MPs gathered in the National Assembly on Friday for a hybrid sitting of the women’s parliament for 2020 with gender-based violence and femicide scheduled to take centre stage.
But the very serious issue affecting millions of women was almost put on the back-burner as MPs heckled each over the colours, regalia and emblems of their various political parties — in a shouting match lasting for more than half an hour.
It began when DA MP Nomsa Marchesi stood on a point of order at the start of the sitting, objecting to ANC MPs and other female guests arriving in the National Assembly chamber wearing black, green and gold doeks.
“As we all know that this parliament has always been non-partisan, and when I look across I see all the ANC members are dressed in ANC logos and colours. I mean we could have all been in our party regalia, but we understand our responsibility and what this house represents,” Marchesi said. “Every time there is business of parliament, we’ve always been told that you cannot have your regalia in the house and this is what we are seeing today. So, what are we going to do? I don’t think we can go ahead in this situation,” said Marchesi.
But ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina said her point of order should be dismissed, as the “women’s parliament” was not a formal structure of the national legislature and therefore the rule did not apply to its proceedings.
“This is not a house sitting of the National Assembly nor a joint sitting of the National Council of Provinces and therefore there is nothing wrong with wearing party colours” Majodina said.
“In the 2019 women’s parliament, women could wear whatever, we were here in our traditional outfits and nobody raised anything. In our preparation and our concept document for women’s parliament there is nothing that speaks up against wearing party colours. So if we are to amend the rules for the future we can look into that but for now there is nothing that is untoward about their outfits” Majodina added.
Deputy chair of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Sylvia Lucas ruled that wearing party regalia had never been disallowed during sittings of the women’s parliament.
“I don’t know if you’ve [referring to Marchesi] been attending women’s parliament but even last year women wore regalia because we invited them as parties and the public so we can’t be prescribing what women can wear. We are prescriptive when it comes to MPs but not members of the public,” said Lucas.
“And since the rules do not address it, there is nothing that we can say about it. I think we can continue because this is a women’s parliament. The general rules of parliament do not apply. Even the issue of giving parties proportional time, we’ve waived that rule and given them more time than they would have originally,” she added.
Lucas stated in her ruling that she acknowledged the concerns but there was no right to prescribe to invited women how they should dress. After the ruling, proceedings continued, more than half an hour behind schedule.