MPs worried about parliament's security, but a military zone also strikes fear
'My appeal is this: let’s not use a sledge hammer to kill a fly. Let’s not make this a military area'
While MPs are worried about security in Parliament‚ they have warned against the militarisation of the institution in order to improve security.
Police and public works bosses appeared before MPs on Wednesday to discuss the security of the national legislature. The meeting was convened as urgent, and held during the parliamentary recess, because of an incident two Fridays ago when a parliamentary official shot and killed himself in his office.
Parliament is a gun-free area and questions have been asked about how Lennox Garane managed to get a gun into the precinct.
The meeting heard that Garane did not place his bag through an X-ray scanning machine when he entered the building that housed his office.
A police officer stationed at that entrance was served with a suspension notice the following day and faces a disciplinary process.
Police found the officer contravened standard operating procedure for static protectors by allowing Garane to gain access to the building without screening his bag.
The meeting on Wednesday heard that many access control mechanisms‚ metal detectors and X-ray machines for deliveries were not in working order, despite the department of public works having a contract in place with a private company to maintain the machines.
The meeting also heard of other security challenges‚ including that delivery vehicles are not properly searched when they enter the parliamentary precinct; the perimeter fence is inadequate; and infrastructure to cater for busses and heavy-duty vehicles is also inadequate.
These problems were identified in November 2015 but nothing was done to address them.
ANC MP Leonard Ramatlakane noted that both public works and police identified‚ correctly‚ a lapse on that particular day that may have “caused this problem”. He said this meant corrective measures had to be taken.
He warned: “I think some of the measures that are suggested may just border on the heavy-handed militarisation of the precinct as a result of a particular incident that has taken place and which has been correctly identified.
“Some of the measures [the police have outlined] may not seriously be in keeping with the ethos of parliament in terms of parliament being an institution of the people. We should not take that kind of heavy-handed approach in dealing with this.”
Instead‚ he said‚ the focus should be on some of those lapses — including the problems identified by the police‚ like machines or cameras that are out of order.
“My appeal is this: let’s not use a sledge hammer to kill a fly. Let’s not make this a military area‚” he said.
Other MPs‚ as well as police minister Bheki Cele‚ agreed.
The DA’s Dianne Kohler Barnard said: “I am very aware of what my colleague Leonard has said that perhaps we shouldn’t go to war in this instance.”
Cele registered his concern about the security details being outlined in an open meeting‚ saying these were assisting whoever may want to plan an attack on Parliament.
He said he had been informed by two police generals who were watching from home that the police had gone into too much detail.
Cele called on MPs and senior officials in parliament to co-operate with the police in parliament.
“I do have evidence of people saying‚ ‘Do you know who I am?’‚” he said.
Cele said this was intimidating the officers‚ most of whom are constables — people he described as “very junior guys”.
National police commissioner Khehla Sitole said the police accepted there had been human error which required the strengthening of command and control. Relevant instructions had already been given‚ he said.
“When I received the report [about the Garane incident]‚ I wanted to know what was the role of the commanders and what did they do.”
He said the commanders would also be taken to task because it is their responsibility to see to it that the static protectors do their job.
Sitole said he would also request an urgent meeting between the police and parliament leadership.