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S.Africa’s Zuma under fire over chaos in parliament

Published on 17/02/2015

"Cockroaches", "hooligans", "broken men" -- insults flew thick and fast Tuesday among top South African politicians following a keynote address by the president to parliament last week that ended in unprecedented chaos.

Opposition leaders launched bitter attacks against President Jacob Zuma as they got their first chance to reply to his State of the Nation Address last Thursday, which was disrupted by police entering the national assembly to evict lawmakers who accused him of corruption.

“You are not an honourable man,” Mmusi Maimane the parliamentary leader of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, told Zuma.

“You are a broken man presiding over a broken society,” said Maimane, looking Zuma in the eye from just metres away as he spoke from the podium.

Maimane described the forcible eviction of MPs by armed security forces as “an assault on the foundations of our democracy”.

When he complained that Zuma had laughed as lawmakers from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were manhandled out of parliament, Zuma laughed again.

Next up at the podium was EFF leader Julius Malema, described last week by the Speaker of parliament, Baleka Mbete, as a “cockroach”.

The term has a terrible resonance in Africa after it was used to set Hutus against Tutsis in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

Malema has said Mbete, who is also chairperson of the ruling African National Congress, was inciting people to kill him.

When reporters pressed Mbete over her remarks at a briefing ahead of Tuesday’s session, she refused to comment, saying she had made the remark at an ANC gathering and therefore it was not parliamentary business.

Dressed in the EFF’s trademark red worksuit as he took to the podium, Malema called Zuma a “hooligan” for the tactics used to evict his MPs — including “pulling us with our private parts”.

“We are not scared of you,” he warned a grinning Zuma.

“Whatever it takes, and however long it takes, by whatever revolutionary means, we will take over this country with the aim of total liberation and emancipation.”

Malema also referred to the issue at the heart of the row — the EFF’s demands that Zuma pay back the taxpayers money spent on $24 million upgrades to his private rural residence.

But, he said, that would be left until presidential question time on March 11, and went on to present a critique of Zuma’s State of the Nation Address.