The SANDF members will help police “maintain law and order” during the opening of parliament‚ the Presidency said.
Opposition parties were quick to criticise the move‚ airing their views on social media within an hour of the statement’s release.
The EFF’s Floyd Shivambu tweeted:
The Zupta eatablishmebt must learn the simple reality that Parliament is governed by Rules, not fear & intimidation. We are not scared! pic.twitter.com/JqjR2sGA1o
— Floyd Shivambu (@FloydShivambu) February 7, 2017
In a statement released on Twitter EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said: “We condemn this initiative as the unleashing of the army on the people of South Africa. It must be seen as the declaration of war on citizens‚ which means Zuma is planning to murder those he disagrees with at the SONA.” Referring to Zuma as a “constitutional delinquent” Ndlozi said the military deployment was aimed at oppressing the opposition. He add that law and order is the domain of the SA Police Service.
DA Chief Whip John Steenhuisen said the deployment of 441 soldiers‚ along with 6 000 police personnel‚ was highly unusual.
“SANDF always played a ceremonial role in the past at SONA. This is the first time they’re going to be deployed to maintain law and order.
“The people’s precinct has now been transformed to a precinct under martial law – there are only 400 member of Parliament and a public gallery. It’s completely unnecessary and over the top.
“This is a move by a beleaguered president trying to show that he still has power.”
The UDM’s Bantu Holomisa was curious as to what threat Zuma was guarding against.
“Zuma is paranoid. Where is the threat which allows soldiers to guard Parliament? Who is the enemy? Can he please share his threat with the public.”
Holomisa said he did not recall the army being deployed to Parliament before.
SA National Defence Union National Secretary Pikkie Greeff said the move was “out of the norm.”
“It certainly is unprecedented.”
Greeff would not comment further on the deployment.
Asked for details on what role the soldiers would play‚ Department of Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said it is not policy to comment on operational matters.
He asked for more time to comment on whether this is the first time the army has been deployed to Parliament.
Security is expected to be unusually tight at this year’s address.
At least seven streets are expected to be closed surrounding the parliamentary precinct‚ according to an internal memorandum from secretary to parliament Gengezi Mgidlana to all staff members.
Staff who are not performing any specific duties on the day of the address have been told not to come in.
Parliament has also said journalists will be restricted to a “media square” – a move that has raised concerns about the ability of journalists to cover SONA freely.
This is what MPs had to say on social media:
Actions of JZ in deploying the army can’t be legal, violate the separation of powers, 4 personal use. I have asked our legal team to engage https://t.co/jTPlf36d6F
— Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane) February 7, 2017
Instead of bringing a compelling speech to SONA, the president is instead bringing the Army…… pic.twitter.com/WcaC1p1XPi
— John Steenhuisen (@jsteenhuisen) February 7, 2017
We are ready for the so called #SONA, no amount of security presence can deter us, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death”.#Asijki
— Julius Sello Malema (@Julius_S_Malema) February 6, 2017
Almost FIVE HUNDRED soldiers. In Parliament. The “People’s” Parliament. To protect Zuma. From what, rambunctious MPs? The exuberant public?
— Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) February 7, 2017
The Zupta government has declared a state of emergency in Cape Town. The illegitimate government is very scared of its own people.#Asijiki
— Julius Sello Malema (@Julius_S_Malema) February 7, 2017
The @_SANDF_ should be employed for ceremonial duties only at the opening of @ParliamentofRSA! https://t.co/BJ4Ncz0JmG
— David Maynier MP (@DavidMaynier) February 7, 2017