Unauthorized users disrupted a video call among South African lawmakers with pornographic content and racial abuse against the meeting’s chairwoman on Thursday.
Before the meeting began, the official Parliament of South Africa Twitter account published details of the call, which included the password to access the video conference via the Zoom video conferencing app.
Join the National Assembly Programme Committee Meeting:
Zoom Meeting https://t.co/ow5v4ghjwd
Meeting ID: 941 8431 1521
One tap mobile
+27875517702,,94184311521#,,1#,928020# South Africa
+27875503946,,94184311521#,,1#,928020# South Africa
— Parliament of RSA (@ParliamentofRSA) May 7, 2020
As the meeting took place, lawmakers suddenly found themselves bombarded with pornographic images and racial abuse towards National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise. It was later resumed using a private link.
Modise later expressed her concerns over using Zoom, which despite its rapid growth in popularity has also faced criticism for the ease with which many hackers have entered high-level meetings between government officials, otherwise referred to as Zoom-Bombing.
The 60-year-old cited concerns faced by the British Parliament after it introduced digital hybrid meetings powered by the platform, which had been rejected by both Taiwan and the United States over fears that they could be spied on by communist China.
“It is not only the South African Parliament that they have failed, that one in the UK has also been failed by Zoom,” she contested. “So, I am very skeptical of going back to Zoom, I must express that. I do not want to be exposed to what I was exposed to this morning, I do not think the country deserves that.”
Democratic Alliance (DA) chief whip Natasha Mazzone apologized for the incident, telling Modise: “Madam Speaker, I hope that you are right, no-one should ever have to suffer that kind of abuse and my heart goes out to you especially, this morning.”
Mazzone also questioned the effectiveness of carrying out virtual committee meetings, referring to the collapse on Wednesday night of a joint meeting of the Parliament’s Public Enterprises committees after African National Congress and Economic Freedom Fighters lawmakers began insulting each other.
Like most countries around the world facing the Chinese coronavirus, South Africa’s parliament is closed and all political meetings take place via video conference calls as authorities attempt to contain the spread of the pandemic.
With its population of close to 58 million, South Africa has not been too badly hit by the coronavirus, so far reporting 7,808 cases and 153 deaths. Around 3,135 are said to have already made a full recovery.