Parliamentary questions to the president were suspended on Wednesday after a hold-up for more than two hours when the National Assembly was disrupted by the Economic Freedom Fighters.
The EFF may find itself isolated over this‚ the next in a pattern of disruptive behaviour‚ as initial discussions with other opposition parties indicated that this time it had gone too far.
The other opposition parties felt that parliament had been deprived of an opportunity to question Zuma and put him on the spot‚ and had provided him with an opportunity to avoid answering tough questions again.
During a stormy closed meeting of representatives of all major political parties on Wednesday afternoon while the National Assembly stood adjourned‚ EFF representatives made it clear that they would continue disrupting parliamentary sittings until President Zuma had apologised for his behaviour in parliament.
The ANC refused to agree to this.
President Jacob Zuma was scheduled to answer six specific questions from MPs‚ with follow-up questions by other MPs‚ but none of the questions were related to Nkandla.
Because the EFF garnered only 6% of the vote in last year’s election and because the questions are awarded to parties proportionally‚ it was not the EFF’s turn to nominate a question on Wednesday.
Before Zuma could take to the podium‚ the EFF insisted on the president telling South Africans when he was going to pay back the public money spent on “security upgrades” at his private Nkandla residence‚ despite the fact that it was not on the parliamentary agenda for the day.
This caused chaos.
First out of the blocks was EFF MP Makoti Khawula‚ who shouted in isiZulu that Zuma was making a mockery of parliament by not giving real answers about Nkandla and by disobeying the public protector.
All efforts by speaker Baleka Mbete to restore order failed as she was simply shouted down by Khawula‚ who is not easily deterred when she is in full cry.
EFF MPs followed one after the other basically making the same point and not allowing anyone to speak.
EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi even said parliament was deteriorating to a Trevor Noah show.
After EFF leader Julius Malema took it upon himself to decide who would speak next‚ the closed meeting of party representatives took place and the ANC caucused. Parliament was held up for more than an hour and a half.
Reporting back‚ ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude‚ who chaired the meeting‚ said that the EFF had called on Zuma to apologise‚ that the Nkandla issue be taken up further‚ and that the agreement reached with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa last year for better cooperation between parties be resuscitated.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said parliament was the only way to keep Zuma accountable‚ and that only Zuma and the cabinet gained when parliament collapsed.
All parties except the EFF believed questions to Zuma must continue but chaos still prevailed late Thursday afternoon.