The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) broke the rules of the Gauteng legislature when its members wore red overalls branded with the party’s slogan “Asijiki” (“Do not go back”) and should have removed themselves from the house when asked to leave. This is according to Ebrahim Fakir, manager of the political parties and parliamentary support programme at the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
The police’s tactical response unit was called in on Tuesday to remove EFF members from the provincial legislature in Johannesburg during the Gauteng State of the Province address, after speaker of the House, Ntombi Mekgwe, said she found them to be dressed inappropriately, and ordered them to leave.
Mekgwe said the EFF were wearing party insignia, because the word “Asijiki” is inscribed on their overalls.
But the EFF staged a sit-in in protest against Mekgwe’s orders and the police’s tactical response unit was called in to take control. A scuffle broke out and several EFF members were injured. EFF Gauteng leader Mgcina Tshwaku suffered an asthma attack, Benjamin Disolwane broke an arm and Parks Khaiyane was sent to hospital, reportedly in critical condition. Other EFF officials received first aid treatment from paramedics.
Fakir said the party had broken the rules of legislature and behaved in an “infantile” manner.
“They could have made a valuable and ideologically different contribution to the debate, but they elevated what appears to be a trivial, unimportant set of things they want to talk about,” Fakir said.
Fakir said that police were performing their duties in removing EFF members. The police officers shouldn’t have manhandled them, he said, but the EFF’s refusal to leave meant that their options were limited.
According to Peter Skosana, secretary for the Gauteng provincial legislature, the rules state that a member of the house “should, when executing his or her duties, be dressed in a manner which accords with the decorum of the house and which does not display party affiliation.
The African National Congress has criticised the EFF, saying the party’s behaviour at the provincial legislature was “disgusting”.
In a statement, ANC chief whip Brian Hlongwa said: “The ANC in the Gauteng provincial legislature… noted with disgust the unbecoming behaviour of the EFF members of the provincial legislature during the sitting of the House.”
The Democratic Alliance shared a similar view, with DA legislature spokesman John Moodey saying: “The fiasco caused in today’s sitting by the EFF, dressed in red overalls, is in contravention of the House rules of the legislature. It was nothing less than cheap politics.”
Meanwhile, the EFF has released a statement, blasting the “mindless and forceful removal” of its members.
“Economic Freedom Fighters condemns the shameless, thoughtless, immoral, violent and undemocratic decision of the ANC speaker to forcefully remove EFF MPLs using the police,” EFF national spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Quintin Ndlozi said in the statement.
Ndlozi defended the EFF’s position in government, saying Mekgwe failed to acknowledge their members as elected officials.
“What the speaker forgets is that EFF is there not because she employed it, but because more than a million South Africans voted for it. EFF therefore deserves to be in parliament, for this is the will of the people,” said Ndlozi.
Mekgwe’s reasoning drew much criticism and many on Twitter expressed surprise at the way they were evicted and defended their right to dress as they please.
— Pierre de Vos (@pierredevos) July 2, 2014
Clothes represent ideology. Capital is represented in Parliament by suits. So why can’t EFF represent workers by wearing overalls?
— Tom Eaton (@TomEatonSA) July 2, 2014
I personally like the fact that EFF dresses like the people it represents. It is a huge statement. Let’s not be petty.
— Simphiwe Dana (@simphiwedana) July 2, 2014
The EFF said it plans to submit an urgent application for a court interdict to prevent the Gauteng legislature from dismissing EFF MPLs based on clothing.