South Africa’s parliament turned into a chaotic fistfight on Feb. 9 as opposition lawmakers refused to let president Jacob Zuma deliver his annual state of the nation address. Broadcast live on television, it was almost a play-by-play replay of 2016’s dramatics.
Along with the usual red carpet and marching bands, the streets of Cape Town saw 441 soldiers deployed alongside police, more than the normal ceremonial military presence. The increased security was an attempt to avoid last year’s protests outside parliament as Zuma spoke. Opposition parties saw it as increased state security in a country led by an increasingly paranoid man.
Inside, the scene looked as it did last year with the Economic Freedom Fighters, the second largest opposition party know for their red workers’ overalls, refused to recognize Zuma’s legitimacy as a president over a series of corruption scandals.
Other opposition parties followed suit, with lawmakers interrupting the president’s speech. Zuma was called a “scoundrel” and a “constitutional delinquent. ” A veteran politician walked out in protest, another was asked to leave. Several others followed suit, but others refused to cede the floor to Zuma. But that only fueled the chaos.
“Please leave, baba,” EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi shouted at the president, using the isiZulu honorific for an elderly man.
Instead it was Ndlozi and the rest of the EFF who were removed from the house of parliament. Men and women in white shirts and black trousers looked like bouncers as they dragged the EFF out, grabbing at the party members’ red overalls. With them, the country’s currency took a brief tumble against the dollar.
In the gallery, guests coughed as pepper spray was released. Zuma sat unmoved, former president Thabo Mbeki and the constitutional court justices shifted awkwardly in their seats. ANC members of parliament shouted “Get out!”
The Democratic Alliance, the largest opposition party, tried to stage a moment of silence for 94 patients with disabilities who died in a health department bungle. Instead, they were ignored. When they tried to intervene in the violence, a member from the ruling party benches shouted an expletive into his mic, while others shouted “sell-out,” and “racist.” They staged a walkout, followed by other remaining parties. Outside, the politicians were met by police in riot gear.
Once most of the opposition left, Zuma began again. He let out a trademark giggle at the oppositions’ expense and proceeded to read a speech that sounded similar to the years before.
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