Public hearings of the Ad Hoc Committee to Initiate and Introduce Legislation Amending Section 25 of the Constitution in Polokwane, Limpopo, were disrupted yesterday and had to be called-off after a crowd that forced its way into the venue refused to leave.
The hall was initially full in compliance with Covid-19 level 1 regulations. However, a crowd forced its way past security and filled the hall to capacity.
The leader of the Limpopo delegation, Adv. Bongani Bongo, had earlier in the day delayed the start of the hearings by three hours in order to try and resolve the matter between participants wearing ANC T-shirts and those sporting EFF regalia, saying the crowd inside the meeting was in contravention of the regulations. "Furthermore, it's a safety and health risk. We cannot allow people to be exposed to this. I would rather start the hearings late until we have order then put our people's lives on the line."
At 14:00 when the hearings were supposed to be resumed, a group of participants wearing red T-shirts had then made their way to the doors of the venue and barricaded the entrance.
"According to the initial report we received, a big crowd of supporters dressed in African National Congress (ANC) T-shirts arrived first at the hall in the morning and as per our rules followed at all public hearings so far, were allowed to register and enter the hall. Later, supporters dressed in EFF regalia arrived, only to realise that the hall was almost full and forced their way into the venue, thereby contravening the regulations."
In addressing the media after cancelling the public hearings, Adv Bongo emphasised: "Collectively, after several attempts to find a solution, the multi-party delegation decided to delay the meeting till 14:00 in order to work out a way forward. However, at this time when we were supposed to resume the meeting, the crowd still did not want to adhere to the regulations and supporters dressed in red barricaded the entrance to the venue. Initial reports also indicate that a weapon was brought into the venue.
"Further attempts were made to resolve the matter but on advice of Parliament Security and the South African Police Service and in consultation with the other MPs, I decided that in the interest of safety and health concerns, it was best to call off the hearings. This was done as a last resort," said Adv Bongo.
He said that yesterday's' event was an isolated incident at the hearings as the public was disciplined at the other three public hearings. "We understand that the expropriation of land without compensation is a delicate and emotive matter and that the majority of political parties that support it would want to be seen at the forefront. But what happened today is definitely not the way to do so. It must be condemned in the harshest possible terms as security and health restrictions were breached and people's lives were put at risk," said Adv Bongo.
Furthermore, he said there are only two parties in Parliament that support the expropriation of land without compensation, the ANC and the EFF. "It was therefore surprising that supporters dressed in EFF regalia disrupted the hearings."
He said a decision on whether to reschedule the Polokwane hearings will have to be taken by the full committee after receiving a comprehensive report from support structures.