Last Friday I arrived just after 07:00 for a meeting at Parliament. The police who were scanning my bags were a bit bleary eyed, having had a very late night with the State of the Nation Address (SONA).
We bantered a bit and I asked jokingly whether someone had put Valium into the EFF’s water the previous day. For days there were talks of the EFF disrupting Parliament and that SONA might even be abandoned if things got too rough. Yet, on Thursday night the EFF’s behaviour was exemplary.
That was until they left the National Assembly chamber.
“There was a big incident afterwards,” said the one police officer. A few other cops nodded gravely. “One of the EFF MPs hit a policeman.” I first thought that they were joking, but then saw the anger on the other policemen’s faces.
A few minutes later I was sent a video of the incident. It showed the EFF, including Julius Malema and other EFF MPs leaving the chamber after SONA. Floyd Shivambu suddenly pushed a plain clothes policeman, Warrant Officer Johan Carstens, before another EFF MP hit Carstens extremely hard in the face. Photos later revealed blood streaming from the policeman’s face.
This was of course not the first time that an EFF MP was involved in a physical altercation on parliamentary grounds. In March last year, the same Floyd Shivambu was caught on camera roughing up Adrian de Kock, a press photographer on the parliamentary grounds.
De Kock, who was covering the DA/Patricia de Lille disciplinary hearing, saw Shivambu arriving and (as press photographers do) took a few snaps of him as he got out of his car in front of the door of Parliament. For some reason (one has to wonder why) Shivambu was offended by this and rushed over to De Kock, grabbed him around the neck and tried to get his camera.
After the De Kock incident Shivambu issued an apology, yet the matter is still with the Parliamentary Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests.
On Friday morning after the video of the policeman being slapped surfaced on social media the EFF issued a statement to “explain” that they had been given reliable information that some right-wing groups had infiltrated parliamentary security, known as the “white shirts”.
According to the EFF these “right-wing elements” were planning to assassinate the CIC (Commander in Chief), Julius Malema. Apparently, they were hoping that the EFF would be thrown out of Parliament during the session and that in the confusion they could then assassinate Malema.
Social media was quick to rubbish this claim and people had a good laugh.
To be fair an assassination of a political leader inside Parliament can and has happened in this country. The police also confirmed that the EFF had previously alerted them to a possible attempt on Malema’s life. (Was this perhaps the reason why the EFF decided not to disrupt the proceedings?)
However, it is laughable to suggest that by slapping someone they could stop an assassination attempt. Why did they not push Malema onto the floor or at least push him away, if they thought his life was in danger? They were also all too happy to then go into the chaos of the media scrum outside of Parliament to grab the lime light and engage with the media, making the whole “we were scared” excuse totally unbelievable.
I think it is far more believable, as by their own admittance, that they did not like being asked to wait by the police officer before exiting (apparently) to give the president time to leave the lobby area first. (I’m sure I am not alone in suspecting that the EFF would have reacted very differently if it had been a black policeman.)
The EFF MPs involved need to be harshly disciplined by Parliament and assault charges should be properly investigated without any leniency, because those involved were Members of Parliament. In fact, that they are elected representatives should be an aggravating factor.
We simply can not allow Members of Parliament to behave like this.
Members of Parliament are suppose to set an example for the country and we can not create a situation where people – especially young people – think that it is OK to hit people when you don’t like what they say to you. If Parliament pussy foots around this issue, as they seemed to have done in the Shivambu/De Kock case, they would do exactly that.
We cannot have double standards because it is the EFF and because we fear their toddler-like tantrums.
Crucially, members of the police force, who protect not only the citizens of this country but in this case also the president, Cabinet ministers and MPs must be afforded protection by Parliament and the state from the same people that they are daily putting their lives at risk for.