OPINION: Sona signal jamming, a menacing message

Many South Africans have reacted with disbelief at State Security Minister David Mahlobo's claim that the jamming of cellphone signals in the National Assembly last week was the result of a "technical oversight".

And rightfully so.

Mahlobo would have you believe that the jamming of cellphone signals was a "counter threat measure" related to a no-fly zone that was enforced over Parliament for a specific period of time, and that due to an oversight, this measure was enforced for longer than scheduled.

It's misleading, because anyone who was there on Thursday will tell you that the signal was disrupted only inside the House, while just a few steps outside, and of course anywhere else in the Parliamentary precinct, the signal was just fine.

Disregard this explanation from the minister entirely, because it's included to kick up dust, to complicate matters and hide the lie.

The fact is, the only area targeted for cellphone disruption was inside the House, so the claim that this had to do with a no-fly zone is plain rubbish.

Once you set out a timeline of events, it exposes the lie. It makes Mahlobo's version of events so implausible that no thinking person would ever believe it.

It appears that the discovery of the signal problems was made at about 5:20pm, when _Beeld _news editor Pieter du Toit tweeted that Parliament's technical staff confirmed that there was indeed a jamming device in the House and that it was disrupting the signal.

This is confirmation from staff that there was an active plan to disrupt the signal. Someone clearly knew what was being done.

Again, it's worth noting that this was the only area in the entire precinct where the signal was disrupted.

Technical staff at @ParliamentofRSA have confirmed that there's a signal jammer in the roof, blocking signal in the NA cc @AdriaanBasson

At 5:39pm, Rapport editor Adriaan Basson confirms that Parliament spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs had been informed of the situation, and that he was investigation the matter. Here is someone with access to almost all channels in Parliament being informed of the problems.

Parliament spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs just told @waldimar he wasn't aware of cellphone scrambling and was investigating. #SONA2015

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) was alerted to the developing situation and at 5:48 issued a statement condemning the blocking of reception in the house.

We call on Parliamentary officials and the Presidency to urgently review the decision to cut off cell phone signal in the chamber. #SONA2015

By 6:26pm, Du Toit confirmed that Jacobs as well as Speaker Baleka Mbete's office had been informed of the situation. This is a full 30 minutes before President Jacob Zuma entered the house and proceedings started.

Still nothing in the NA: @ParliamentofRSA's spokesperson & the speaker's office have been alerted. #BringBackTheSignal

At 7:04pm, the DA's Mmusi Maimane raises a point of order to complain about the signal jamming, stating that doing so was unconstitutional and that the party would approach the High Court on an urgent basis if the matter wasn't immediately addressed.

DA raises point of order the signal jamming is in violation of the Constitution. Mbete says the secretary will follow up. Not good enough.

In less than 10 minutes the signal was restored to the house, confirmed by Du Toit's tweet at 7:13pm.

Live from @ParliamentofRSA! Signal back on. But who and why?

At 7:17pm, Mbete told the house that the issue of the scrambling had been "unscrambled".

Mbete says the issue of the scrambling has been "unscrambled". #BringBackTheSignal

Tracking the timeline shows that the jamming device was discovered in the house about 100 minutes prior to the arrival of Zuma, and that this discovery set off a series of complaints from various journalists to numerous responsible persons in Parliament.

The issue was further raised by Sanef, who themselves would have been complaining to their respective sources at Parliament.

The complaint was further amplified by journalists, and some MPs, chanting "bring back the signal" in the House.

There would have to have been a catastrophic failure in the lines of communication for those in authority not to know that there was a jamming device activated and functioning inside the house.

Or, as is clear, those in authority knew that such device was operating because there was a clear and conscious decision for that to be the case.

It's further damning that once the issue was elevated to a matter of Parliament, by Maimane's point of order, that it took less than 10 minutes to address - the instruction then came from the top to switch it off and the instruction was complied with.

What South Africans are witnessing here is what has been seen before. When Zuma's friends the Guptas landed a wedding party at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, it was rogue International Relations and air force personnel who allowed it to happen.

When it was massive spending on Zuma's palatial Nkandla compound, it was an over-zealous architect.

Now, when the State Security Agency blocks signal in the National Assembly, it's an "operational error by a member on duty". When is this government going to stop treating its citizens like idiots?

Barry Bateman is a senior reporter at Eyewitness News . He is the co-author of Behind The Door: the Oscar and Reeva Story. Follow him on Twitter: @barrybateman