Scuffles erupted on the floor of the African Union (AU)’s parliament on Monday in Midrand, South Africa, as lawmakers fought each other over a ballot box, with one man aiming a high kick at the head of a female parliamentarian.
The AU — a governing body comprised of 55 member states within the African continent — met on May 31 in Midrand to discuss the postponed election of a new president of the AU’s legislative body. After a female AU member declared a further postponement of the election at Monday’s meeting, the parliament floor erupted in chaos. The same woman who declared the vote’s suspension immediately jumped up from her seat and seized an empty ballot box placed at the floor’s center in anticipation of the presidential vote. Moments later, another female AU member attempted to snatch the box from her colleague, sparking a heated tussle.
Other legislators soon abandoned their seats to rush toward the center of the parliament’s floor in an attempt to join the scuffle over the ballot box, creating a larger melee. One AU member, Djibril War from Senegal, ripped off his suit jacket and aimed a high kick at a disputed target, narrowly missing the head of Pemmy Majodina, a female AU member from South Africa.
“Some members managed to intervene, with many then shouting out: ‘You can’t hit a woman,’” according to South Africa’s Eyewitness News (EWN).
War later told reporters “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,” according to the Associated Press (AP).
The parliament meeting was broadcast live by the state-run South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), which inadvertently captured the chaos of Monday’s AU meeting as it unfolded. An unidentified voice could be heard pleading, “Please call the police,” during the live SABC broadcast. EWN reported hearing the same.
“One person called for help after the members clashed, with some throwing punches: ‘Please call the police, it is urgent. You should call the police,’” EWN wrote.
Chants of “no rotation, no election,” were heard echoing through the parliamentary chamber on Monday as the violence ensued. The chants referred to an ongoing dispute between a block of AU member states from West Africa and a separate block from southern Africa. The two factions disagree over whether the AU presidency should rotate between different regions of Africa on a regular basis. The previous two presidents of the AU’s legislative body have both been from West Africa. The union, which was established in 2004, has never had a president from southern Africa.
When AU members met last week to discuss the legislative body’s presidential election — postponed allegedly due to a staff member testing positive for the Chinese coronavirus — South African legislator Julius Malema was overheard by reporters issuing a death threat to Malian lawmaker and fellow AU member Ali Kone.
“I’ll kill you outside. Outside this room, I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you,” Malema said as he pointed his finger at Kone.
Malema is “a notoriously fiery leader of a far-left opposition party in South Africa,” according to AP. He was seen attending Monday’s violent AU meeting in Midrand, according to EWN.