Scuffles broke out during a meeting of the African Union parliament on Monday, as a week-long debate over the election of their new president boiled over.
In scenes of mayhem broadcasted on South Africa’s national broadcaster SABC, lawmakers could be seen rushing to the floor, shouting at officials, to express their discontent.
Members of Parliament wrestled over a white ballot box located at the front of the room that was meant to hold the votes for the election of the Pan-African Parliament President.
Two women first fought over the box, trying to rip it out of each other’s hands. Then, an enraged male lawmaker ripped off his suit jacket and aimed a kick in the direction of female member Pemmy Majodina of South Africa.
The unidentified lawmaker said he was not trying to kick Majodina but rather trying to kick a cellphone out of the hand of another lawmaker recording the chaos on his phone.
“It’s quite a rough and chaotic situation now, and the matter is about the election and rotational principle,” Majodina told SABC.
As the mayhem unfolded, other lawmakers shouted into their microphones that there were “armed men in the room” and called repeatedly for police and security.
They claimed that they were being threatened by a group of South Africans with guns. Majodina said there were no guns in the room.
A display of violence, heavily condemned by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat.
In a tweet, he said “The shocking scenes of violence at the #PanAfricanParliament tarnish the image of this honourable institution.”
The shocking scenes of violence at the #PanAfricanParliament today tarnish the image of this honourable institution. I appeal to all parliamentarians to recover their composure and comply with the rules and procedures of the institution.
— Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) May 31, 2021
The election had already been postponed last Thursday when a staff member working at the venue near Johannesburg tested positive for the coronavirus.
But that meeting last week also first revealed the tensions when South African lawmaker Julius Malema was heard threatening Malian lawmaker Ali Kone in the midst of the sitting.
“I’ll kill you outside. Outside this room, I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you,” Malema, a notoriously fiery leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a far-left opposition party in South Africa, was heard saying while pointing his finger at Kone.
The chaos stems from a disagreement between West and Central African countries and a block of states from southern Africa over whether the presidency should move around the various regions of the continent on a rotational basis.
Lawmakers pointed out that the last two president of the Pan-African Parliament have been from West Africa, and that not a single president of the African Union institution had originated from a Southern African country, since its creation in 2004.