Account of EFF chaos in Parliament

As I sat quietly in Parliament’s National Assembly Media Section of the Gallery, just above The Speakers chair, I watched Thursday’s events unfold right in front of me. In what started like an ordinary seating ended up being something of what a media colleague who was next me described as “Parliament lockdown.”

The words “Pay back the money!!,” vibrated through the national assembly, sending faces of annoyance and disapproval head shakes from the ruling party’s Members of Parliament in the floor and from where I was seating, parliament staff and even more reporters flooded our section with curiosity plastered in their face.

EFF were expressing their dissatisfaction with President Jacob Zuma’s replies to oral questions posed to him by MPs as required by the constitution. Their leader Julius Malema led the chant “when are you going to back the money for Nkandla?” Their supporters from the public section aided the loudness to the chant.

The house speaker, Baleka Mbete tried to intervene with a warning of notifying the MPs who had donned their red signature attire that she will now involve police to remove them. The warning was met with a quick wave hand gesture signalizing a ‘We don’t care” gesture by Malema and his colleagues, who kept on singing and shouting even more louder than before.

In this mist of chaos, the president had been “safely’ escorted out of assembly. Mbete then requested everyone to get out of the assembly and all MPs except EFF stood up and left. Songs and chants from EFF and its supporters continued. The police which she had talked about where nowhere in sight even over thirty minutes after the announcement. Security and protocol officers’ blockage all exits.

I had heard the request but my journalist instinct just told me not to move. I wanted to see what will happen. Around me, there was a lot of buzzing movement from journalists, whom like me, stood their ground: Who would want to miss the piece of the action? Siyabonga Mkhwanazi, Babalo Ndenze, Abongwe Kobokana, Amukelani Chauke, Andisiwe Makinana and Marianne Merten were amongst the many journalists who were witnessing the events with me.

Parliament’s protocol officers, police and even parliamentary staff came to chase us out of the assembly but we stood our ground. “We are not going anywhere. We want to see what’s going to happen.” “It’s responsibly to tell the nation what happened and how they were going to deal with EFF” I heard one of journalist shout to them.

“It’s called parliament of the people and they are the eyes and ears of the public” one of parliament staff members added in defence. Just then I heard one of other journalists thinking out loud that “they want to chase us out maybe they want to man-handle them”

In my mind I’m thinking ‘in all my life while covering protests I have never experienced police handlings or even let alone teargas. Today it’s probably going to be the first time.’ The situation was so dire that physical fights threats were heard between some of the MPs who had went out of the assembly and those in their red overalls who remained inside.

Just as I got out to see who was actually shouting outside, I met one of my colleagues Loedfie whom was flanked by a lot of people that include police officers, captains, protocol officers, and other guys in suits who had a serious looks that showed no traces of smiles. I decided then to follow them.

They went around all exits placing officers and then locking the doors leaving the main big door to the assembly open. Along the corridors outside the assembly exits, there is movement of a lot of people moving left and right with MPs and other prominent figures standing along the way exchanging friendly chats with each other. I spotted Mmusi Maimane, IFPs Mangosuthu Buthelezi in the various conversations groupings in the passage. We pass Paula Chowles along the way doing a live phone Q&A crossover as we head for the main door.

Members of the public, the media and some MPs (I spot Phumla Van Damme) have flooded the stairs leading to the assembly like a massive grouping of ants near a sugary substance. They are pushing, and in their hands I see almost all forms of recording devices as they are trying to capture the chaotic moments. I see abongwe from the SABC, I ask him who seems to be in charge or leading and he tells he has no clue.

I then decide to move in closer and stand with the police who were guarding the door. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Siyabonga Cwele are seen emerging from the assembly trying to control the situation. They talk to the police right in front of me. They then decide to go and “talk with the spokesperson of parliament”.

They request the flood of people to kindly go outside but some of the public members, media and MPs refuse. By then a bit of space had cleared up for police to work in. They organize themselves. Moments later: police with the glass blockages move in to create a barricade. I then saw DA’s Van Damme from crowd takes a photo of the man in blue with her cellphone. By this time, the number of media people with visual recording devices has increased.

Control is maintained: An announcement is made that MPs must go back inside and simultaneously the school-like alarm, which informs MPs that it’s time to go back to the assembly, rings. Security is tight as they check their access cards before they get in. I check my phone I see my former colleague, Lindokuhle Mnisi on twitter requests me to tweet. For a moment I think about it but I won’t be able to as my phone battery is flashing red.

Then move around to check the other exits. I pass Parliament’s Sergeant at Arms in a serious conversation with EFF’s Fana Mokoena. I then decide to move on and not disturb. I continued with my observation: there is order now. Police officers are now stationed on all exits. I decide to go back inside the National Assembly and see if they are going to continue or what.

I get back to my seat. I noticed the house is no longer full like before and the president seems to be missing in action. They announce he has left and the house will adjourn for the day.

I quickly went out and followed EFF members outside in their walk of parade as they are swamped by their supporters and camera people as they head to their offices. Floyd Shivambu, Malema, Andile Mngxitama, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi lead the way in a song and dance. They announce they will be hosting a press conference in a few minutes time. I decide to leave and go back to the office and to write about this whole event.