliament should ensure that such chaos would not be repeated again.

Ms Mazzone said that the eruption of violence was deliberate by those Members that were later on removed. The presiding officers and sergeant-at-arms had done everything in their power to keep the peace. The DA Members were also involved in the scuffle and she herself was hit in the back of her neck. She emphasised that everyone has to adhere to section 36 of the Constitution which limits the rights of people. Due to the disruption, her and her political party’s rights as well as the rights of South Africans were violated by those Members, as representatives were there to pose questions and listen to the answers by the President.

Mr A Shaik Emam (NFP) agreed with the truthfulness of the report and affirmed that the Speaker had done everything in her power to resolve the matter in a peaceful manner. But all the effort was in vain because those Members were even demanding she bring in the protection service. Although everyone has a constitutional right to freedom of speech but Members of Parliament still have to comply with the rules of Parliament. He condemned those Members for using water bottles which were paid for by taxpayers as weapons to attack people when poverty in South Africa is so severe that many people did not even have access to drinkable water. The behaviour that he witnessed was unacceptable.

Mr S Swart (ACDP) agreed with all his colleagues about the egregiously bad behaviour of those Members. He totally agreed with the Speaker’s manner of handling the matter which was consistent with the rules of Parliament. Rule 26 states that the Speaker has a responsibility to maintain and preserve the order and proper decorum of the House. The disruptive Members’ behaviour was a deliberate and sustained effort to disrupt proceedings in a wholly undemocratic and unconstitutional manner. The rights of Members of Parliament to hear the President’s response were grossly violated.

Dr C Mulder (FF+) pointed out that the chaos was clearly planned as it had been announced prior to the meeting. Each and every Member who had violated parliamentary rules on that day should be referred to the Ethics Committee and be dealt with. He agreed that the Speaker had exercised great restraint in handling the matter. The Speaker had followed the correct procedures. The subcommittee should proceed with its report.

Mr S Jafta (AIC) agreed with his colleagues that the Speaker had shown great restraint and that she did the correct thing under the circumstances.

The Chairperson asked if the Committee Secretariat had received an apology from the members of the political party concerned about not attending this meeting, or if the party had provided an explanation of its members’ behaviours.

Mr Xaso confirmed that the political party concerned was notified and the Subcommittee did not receive an apology.

The Chairperson agreed that the matter would have to be referred to the Powers and Privileges Committee for review. Should it be true that there was news in public about deliberately sabotaging the proceeding, it would be an aggravating factor. He asked if there was opposition to that decision.

Mr Xaso explained that the matter must first be referred to the Rules Committee before passing the matter to the Powers and Privileges Committee.

Adoption of Committee Report
The Members present unanimously supported the decision and the Committee Report.

The meeting was adjourned.

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