SONA security lockdown unprecedented

President Jacob Zuma doing the final touches to his State of the Nation Address. (GCIS)
President Jacob Zuma doing the final touches to his State of the Nation Address. (GCIS)

Cape Town - The scope of the security lockdown for President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address was unprecedented since the end of apartheid more than two decades ago.

READ: How rand reacts to Zuma's SONA

Zuma was forced to delay his speech as opposition lawmakers shouted demands that he step down while soldiers and riot police kept protesters away from the Parliament building in the heart of Cape Town.

Wearing their trademark red coveralls, members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters heckled Zuma as soon as he entered Parliament, shouting “tsotsi,” or criminal, while their counterparts from the ruling African National Congress tried to drown them out by chanting “president”.

Zuma ordered 441 soldiers to join about 6 000 police maintain order during his speech. They erected barricades and closed roads around the legislature, preventing anti-government protesters from approaching the precinct.

The sight of Parliament being reduced to a shouting match between the ruling party and opposition members and the security clampdown outside showed the growing tensions in South Africa’s democracy that have deepened under Zuma’s controversial administration.

Under Zuma’s presidency the economy has floundered, with the Treasury predicting 1.3% growth this year, and the 27% jobless rate is the highest since 2003. The nation is struggling to retain its investment-grade status at S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings.

Legitimate president

The ANC suffered its worst electoral performance last year, when it lost control of Pretoria, the capital, and the economic hub of Johannesburg. While Zuma has said he’ll step down as head of the ANC in December, his term as president continues until 2019.

The EFF repeated its charge that Zuma, 74, was no longer a legitimate president after the nation’s top court ruled last year that he violated the constitution by not obeying an order by the nation’s graft ombudsman to repay state money spent to renovate his private residence. The ANC has used its 62 percent majority in Parliament to shield him from opposition motions to impeach him.

Zuma was also implicated in another report released by the ombudsman last year, which implied that he allowed members of a wealthy family who are in business with his son to influence cabinet appointments and the issuing of state contracts. Zuma has denied ever intentionally breaking the law and has challenged the report in court.

The president’s approval rating has slumped to four out of 10, from 5.7 in November 2014, a survey of 3 416 South African adults conducted by research company Ipsos between October 25 and November 28 for broadcaster eNCA that was released Wednesday showed.

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