A well-aimed kick. A strong shove, body checks, shouting and a fight for dominance.
This isn’t a rowdy football (soccer) match. This is the latest session of the Pan African Parliament.
The continental body brings together African legislators to implement the policy of the African Union. And its latest session, this week, was suspended amid a physical scuffle over leadership that prompted this Portuguese-speaking delegate to call for help as a literal fight happened on the floor:
“Please call the police,” he pleaded, through a translator, over the official feed provided by South Africa’s government, as delegates in suits and traditional regalia shoved, kicked and wrestled with each other at the venue in Johannesburg.
“Please call the police, put an order here. It is urgent, it is urgent. You should call the police. Please call the police. Please call the police. This is urgent. This is urgent, please call the police, please call the police. Please. Please, call the police.”
Let’s go to the replay
VOA watched the two-hour ordeal. In the style of Africa’s favorite sport, football (soccer), here’s how the action unfolded:
We start on May 31 with all 229 MPs, taking to the field at this venue near Johannesburg. The goal: elect a new president.
The Southern African bloc, led by feisty, far-left striker Julius Malema of South Africa — the sharp-tongued leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party — strode out onto the field with strong support of their region’s candidate, Zimbabwe’s Fortune Charumbira.
But they were met by a strong defense from their West and East African opponents, who each back a different candidate. The Southern side pushed their offensive, arguing that the leadership should rotate by region — a West African currently holds the top spot.
About 28 minutes into the first half, things got loud, with one faction chanting for elections. And then, a few minutes later, it got physical. In the five minutes of chaos that unfolded, members committed most of the classic red-card fouls: kicking, tripping, jumping, charging, striking, holding and pushing — basically, everything but touching the ball, though some members did try to grab the plastic ballot box. MPs also rushed the podium several more times before the speaker called things off.
And the post-match analysis
Here’s the Southern African take on it, from South African parliamentary spokesman Moloto Mothapo. The Pan African Parliament is not supposed to be a blood sport, he said.
“The two caucuses’ attempts to continue with electing the new president and ignoring advice from the AU that the well-established principle of geographical rotation within the union be observed is a sign that they do not value unity in the continent,” he told VOA.
From Nairobi, pan-African activist Daniel Mwambonu was quick to pin the blame on not just West Africa, but on the country that he believes taught them to play rough.
“The Francophone region is putting personal interests first,” he told VOA “… So basically, they are trying to reduce the African parliament into a dictatorship of some sort. What we witnessed in countries that are controlled by France, there’s actually coups every time we have a new leader, he or she has removed from power by the military. This situation we are witnessing in Mali is because these countries that were colonized by France and they actually behave like colonizers themselves because of the French assimilation policy.”
And from Ghana, Pan-African activist Sarfo Abebrese notes that no Southern African has held the presidency, which bolsters Southern Africa’s case for a change of leadership. But Abebrese, a lawyer, said the Southern team didn’t exactly play by the complex rules of the game.
“I do not think that I have much time to go into the nitty-gritty of the rotation argument,” he said.
“But suffice it to say that if you have a situation where South Africa thinks that they really, really need to have a candidate at the helm of affairs for the first time, they have to go by the rules, that is all that I can say. Get amendments done and Article 93 and then let's get back and get the right thing to be done for the sake of Africa and for African unity and pan Africanism that the parliament is supposed to stand for.”
Mwambonu, who heads the Global Pan-Africanism Network, says a possible solution is to bring in more referees from civil society. Here’s the call he would have made.
“We’d have issued them a red card,” he said. “And if we were there, actually, we would not have allowed that chaos to happen. Because we are really passionate about Africa, and that’s what pan-Africanism is all about: putting the interests of Africa first.”
And that is one thing that all of the parties here seem to agree on: Africa, as a continent, was not helped by this. Nor, apparently, was this important legislative body: the parliament called off its presidential election, leaving the organization without a clear leader until they meet on the field again.