Security guards forcibly removed 20 members of the opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) from the National Assembly Chamber in South Africa’s Houses of Parliament on Tuesday. Chaos started when the EFF members tried to prevent South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma from giving an address, which quickly escalated into chanting, the hurling of insults, bottles, and eventually punches across the chamber at Zuma and his party, the African National Congress (ANC). The politicians, dressed in EEF uniforms of red overalls and gumboots to symbolise the working man, were eventually forced through a side door of the Chamber by plain-clothed security after fights broke out when they were asked to leave by the Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete.
The EFF are following in the footsteps of South Africa’s largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), who walked out of parliament in March. The leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane, was similarly asked to leave the Chamber by the Deputy Speaker after he continually interrupted Zuma with accusations of corruption and nepotism in his official appointments. Unlike Maimane and the DA, however, the EFF members did not go quietly.
EFF leader Julius Malema argued that President Zuma was not fit to address the house after recent court decisions against him. Mr. Zuma faced a vote of impeachment last month after the High Court ruled he (and in fact the entire National Assembly) had violated the constitution by failing to repay the $16 million of taxpayers’ money he had spent on renovating his private home in Nkandla. The High Court had also overturned a previous decision to drop 783 corruption charges that had accumulated against Zuma. The decision, made in April 2009, has since been declared “irrational” by Judge Aubrey Ledwaba, and all 738 charges are once more up for review.
Julius Malema has since claimed Zuma has no legitimacy, and needs to be rehabilitated. Before he was evicted from the Chamber, he yelled that it was the president who should be thrown out. Outside the National Assembly they said they would repeat their disruptive actions in parliament until Zuma resigned.
“These bouncers must know that if they give violence, we will respond with violence. We are not scared.
“Zuma will never find peace in this parliament. Every time he comes here, the same thing will happen.”
Zuma’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), was quick off the mark to demand the EFF face charges for its “disgraceful actions” in the assembly. It is difficult to take this point seriously, given that the ANC voted to save Zuma from impeachment last month. 233 MPs, almost exclusively from the ANC, voted against the motion to impeach Zuma, heavily outweighing the 143 who supported the motion. Mr. Zuma, confident in his party’s loyalty, didn’t even attend the proceedings himself.
Whilst we wait to hear if the National Prosecuting Authority will reinstate some or all of the corruption charges, Zuma appears to remain calm. After the EFF eviction, he looked into the faces of the remaining Assembly and said, “This house needs to do something about itself… I believe that there is a lot that we have to do in this country to fight poverty”. This is something the occupants of the packed public gallery no doubt agreed with. Dozens of people sporting black T-shirts emblazoned with Zuma’s face and the words: “Accused No.1” could be seen, watching the performance in sad silence.