”Racist, criminal, sellout, scoundrel, delinquent.” These are some of the slurs that MPs hurled at one another in the chaos that preceded President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation speech last night.
The speech was delayed by over an hour.
Insults were not the only things that went flying. Members of the EFF used their hard hats as missiles after parliamentary protection services members were called in to remove them from the National Assembly as screams of “f**k you” rang out from ANC benches.
They came out of the House screaming, followed by a large group of parliamentary protection services members.
About 30 public order police, in full riot gear, met them as they exited, leading to a tense stand-off.
DA members walked out in protest against the presence of soldiers in the parliamentary precinct and the firing of pepper spray in the public gallery.
After the chaos, the ANC was the only major party left in the House to listen to Zuma.
Speaking from a small stage, surrounded by smashed pot plants, EFF leader Julius Malema said: “We are prepared to leave this parliament in a coffin. We won’t be intimidated by soldiers and police who are protecting that constitutional delinquent (Zuma).”
“They are ready to chase people out who break the rules of parliament but defend a man who broke his oath of office,” he said.
“The ANC has suspended the constitution today.
“[National Assembly Speaker] Baleka [Mbete] has collapsed this parliament into a department of the Zuma administration. History will record that we stood up to tyranny.”
Sound and fury
“Finally!” Zuma exclaimed as he began his delayed State of the Nation speech. Then he giggled.
Zuma seemed unmoved by the violence that again marred the proceedings after National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete called in security officers to eject the EFF MPs.
WATCH YOUR BACK: Zuma appears confident and collected throughout the anarchy in parliament. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Earlier, Zuma had been only a few seconds into his speech when EFF secretary Godrich Gardee and party leader Julius Malema stood and called on the presiding officers not to allow him to speak.
“Sitting in front of us is an incorrigible man, rotten to the core,” said Malema.
“He must address the nation from prison.”
After numerous attempts by Mbete and National Council of Provinces chairman Thandi Modise to get the EFF to allow Zuma to speak, parliamentary security officers were called and a brawl ensued.
The expulsion of the EFF MPs was followed by a DA walkout.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said outside the House that he would go to court to challenge the night’s events.
“I must stand up for the rules of this country.”
He said gas canisters had been discharged in the public gallery of the House.
Modise later said that it had been found that the canisters had contained “pepper spray”. She apologised to MPs and said there would be an investigation.
As the chaos worsened, Zuma appeared unfazed.
“It looks like he has almost got used to the EFF doing their thing and the DA following suit. When he got to the second part of his speech he was relaxed and was on top of things,” said University of Johannesburg social work professor Ndangwa Noyoo.
Noyoo said it was clear that Zuma felt comfortable and confident.
“[Last year] there was a vote of no-confidence, which was thrown out. The opposition parties can run and chant, do whatever, but they are not able to remove him. It is only the ANC leadership that can do that. Right now, he is comfortable. He knows that he is on his last lap.”
Legal academic Warren Freedman said the EFF’s contention that the president was unfit to speak in the House because he had violated the constitution might have moral relevance but had no legal basis.
“He remains in office so he still has all the powers vested in him by the constitution. He’s not impeached. He remains president with all of the powers of a president.”
Graphic courtesy of The People’s Assembly http://www.pa.org.za/