JOHANNESBURG - The newest party in South Africa's parliament, the Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, is facing a two-week suspension after getting into a shouting match with members of the ruling ANC party.
No one expected the EFF representatives to behave once they got into South Africa’s parliament: The far-left party is led by Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC for causing trouble within the party and presided over election rallies full of pumped-up, angry youths.
In recent months, Malema has been increasingly vocal about his former hero, President Jacob Zuma, who is dogged by a corruption scandal. And so no one was surprised when the party courted danger by getting into a shouting match during a parliament session last week.
As a result of that outburst, the party’s 25 members may now face a 14-day suspension.
The exchange started when Malema asked Zuma directly when he intended to follow the recommendation of South Africa's anti-corruption czar and pay back government money allegedly used to improve his private homestead, Nkandla.
Zuma responded that he had already answered, which prompted this bout between EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu and parliament speaker Baleka Mbete of the ANC:
Shivambu: Can we please be provided with answers, not hiding behind...
Mbete: Honorable member, that’s not a point of order. Please take your seat. Take your seat, Shivambu, take your seat. I have not recognized you.
Shivabmu: And he has not answered the question of when he will pay the money.
Mbete: Honorable Shivambu, I will throw you out of the house. … Take your seat, I am presiding.
Female EFF member: We want the money.
Mbete: Take your seat, I will have to ask the sergeant at arms. Sergeant at arms, please assist me with relieving the members who are in in this house who are not serious about this seating to take their leave.
Shivambu: We are serious, chair, we are raising a point of order.
Female member: All we are asking is that he pay back the money, why are we getting thrown out?
Other EFF member: That money, Nkandla, must be paid. You can’t hide behind presidents.
Mbete: Honorable members, I’m calling the security.
EFF member: We want money!
Mbete: The house is suspended for three minutes.
This whole affair has predictably drawn the ire of the powerful ANC, which has won every election since 1994.
In describing the EFF, ANC parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo sounds like an exasperated schoolteacher talking about a class bully.
“It has been disruptive on more than one occasion," said Mothapo. "It has refused to abide by the commonly agreed rules of the national assembly. It is a party that does not really place its emphasis or importance on debate or a contribution of a superior debate on matters of national importance, but using its minority to push its opinions down the throats of people that disagree with them by using disruptive tactics that borders on nothing but hooliganism."
Mothapo says the ANC wants a strong opposition, but wants them to behave. And so parliament will meet Tuesday to consider whether to suspend the EFF from parliament.
Analyst Aubrey Matshiqi says any possible suspension probably won’t change the party’s fortunes or attitude, explaining that even if others agree with the EFF, the ANC has such an overwhelming majority in parliament that it won’t add up to much in terms of lawmaking.
“That, however, does not mean that the ANC itself is not facing a crisis," said Matshiqi. "Because it’s very clear to me that in five minutes last Thursday, the EFF achieved something that the DA and other opposition parties have failed to achieve in 20 years: to highlight the fact that the ruling party, and the president, have been hiding behind parliamentary rules when they don’t want to be accountable,"
An EFF spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment on the matter.