PEN South Africa, part of an international organisation which represents writers, editors and translators, and whose members have pledged themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression or censorship but to uphold freedom of the press, is deeply alarmed at the breakdown in Parliamentary democracy in Cape Town on November 13 when the Speaker lost control of the institution, members of Parliament were assaulted by a squad of riot police who had strong-armed their way into the House without proper authorisation and videos of the proceedings were censored. By MARGIE ORFORD, MANDLA LANGA & RAYMOND LOUW.
PEN South Africa, which believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative, condemns the manner in which attempts were made by the Speaker to prevent MPs from raising issues according to a programme that had been agreed earlier between the political parties and followed that up by trying to order MPs to leave the House.
PEN South Africa interprets the Speaker’s conduct in trying to stop MPs from raising their issues – even though it was a filibustering move – as an attempt to prevent the people of South Africa being able to observe the temper and dissatisfaction of a large group of MPs at the way Parliamentary affairs were being conducted – in particular, the presentation of a one-sided finding of an ad hoc committee that was supposed to investigate the reports relating to the scandal of the so-called “security upgrades” of President Jacob Zuma’s estate at Nkandla.
The censorship was compounded by the serious manipulation of the TV reporting of the proceedings in Parliament, where the camera pictures were cut, thus preventing citizens of the country from viewing the actual proceedings in the House, the unruliness of MPs and alleged assaults by police. PEN South Africa points out that the manipulation and censoring of Parliament’s TV broadcasts has occurred on more than one occasion in recent weeks.
PEN SA is deeply alarmed that these are deliberate and serious inroads on freedom of expression and transparency, core values which form the basis of our constitutional democracy.
Finally, the violent conduct of the police was more befitting of a police state than a democracy. It appears that no one in authority in Parliament, such as the Speaker, formally requested the police to enter the House. Several MPs, conscious of the violation of the constitutional order and the sanctity of Parliament, tried to block them and were assaulted. Some of the MPs sustained injuries.
A dark day indeed for South Africa and its democratic order, and an ominous portend of a government favouring censorship and ranged against transparency.
Margie Orford is President of PEN South Africa. Mandla Langa and Raymond Louw are Vice presidents of PEN South Africa.