THE Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) tactic of achieving publicity well beyond that justified by their electoral representation by disrupting the status quo, has served the party well.
Their "pay back the money" campaign, aimed at pressuring President Jacob Zuma to account for spending public funds on his Nkandla homestead, struck a chord across party lines and injected new life into a National Assembly that had been rendered largely impotent by the governing party’s use of its majority to quash dissent.
However, the novelty value of the disruption tactic has been eroded by overuse. Even those, including other opposition parties, who were frustrated by the African National Congress’s habit of riding roughshod over other party objections and bulldozing through flawed legislation, were becoming concerned that constant chaos in Parliament would do even more harm to its credibility than its chronic dysfunctionality.
EFF leader Julius Malema’s ejection from the chamber on Wednesday and subsequent suspension from the parliamentary precinct for five days for calling Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa a "murderer" due to his involvement in the Marikana tragedy, will therefore be welcomed by some.
It should not be, even though Mr Malema’s actions amount to an unjustified vendetta in the light of the Farlam commission’s finding that there is no evidence that Mr Ramaphosa conspired with police management to break the Marikana strike by force.
Were it not for parliamentary privilege, Mr Malema would undoubtedly be vulnerable to civil action for defamation. But he was in Parliament when he made his remark, and however "unparliamentary" it may have been, he did not prevent others from participating in the debate.
National Assembly chairwoman Grace Boroto’s application of the new rules, adopted by the House a little more than a month ago, is questionable. In any event, these cannot override the constitutional principle of freedom of speech. Suspending an MP for something he says — as opposed to physically disrupting proceedings — is wrong and should not be tolerated in a constitutional democracy.