Does the president need to grow a thicker skin? Cyril Ramaphosa's "shut up" comment to DA chief whip John Steenhuisen in Parliament on Tuesday has sparked a debate about the limits of parliamentary heckling, and a heated exchange between MPs and experts on Twitter about whether the president was within his rights to lose his temper in the house.
Ramaphosa lost his cool with Steenhuisen during a debate, after Steenhuisen heckled him. Steenhuisen replied that "this isn't the NEC. This is Parliament."
House chairperson Cedric Frolick ordered Ramaphosa to withdraw the comment, which he did.
[EARLIER] #RamaphosaQandA: The moment President Cyril Ramaphosa lost his cool with DA chief whip John Steenhuisen in Parliament, telling him to "shut up". Courtesy #DStv403 Find out more here >> https://t.co/dGbdl3CL5P pic.twitter.com/5C0BUqOKh9— eNCA (@eNCA) May 8, 2018
But that was not the end of the matter, and MPs carried on the debate on Twitter.
His response shocked many, who did not expect that kind of harshness to come from the usually-composed president.
That "Shut up" came from a deep place... I've never seen Ramaphosa lose his cool before EVER 😂— Bra Nape (@Nape_MM) May 8, 2018
DA MPs called on Ramaphosa to develop a thicker skin. DA MP Phumzile van Damme said even former president Jacob Zuma did not react that way and he was heckled all the time, and said it was "parly culture".
Dear @CyrilRamaphosa,— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) May 8, 2018
1. Everyone is heckled, it Parly culture
2. Be Strong, even JZ who was heckled relentlessly, didn't scream "shut up"
3. This is Parliament. Thick skin.
She also pointed out that she had been heckled and insulted in Parliament before, and ANC MPs were silent.
When Mervyn Dirks heckled me & called me a straatmeid & showed zap signs at opposition members the ANC was tjoepstil, now that their President was mildly heckled it's tears. Gerrara here man.— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) May 8, 2018
And now all of the suddenly heckling must be banned because Cyril Ramaphosa was heckled in a *parliamentary manner* and responded in an unparliamentary manner because he felt a little hot under the collar. #ThisIsParliament— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) May 8, 2018
Former spokesperson for Malusi Gigaba, Mayihlome Tshwete, took on Van Damme, arguing that Steenhuisen's heckling was unnecessary.
people want to hear about improvements to their lives not cute little parliament cultures that you find entertaining https://t.co/IFNFlrHWxU— Mayihlome (@MTshwete) May 8, 2018
But van Damme pointed out that it was allowed in terms of the rules of Parliament.
shouting at a President "you are talking nonsense" is parliamentary but responding "shut up" isn't ? https://t.co/UZtZwqWpAf— Mayihlome (@MTshwete) May 8, 2018
Others agreed with Tshwete, that the heckling from Steenhuisen was a distraction from what the president had to say.
Fair point, I'm sure that's why the president withdrew the comment. That said, the disruptions rob us of the opportunity to hear what the head of state/government has to say. Less disruptions please.— Makhosini Nkosi (@Makhosini) May 8, 2018
But former Cope leader Mbazima Shilowa was also of the opinion that the entire affair was not news, as "it happens all the time".
What Ramaphosa said to @jsteenhuisen wouldn't be news in the House of Commons. Same with him heckling CR. It happens all the time. We shouldn't mollycoddle parliamentarians— Mbhazima Shilowa (@Enghumbhini) May 8, 2018
Naturally Steenhuisen defended his own behaviour, and his tweets were largely uncontroversial until he said his experience was a freedom of speech issue, which many felt was taking it a step too far.
When a President loses his cool in Parliament you should worry. Its a robust environment, if the President cannot navigate it deftly then he is going to have a tough time. CR needs to develop a thicker skin, this is Parliament, not a board meeting or the NEC https://t.co/SJhMUf95FZ— John Steenhuisen MP (@jsteenhuisen) May 8, 2018
To tweeps celebrating that the President told me to "shut up", laugh now but take note. It starts with the opposition being told to shut up, it will soon move to the media and pretty soon all will be "shut up"We must always speak up and speak out, it's how democracy is sustained.— John Steenhuisen MP (@jsteenhuisen) May 8, 2018
Come on John. You don't get to antagonize someone and then appeal to the right of expression. You are cheapening a sacred and dignified principle. Your howling at the president is not to be compared to the work of serious journalists. Please take our hard earned rights seriously. https://t.co/RSjtp4PXnF— xhanti (@XhantiPayi) May 8, 2018
As expected, Steenhuisen's comment attracted the ire of South African Twitter, and on a lighter note, many saw it fit to give the MP a taste of his own medicine.
Shut up. https://t.co/WgKmxmdTeC— Bram Hanekom (@bram_hanekom) May 8, 2018
Quick survey, what's more annoying and irritating? Retweet if you think it's John Steenhuisen and like if you think it's a mosquito. (25 marks) #RamaphosaQandA #DeLille #JohnSteenhuisen pic.twitter.com/N1zs0phbF8— Seeker of truth (@Mazana) May 8, 2018