We are part of a police state - Malema

2015-02-13 05:00
President Jacob Zuma (AP)

President Jacob Zuma (AP)

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Johannesburg - Protest and violence overshadowed President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address on Thursday night as the Economic Freedom Fighters carried out a threat to confront him on misspending on his Nkandla home and were manhandled by police in the National Assembly.

As riot police dragged EFF MPs out of the chamber and down the corridor, the Democratic Alliance walked out and accused the ANC of becoming as oppressive as the apartheid regime.

It left Zuma to announce a R23bn bailout to crisis-ridden Eskom and an expected ban on foreign land ownership while most attention focused on the EFF leadership, who detailed their injuries and denounced his government on the steps of the assembly.

"Whether they beat us or not, we'll continue to ask relevant questions," Malema told reporters in drizzling rain, the T-shirt under his red overall torn at the neck.

"We have seen that we are part of a police state where when people are unable to give political answers, political solutions to political problems, they resort to security apparatus and we've always said the ANC has sent South Africa into a security state, so today it was confirmed."

Fifteen minutes earlier punches and hard hats flew as police surrounded the EFF benches after Malema, Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu and spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi defied orders from Speaker Baleka Mbete to leave the chamber.

"They grabbed [Godrich] Gardee first, they hit him," Western Cape EFF leader Bernard Joseph said moments after the brawl in which he took several blows as well, while his colleague Emmanuel Mtuleni said he was punched in the face.

"They moered me."

The trouble began soon after Zuma took to the podium as Gardee rose on a point of order, demanding: "May we ask the president when he will pay back the money in terms of what the public protector had said?"

Mbete allowed questions from Shivambu and then a belligerent Malema, who made it plain that he would not rest until Zuma had answered the question the EFF first put to him on 21 August.

She told him to leave and then invoked the Powers and Privileges Act, first calling in protection staff and then security officials. Moments later police surrounded the EFF benches, and fighting began in an echo of the chaos of 13 November - the first time in history that riot police had entered the chamber.

Ndlozi, who said he was briefly throttled, said he believed the EFF had managed to deliver the comment it wanted about Zuma's leadership while Shivambu commented: "Next time we will come armed."

In the meanwhile, Zuma focused on energy and land redistribution as key priorities while warning that country's aim of achieving a growth target of five percent in 2019 where at risk.

He said stabilising Eskom's finances was a priority and acknowledged that the supply disruptions "are an impediment to economic growth, and are a major inconvenience to everyone in the country".

Zuma said government had a nine-point plan to "ignite growth and create jobs".

DA's walk-out

This also included revitalising agriculture, advancing the beneficiation of minerals and encouraging private sector investment. Calling land a critical factor in achieving redress for the wrongs of the past, he said foreigners would soon no longer be allowed to own land in South Africa but instead be eligible for long-term lease. "In this regard, the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill will be submitted to Parliament this year," he said to applause from the ANC benches.

The new legislation would overhaul the tenets of redistribution and introduce a ceiling of land ownership of a maximum of 12,000 hectares.

"Once implemented the law will stop the reliance on the willing buyer-willing seller method in respect of land acquisition by the state."

Before Zuma resumed his speech after the EFF's removal, National Council of Provinces chairwoman Thandi Modise justified the presiding officers' decision to eject the EFF by force.

"We are also empowered... to ask for security -- whichever security -- to act... I think we should allow this house to do its business," Modise said.

This prompted the Democratic Alliance to walk out, with Chief Whip John Steenhuisen telling Sapa: "I think the EFF was wrong but two wrongs don't make a right.

"We had to walk out, it is not acceptable that the ruling party violates the Constitution and the separation of powers by sending police, which fall under the orders of the executive, into the National Assembly.

"This government is adopting the tactics of oppression against which so many of them spent their lives fighting."

Cell phone jammer

Earlier, Steenhuisen and DA leader Mmusi Maimane beat the EFF to raising a point of order when they rose to accuse Parliament of scrambling the cell phone reception in the assembly, preventing journalists from broadcasting directly from the chamber.

Mbete said she would ask her office to inquire about the blackout, which had seen journalists wave their cellphones in the air before the joint sitting began, chanting "bring back the signal".

Ndlozi seconded the demand and asked that the Speaker also call orderlies to bring MPs water, quipping that Parliament was facing a "service delivery crisis".

Minutes later, Mbete announced that "the scrambling problem has been unscrambled" and cellphone feed was restored.

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