South African president Jacob Zuma delivered the annual state of the nation address to parliament yesterday. Or, at least, he tried to. The scene descended into chaos after several interruptions by opposition rivals from the colorful Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party.
Julius Malema, leader of the party whose members are recognizable by their red berets, red overalls, and red tunics, repeatedly challenged Zuma during his address. He asked the president when he would return money related to a scandal involving the “upgrade” of a private home in the president’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal. A report by South Africa’s top corruption investigator estimated the upgrade had cost the country’s taxpayers up to $23 million.
As the interruptions became increasingly confrontational, the speaker of the parliament ordered Malema and his deputies removed from the building. They didn’t go quietly:
The EFF was formed two years ago and contested their first general election in May, coming in third place with 25 seats in the 400-seat parliament. The party promised to shake up the staid state of South African politics, and they certainly accomplished that yesterday. Members of the the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, also left the chamber in protest at the EFF’s expulsion.
As Malema repeated to the speaker several times before being ordered to leave: “I’m not here on your invitation, I’m elected to be here.”