Violence disrupts Sona

2015-02-13 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The 2015 State of the Nation address will be remembered for the first violent scenes in Parliament’s history that left broken chairs and empty opposition benches, rather than for President Jacob Zuma’s speech.

About 40 men in white shirts, some armed with pistols, forcibly removed the whole EFF caucus last night from Parliament after they were called in by the Speaker Baleka Mbete.

As they promised they would, the EFF members asked Zuma when he would pay back some of the money that government had spent on improving his private estate at Nkandla.

The DA members then started asking Mbete whether she had called in armed police, or Parliament’s security staff into the ­constitutional sanctity of Parliament.

IFP leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi rose on a point of order to say he found the violence disgusting, adding it was not what the struggle against apartheid had aimed to achieve.

Fifteen minutes later, the DA members still had no clear answer and left in protest, ­whereupon Zuma resumed his speech an hour later than planned, giggling where he left off as if nothing had happened.

Fomer presidents F.W. de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki stared straight ahead as the violent ­removal drama played out.

Zuma’s speech had been delayed by 20 minutes when the media and opposition protested against a block of cellphone signals that prevented everyone in the National Assembly from communicating with the outside world.

Minutes after Deputy President Cyril ­Ramaphosa sent a note to Minister of State Security David Mahlobo, cellphone reception was suddenly restored.

Zuma had barely began his address when EFF MP Godrich Gardee rose on a point of order.

Gardee said he wanted to know from the president when he would pay for Nkandla as was recommended by Public Protector Thuli ­Madonsela.

Mbete immediately had Zuma sit behind the podium as one after the other EFF members rose to ask Zuma the same question.

Mbete said she would not allow questions, as this was a special session for the president to give his State of the Nation address.

Then EFF leader Julius Malema stood up and insisted on having a hearing, but Mbete told him to leave the chamber.

“You said you would disrupt,” she told ­Malema, who interjected he had never said such a thing.

“You said so to the nation. You told the nation you would not disrupt, we listened to you. Leave the house!”

She then also ordered EFF MPs Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Floyd Shivambu to leave. They all ignored her, whereupon she called in the ­Sergeant at Arms and the parliamentary ­security services.

About 40 men dressed in black trousers and white shirts were standing by at each of the doors to Parliament and stormed in to frog-march the EFF members out of the gathering.

The live feed from Parliament was censored so that the nation could not see how the EFF MPs resisted their forced removal.

However, Twitter was soon abuzz with ­footage that showed how the EFF MPs used their hard hats and boots to fight back, in at least one instance overpowering a white shirt or two before the red overalls had to leave the building.

After the fight a visibly drained Malema was seen slowly climbing the stairs to go outside.

After the violence the DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane asked if the men in white shirts were security officers or police.

Thandi Modise, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, evaded the question several times, saying the Powers, Privileges and Immunities Act allowed the chair to call in the police when an MP resisted.

Maimane asked her if she would call the ­defence force after the police. The DA, who are opposed to such a police state, then left Parliament.

Several said they saw the “security staff” wearing sidearms.

Zuma’s speech elicited the most response when he said foreigners would not be allowed to own land in South Africa and that legislation to ensure this was being prepared.

Ambassadors and diplomats heard this news with no emotion.

The beleaguered head of state listed several successes of the government, but admitted South Africa was in an energy crisis and that Eskom must get R23 billion next year to ­balance its books.

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