Brawl erupts in South Africa's parliament during president's speech

Security guards clash with far-left lawmakers who disrupted Jacob Zuma's state-of-the-nation address.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Security guards dressed in white shirts take down a lawmaker from the Economic Freedom Fighters party.

Updated Feb 10, 2017

A session of South Africa's parliament convened for a keynote address by the president descended into chaos on Thursday as far-left lawmakers brawled with security guards after interrupting the speech.

Deputies from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party fired questions at Jacob Zuma for more than an hour, forcing the president to halt his state-of-the-nation address.

Zuma had earlier authorised more than 400 soldiers to join the security team outside the building during the speech, an unprecedented move his opponents described as a "militarisation" of parliament.

Speaker Baleka Mbete ordered the EFF contingent ejected after their leader, Julius Malema, called Zuma "rotten to the core."

Zuma has been facing a tough time since allegations surfaced that he misused taxpayers' money. (Reuters)

Exiting the chamber with his deputies a short time later, opposition Democratic Alliance party leader Mmusi Maimane said the president was unfit to hold office.

Previous Zuma speeches in parliament have led to disruptions but Thursday's was the most violent.

This time the scuffles spilled over into the precinct of the building.

A couple of blocks away, police fired stun grenades to disperse supporters of the EFF and the president's African National Congress (ANC) party.

The ruling party holds more than 60 percent of the 400 seats in parliament but Zuma faced a revolt by some ANC members in November.

That same month, an anti-corruption watchdog called for a judicial inquiry into alleged influence-peddling in his government. He has denied the allegations.

In the speech he resumed after the fighting ended, Zuma took issue with the distribution of wealth in a domestic economy still mostly controlled by whites more than two decades after apartheid ended in 1994.

Daniel Silke, a director at Political Futures Consultancy, described Thursday's incidents as very serious, adding: "The ANC will come out very poorly after this."

Silke said investors would remain cautious as they awaited details of the economic transformation Zuma evoked.

Opposition has stopped Zuma before from addressing the parliament but the altercation this time was severe. (Reuters)

The economy has slowed sharply over the past five years, while unemployment has hit a record 27 percent, fuelling criticism that Zuma faced for extravagantly furnishing his country home at taxpayers' expense.


TRTWorld, Reuters