Before President Jacob Zuma finally started delivering his 2017 State of the Nation Address (Sona), speaker Baleka Mbete gestured towards two men dressed in blue uniforms stationed inside the doors of the national assembly.
Mbete said: “We have the two members who are ceremonial guards. And they are not in the house. They are on the floor of the house.”
Economic Freedom Fighters’ MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told the assembly, “those two people there at the door must leave the house. They don’t belong here. Even the justices are seated over there.”
Is Ndlozi’s assertion correct?
An inherited tradition
Darren Olivier, senior correspondent for the African Defence Review, told Africa Check via email that the “two South African air force colonels” next to the doors were the “president’s aides-de-camp, and traditionally they have always been allowed inside parliament. Photos from previous Sonas show them in the same location, with last year’s aides-de-camp being from the South African army.”
Oliver says this is “one of the traditional norms and protocols inherited with our system. For instance, in other commonwealth countries, such as Australia, the head of state is almost always accompanied by either one or two military aides-de-camp into the houses of parliament.
“In general, aides-de-camp in most countries, including South Africa, wear gold ropes, the aiguillette, from one of their shoulders and are unarmed except for ceremonial swords or daggers where those are still used. In other words, [their presence is] not unusual and a common feature of parliamentary traditions.”
Olivier said he was not sure whether the presence of the aides, as well as other ceremonial military presences within the parliamentary precinct, was “codified in law or a specific protocol”, but that he would update Africa Check with this information.
Africa Check is still attempting to contact the national defence force for comment. We will update this report once we receive a response.
Conclusion: President’s aides-de-camp common feature of parliamentary traditions
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Mbuyiseni Ndlozi claimed that the two men stationed at the entrance to the national assembly must leave as they “don’t belong” in parliament.
However, a defence commentator told Africa Check that the men are the president’s aides-de-camp and therefore is a common feature of parliamentary traditions. They can be identified by the gold ropes from one of their shoulders and are unarmed, except for ceremonial swords or daggers where those are still used.
Researched by Nechama Brodie, Africa Check, a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media. Twitter @AfricaCheck and www.africacheck.org