Safety of MPs under spotlight after break in at DA Chief Whip’s Parliament office

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The safety of Members of Parliament on the premises is again under the spotlight. This is after Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula informed the National Assembly Programming Committee that the office of Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Natasha Mazzone was broken into.

Members from the different political parties agreed that the matter was of great concern as they raised their own fears.

The issue of security at Parliament has been raised at various points in the past few years. The most serious incident occurred in 2018 when a senior manager was able to carry a firearm onto the premises and committed suicide.

There was then talk of tightening of security. But it looks like burglars are still able to gain access.

Mazzone says she was especially concerned with the level of vandalism that accompanied the break-in.

“They broke so unnecessarily. It was almost like vandalisation of the office where one of the fluorescent lights was ripped off the ceiling and we believe that it was an attempt to steal the actual light bulbs themselves. Half of it left hanging from the ceiling, the rest on the floor. The locks were actually broken out of the cupboards. What did worry us though is that the access into my particular office seemed to have been done with a key.”

Members complained especially about security cameras that do not work. The Speaker told members that she had been informed that some cameras in Parliament do not work because MPs had objected to them.

But African National Congress Deputy Chief Whip Doris Dlakude says all members had objected to was cameras in offices.

“Cameras should be installed in all corners. Where members objected, I remember we discussed this with members several times in the Chief Whips forum, the issue of safety of members in parliament. It was only inside the offices where members objected but on the corridors, the cameras should be working so that we know who comes in and who comes out.”

Natasha Ntlangwini of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) says she feels especially vulnerable as a woman MP because of the number of people who roam around the premises.

“There’s a great deal of our safety being compromised. And if the report does come out that there are no surveillance cameras in certain areas, surveillance cameras must be installed. I think Parliament shouldn’t take it from members and say no don’t install cameras in this passage and that passage. There are construction people working on-site and many times one does feel unsafe. You are alone in your office and you are working. Ever since I started in Parliament, I forever work with a closed locked office because you just don’t feel safe as a woman in Parliament.”

United Democratic Movement Chief Whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa also agreed that women do not feel safe.

“In the recent months, I’ve had to let my staff members go home early because they are predominantly female and they feel unsafe especially on Friday afternoons because there are a lot of people who gain access into the precinct and they will find them roaming up and down. Some of them using even the toilets in Marks building, probably even other buildings of Parliament, people who are unidentified and unaccounted for. The researcher in my office even confronted one of them a couple of weeks ago to find out if he’s a visitor. And he was not a visitor. He just wanted to use the ablution facilities in Parliament.”

The Speaker said she will ensure that she is personally involved with the matter of security. She will call all the relevant stakeholders responsible for safety and security, including the police and parliamentary security.

Some Members of Parliament will also be roped into the meetings to deal with this matter.