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Did Zuma tell Parliament he would deploy soldiers for the SONA in 2016? - Probe launched to find out

By Bianca Capazorio | 2017-04-20 16:54:52.0

Parliament has launched an investigation into whether President Jacob Zuma failed to inform it of his decision to deploy soldiers in the parliamentary precinct at last year’s State of the Nation address (SONA).

National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete announced the investigation on Thursday. It will be conducted by the Powers and Privileges committee.

Mbete’s decision to institute the probe stems from a complaint by Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen during a question and answer session last month with deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

At this year’s SONA‚ more than 400 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members were deployed by Zuma to Parliament to beef up security

This raised the ire of opposition parties who described the deployment as unconstitutional and a militarisation of Parliament.

However‚ government defended the deployment‚ saying it was not the first time that soldiers had been part of the SONA security arrangements.

It later emerged that a letter announcing the deployment of 188 soldiers for the 2016 SONA address could not be traced‚ suggesting that it did not exist or it had not been placed on parliamentary public record as required by law. Steenhuisen said on Thursday‚ “there was one letter that we could not find“.

“In terms of the Constitution‚ Parliament is supposed to be notified and the Joint Standing Committee for Defence is supposed to authorise it” he said.

Steenhuisen also questioned whether a parliamentary committee was best placed to deal with the matter as the president was not an MP.

“The President is the one who should be held accountable unless Parliament received the letter and failed to table it in the ATC (announcements‚ tablings and committee reports)‚” he said.

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula could be called to give evidence before the committee.

According to the Constitution and the Defence Act‚ only the president has the power to deploy members of the SANDF and he can only do so after informing Parliament about the reasons for the deployment‚ the number of soldiers involved‚ where they will be deployed and for how long.

The Powers and Privileges of Parliament Act on the other hand states that members of the security services can enter Parliament to fulfil “policing functions” only with the express permission of Mbete or the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.

The act also provides for security forces to enter parliament if there is immediate danger to life‚ safety or the destruction of property.

During a question session in March‚ Ramaphosa said that the deployment of soldiers was “solely within the purview of the President of the Republic of South Africa in his capacity as the head of the executive and as the Commander in Chief of the SANDF“.

 Ramaphosa said the letters were of “public record“.