South Africans react day after parliament descends into chaos

A day after parliament descended into chaos, with opposition lawmakers removed by force after disrupting Jacob Zuma’s annual address, people on the streets of Johannesburg say they believe the focus should be on the resolving the country’s problems.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (FEBRUARY 12, 2015) (ENCA) – South Africa’s parliament descended into chaos on Thursday (February 12), as opposition lawmakers were removed by force after disrupting Jacob Zuma’s annual address, an unprecedented sign of discontent at his administration.

The President’s first State of the Nation speech since his re-election last May had been billed as an opportunity to highlight the achievements of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and its plans for the year ahead.

But he received a hostile reception from lawmakers from the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by firebrand former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, who started to challenge him about graft allegations.

Zuma had barely begun speaking when EFF members began interrupting, demanding to ask the President about when he would repay part of a $23 million state-funded security upgrade of his rural home.

A clearly angry Speaker, Baleka Mbete, warned several EFF members to sit down before ordering they be removed by security officers, prompting a brief brawl in which several people were injured, witnesses said.

Lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) also left the chamber.

Newspaper front pages on Friday (February 13) ran headlines including ‘House of Shambles’ and ‘Pademonium in the House’.

A day after the chaos, South Africans on the streets of Johannesburg reflected on the ruckus in parliament.

“I think the EFF, you know what, they do have a position but they just got out of hand. I support the DA (Democratic Alliance) walking out the way they did. As far as the speech goes, disappointing nothing significant, same old, same old every year, nothing happens,” said Mike Hibert.

Others said they believed the chaos was taking attention away from the country’s problems.

“It was just a disaster and it’s bad for foreign investment and actually like our sentiment here as a country, like you listening to the news all they now talking about instead of talking about South Africa’s problems they’re talking about the chaos in parliament yesterday and the signal jamming and the removal of the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) like that, I don’t know I just don’t know where we are headed,” said Dipuo Tsoagong.

“We should focus on real issues and I think that’s everyone’s responsibility, one should not probably not pay too much attention to what happened with the politicians last night. I think everybody should just do their part and help this wonderful nation to make it even better,” said Jaco Krige.

South Africa’s usually calm parliament has been shaken-up by the EFF winning 25 seats in last year’s election.

EFF members sport red overalls and hard hats in the chamber, in a symbol of their apparent close ties to the working classes.

The President’s popularity has been waning following what was seen as extravagant spending on his rural home at taxpayers’ expense and as South Africa’s economy has slowed sharply.

“If the EFF is still persisting, they want to know and are demanding answers, then they should provide them with answers, so that they can be satisfied and leave this issue alone as they have been going on about this for far too long. It’s gone on for too long it’s very ridiculous for them to keep on persisting and keep on like entertaining the whole issue, it’s old news now, we are over it,” said Bandile Mazibuko.

DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said Mbete’s decision to call in security officers undermined democracy in South Africa, evoking how hard that had been fought for by the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.

Malema had said before the session that he would “insist in a polite manner” that he be allowed to question Zuma on the controversial upgrades to his home in Nkandla, in rural KwaZulu-Natal province.

Last time Zuma was in parliament in August, EFF members had chanted “Pay back the money”.