The Office of the ANC Chief Whip has noted with great concern the
decline in the culture of tolerance, mutual respect and common decency
in this Parliament, which resulted in a disorderly and chaotic sitting
of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
This incident, which embarrassed all of us, occurred after a ruling of
the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Nomaindia Mfeketo, on the
matter of Cope leader Mr Mosioua Lekota. We are concerned at the lack of
respect displayed for the rulings of the presiding officers, notably the
female presiding officers, whose authority is often defied and openly
challenged by the opposition benches in an unacceptable and disorderly
The chaos and disorder in the National Assembly on Tuesday, which
included the banging of tables notably by DA members of parliament in
full view of the public, represented one of the lowest points in the
history of our multiparty debates. This shameful conduct by those who
ought to carry themselves in a manner befitting of their 'honourable'
titles, makes a mockery of Parliament, which is one of the critical
pillars of our constitutional democracy. There is absolutely no
justification for this abhorrent behaviour, regardless of how aggrieved
some MPs were with the decision of the presiding officer. Such
unbecoming conduct is unacceptable and severely damages the trust,
respect and confidence the public should have in this Parliament.
Yesterday the Multiparty Chief Whips Forum, which is a forum of chief
whips of political parties in parliament and chaired by the chief whip
of the majority party, reflected at length on Tuesday's worrisome
developments. All parties agreed to work both jointly and individually
to maintain order and respect for House proceedings and defend the
integrity of Parliament.
The ANC made the following submission regarding members’ conduct in the
House to the Forum, and all parties were in agreement on the importance
· Affirming respect for the authority of the presiding officers, which
is afforded to them by the Rules of Parliament and the Constitution
· Agreeing that the decisions of the presiding officers are final
· Agreeing that parties not satisfied with decisions of the presiding
officers must use appropriate channels to raise their objections, rather
than indulge in a rowdy and rebellious conduct
· Agreeing to urge and maintain restraint, tolerance and mutual respect
The Office of the ANC Chief Whip rejects the charge leveled at the
African National Congress that it is stifling freedom of expression in
Parliament, particularly within the National Assembly. This accusation,
which is unfounded and baseless, is usually made by those with little or
no knowledge of parliamentary procedures and rules. For many years, the
ANC fought for the freedom of speech, which is the cornerstone of our
constitutional democracy, and will do everything in its power to defend
it while guarding against those who seek to abuse it.
We have the worrying trend amongst opposition parties to claim that
their right to express themselves freely is infringed upon whenever
negative rulings are made against them. Those members who are at times
found to have transgressed the rules and practices of the House, engage
in disorderly conduct and refuse to adhere to established decorum of the
House, throw tantrums and play hapless victims. It is unfortunate that
these individuals have often found sympathetic embrace amongst some
section of the media and some commentators, who accuse both the ANC and
presiding officers of stifling freedom of expression. We had expected
the media and commentators to know better.
Parliaments all over the world have in place rules, conventions,
practices and codes of conduct to which MPs must adhere in order to
preserve decorum, respect and prestige of the states' legislative
organs. The rules and practices in parliament are inthat MPs conduct
themselves in a dignified manner worthy of people's
respect. Without these rules and practices, Parliament descends into
chaos, anarchy and results in a permanent state of paralysis. Indeed
Section 57 (1)(a) of the Constitution grants the National Assembly the
authority to “determine and control its internal arrangements,
proceedings and procedures”.
An allegation of ‘violation of oath of office’ or ‘defiance of a
judicial order’ by a head of state is a serious matter that cannot be
made lightly or for mere political posturing, as Cope often tends to do.
In terms of parliament's established practice and procedures, an MP who
wishes to bring allegations of improper conduct should do so by way of a
substantive motion in the House alleging facts which, if true, would
then in the opinion of the Speaker warrant a decision. A substantive
motion is a formal proposal put before the house for the purpose of
eliciting a debate and resolution of parliament. Essentially, this
process places the onus on those who use a parliamentary podium to make
serious claims to back them up with irrefutable evidence, or not make
them at all.
MPs generally enjoy a high level of freedom of speech and parliamentary
privileges, which protects them from legal actions arising from
statements they make in parliament. However, such rights and privileges
are subject to the agreed rules and principles that guide the day-to-day
management of parliament.
The claim that some opposition MPs get kicked out of the House for
criticising the President is inaccurate and deliberately misleading. The
fact is that MPs have the right to criticize and call for certain action
against other MPs and members of the Executive. However, such must be
done through a simple procedure outlined as follows:
1. An MP must first give notice of a Motion outlining his or her
intention to propose a decision of the House on a particular matter.
2. The Presiding Officers scrutinizes the Motion to determine if it
complies with the rules and practices before publishing it on the Order
3. The Programming Committee will then authorize the tabling of the
Motion in the House, which could result in the establishment of a
committee of parliament to investigate the allegations being made in the
Notice of a Motion
4. The House then debates and arrives at a decision
Usually those who make allegations impugning others' integrity,
competence and honour outside of the established parliamentary processes
possess no justifiable reasons or incontrovertible evidence to back them
Mr Lekota has no evidence to support his allegations to stand as a
proper motion in the House. In the absence of any evidence to support
his allegations, his ‘motion’ is therefore tantamount to defamation of
character. It is for this reason that the Chief Whip of the ANC has
given notice of a motion to have him censured for undermining the
dignity of the office of the President and deliberately misleading the
We have appealed to parties in yesterday’s Multiparty Chief Whips Forum
to respect the rules of Parliament and uphold the decorum of the House.
The responsibility of preserving the image of this august institution
rests on the shoulder of all of us.