We knew about a device in Parliament: speaker

Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, has admitted that government knew about a device being used to protect president Jacob Zuma, during the state of the nation address on 12 February.

It was later established that the device was actively jamming signals within the building.

Mbete was speaking as part of a panel at a post-SONA media briefing held in Parliament in Tuesday (17 February 2015).

The speaker said that they were informed days before the event that there would be “certain equipment” deployed for the SONA, though they were not explicitly aware it was a jamming device.

The speaker said that the equipment was used to protect the president and deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and that Parliament did not ask any questions.

Mbete said that the media was not the target of any security measures, and that a detailed report would be presented by the owners of the device.

“Government does not own the device used for scrambling,” the panel said, though Mbete later implicated the State Security Agency, saying that it owned it and would deal with the matter.

When asked why the device was there, and who the intended targets were, the panel had no specifics.

“We couldn’t have a target because we didn’t internalise that one of those machines was a scrambler,” said chair of the National Council of Provinces, Thandi Modise.

During the SONA address last week, journalists and media houses reported that mobile phone signals were jammed inside Parliament.

Many published images of a strange device found inside Parliament which was the alleged source of the scrambling.

The incident was condemned by political parties, including the Democratic Alliance, and the ANC.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) said only the country’s security cluster departments were permitted to use jamming devices.

“The national security cluster departments may, where supported by relevant security legislation, deploy the use of jammers in relation to, among others, state security functions,” spokesman Paseka Maleka said in a statement.

An application by media houses challenging jamming of cell signals in Parliament is set to begin in the Western Cape today.

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We knew about a device in Parliament: speaker