Thursday, June 14, 2007

The doors of Parliament not open to all

On Wednesday I attempted to take 30 US law students on a comparative Constitutional Law course to Parliament to listen to President Thabo Mbeki’s reply to his budget vote in the National Assembly. It was the same day that thousands of workers held a peaceful protest outside the main gates of Parliament.

We made arrangements to collect our tickets to the public gallery a day before the event, but when we arrived at the side gate of Parliament it was firmly locked. The polite but firm policeman informed me that all gates to Parliament had been locked on instructions form his superiors and that no one would be allowed in or out of the Parliamentary precinct for the next several hours.

This meant that I was barred from listening to my President in my Parliament answering his opposition critics. This seems to be in direct contravention of section 59 of the Constitution, which states that Parliament has a constitutional duty to conduct its business in an open manner and to allow the public access to its activities.

Yet, some power drunk fool decided that the workers, demonstrating peacefully more than a hundred meters away, posed such a mortal threat to all MPs and our President, that the gates of Parliament literally had to be locked against its own people.

Who made this heavy-handed decision? Did this person realise that he or she was sending a signal that Parliament and the President was so far removed from or even scared of the workers that it would lock the very doors of the institution against their own people?

The locking of the gates of Parliament on the very day that the President was speaking in the National Assembly, reminds me rather of the days of the apartheid regime when the President and Parliamentarians had good reason to fear the citizens of the country they were supposed to be governing.

It would be nice to think that the person who made this decision would get into serious trouble. Maybe the President - or more correctly, the Speaker - could have a word with someone so that the next time us ordinary people want to hear him speak, we will actually be allowed into the legislature.


Anonymous said...

Aren't you being just a little childish here? While you are perfectly correct about the public's right to attend such an occasion, you must admit that your timing was bad. That protest outside Parliament may have seemed peaceful to you, but the fact is there have been many nasty incidents, and posters have been seen calling for Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi to be killed; some even demanded Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's liver to be forcibly taken back. One really can't be too careful these days, don't you think? (hex)

Anonymous said...

I do not think it childish at all -if government governs properly, there would be no need for such protest actions in the first place. Secondly, the security people sent to man (woman) the gates and to show the students (and a well known law professor) - with the necesssary invitations and accrediations - away, could clearly see that this was no part of a staged protest action against government. If governent is against protest marches, strikes and picketing, even in these special circumstances, it should change the Constitution as it so easilly does nowadays - or perhaps the President should consider declaring a state of emergency? Must courts now refuse entry to members of the public just because outside their premises (often violent) protest actions are raging? Why can't Paliament, like the courts, just have the necessary security measures in place to, through (understandable and moderate)access-control measures, restrict armed(unruly)entrance to Parliament and members of the executive(remember Pratt and Tshafendas?). However, a totally closed Parliament reminds one of the USSR Kremlin days of old, where the proletariat had no access to government that they supposedly put into power through the revolution they fought. Whatever happened to transparent democracy? Must Parliament become an ivory tower where politicians hide while they while-away the hours to think out a new fiendish plot against the people? (See the violent Provincial border disputes where Parliament passed laws and constitutional changes without consuling with the relevant constituencies.) I support Prof De Vos in his arguments. (Lawyer for Human Rights)