Security contingent for SONA ‘increased nearly threefold in a decade’: DA

The failure to inform Parliament of the employment of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) at last year’s opening of Parliament was “in breach of the Constitution”‚ the DA says.

The opposition party’s John Steenhuisen said on Wednesday that secretary to Parliament Gengezi Mgidlana “today confirmed” that President Jacob Zuma had failed to write to Parliament informing it that 188 SANDF members would be used for the 2016 event.

He said the “acknowledgement was made during a meeting of opposition parties and the speaker over the militarisation of the state of the union address (SONA)‚ convened on our request”.

South African protestors clash with police ahead of the opening of parliament ceremony in Cape Town. Picture: FILE / TIMESLIVE

Steenhuisen quoted section 201 of the constitution‚ which says that for the employment of the defence force‚ the president “must provide the information … to the appropriate oversight committee”.

“What this means is that the employment of SANDF personnel at Parliament has never before been referred to or approved by the joint standing committee on defence‚ as required by the constitution.”

This comes in the wake of the Presidency announcement on Tuesday night that Zuma had authorised the deployment of 441 SANDF members to Parliament until Friday for the 2017 event to help police “maintain law and order”.

This prompted outrage from opposition parties and civil rights groups‚ but Parliament issued a statement on Wednesday‚ saying it had noted with “serious concern the misunderstanding that the declaratory order issued by the President… means that SONA will be under the command of the military“.

“Upon the request of the South African Police Services‚ the South African National Defence Force is sometimes deployed to support the police in exercising their safety and security function‚ such as the case in point‚” said spokesperson Manelisi Wolela .

Wolela said the army will not be deployed within the precincts of Parliament and the chamber.

Steenhuisen‚ however‚ said: “The securitisation of the parliamentary precinct is the antithesis of a ‘People’s Parliament’ and nowhere is this more self-evident than the increasing militarisation of SONA.”

He added that the speaker “has committed to releasing a statement clarifying the exact nature of the employment of SANDF members‚ specifically where the soldiers will be stationed and positioned”.

Steenhuisen called on Mgidlana “to correct his previous statements on the securitisation of the parliamentary precinct”.

“Mgidlana has repeatedly insisted that there is nothing unusual about the large-scale deployment of security personnel to Parliament. However‚ this has been shown to be patently untrue and is‚ in fact‚ misinformation‚” he added.

According to written parliamentary questions submitted his party‚ Steenhuisen said “the deployment of SAPS members in Parliament during SONA events have increased nearly threefold over a decade‚ from 108 in 2004 to 296 in 2014”.

“At the same time‚ SANDF members employed at Parliament increased from 168 in 2013‚ to 188 in 2015‚ to 441 in 2017.”


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