Parliament launches investigation into cellphone jamming

14 February 2015 - 11:04 By Sapa

The Secretary of Parliament was asked on Friday to investigate the jamming of cellphones and the faulty microphone during the eighth state-of-the-nation address by President Jacob Zuma, Parliament said.

"What occurred today should never again be allowed to occur," National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise said in a statement on Friday.

Modise and National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete requested Secretary Gengezi Mgidlana to look into what happened.

The microphone at the podium malfunctioned for a short while at the start of the proceedings and address by Zuma.

On Thursday night, around 25 journalists launched a protest in the press gallery of the National Assembly because they did not have cellphone reception to file their stories.

"Bring back the signal, bring back the signal," they chanted, waving their cellphones at an electronic black box which was believed to be a jamming device.

Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters MPs joined in the chanting from their seats below, also holding up their cellphones.

DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen -- supported by the EFF and Freedom Front Plus -- rose on a "rule of order" to submit that the jamming was "in direct violation of the... Constitution".

Mbete said she would make sure the Secretary of Parliament looked into the issue.

In the statement on Friday, Parliament said the organisation of the event in the main proceeded well, and was hosted in the context of a number of challenges.

"The incidents include problems with mobile phone connectivity which were reported in the Press Bay, as well as the microphone at the podium which malfunctioned for a short while at the start of the proceedings and address by the president.

"Threats to disrupt the event were also made repeatedly in the media ahead of the event from a number of quarters. The investigation will also consider these aspects," Parliament said.

Presiding officers would also be considering appropriate action in relation to the incidents which resulted in the eviction of the EFF.

"Protection services had to be called in when members refused to leave the Chamber after a ruling by the presiding officers. The presiding officers have undertaken to work even harder with political parties to ensure that the incidents witnessed yesterday do not recur."

Modise and Mbete would hold a press conference to discuss the matters, it said.

On Thursday night, fist fights broke out when EFF MPs were dragged out of the National Assembly during the state-of-the-nation address.

The MPs tried to stand their ground after Mbete ordered them to leave, but security officers dragged them out.

When EFF MP Floyd Shivambu confronted some of the officers, another fight broke out.

Some of the protection officers' shirts were ripped off and they stood bare-chested as a result of the disruption. Security officers blocked journalists from going near the EFF MPs.