S.Africa protests force president to delay state of union speech
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was Thursday forced to delay his annual state of the nation address as far-left Economic Freedom Fighters lawmakers protested rowdily in parliament over the presence of a former apartheid leader.
After an hour of disruption, National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise temporarily suspended proceedings, telling the EFF: “When you think you have unlimited freedom of speech to infringe on the rights of others, that is a disruption”.
Ramaphosa started speaking 90 minutes after the scheduled time, after the EEF lawmakers — dressed in bright red overalls and hard hats walked out.
The EFF demanded F.W. De Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for their efforts to end white rule, be ejected from parliament, accusing him of being “unrepentant”.
“We have a murderer in the house, we have a man who has got the blood of innocent people (on his hands) in this house,” said EFF leader Julius Malema, the minute Ramaphosa was supposed to deliver his speech.
Malema said parliament was wrong to invite De Klerk.
It is a tradition for former presidents to attend the annual address given by a sitting president.
“De Klerk is an unrepentant apologist of apartheid, who is not willing to accept that apartheid was crime against humanity. It is an insult to those who died and (who were) tortured… under the instructions of De Klerk to have De Klerk sitting in a democratic parliament”.
The radical EFF also wanted Ramaphosa to fire the Minister of State Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, alleging he has run down state-owned enterprises.
Zizi Kodwa, a junior minister in Ramaphosa’s office, said disprupting the speech using Gordhan’s name was a “scapegoat” tactic because the minister had been at the forefront of the fight against corruption.
– ‘Stark reality ‘ –
Attacks against attack him “can only come from those who have something to hide in terms of corruption and malfeasance,” Kodwa told journalists.
The EFF disrupted parliament on several occasions during former president Zuma’s era, at times descending into chaos with the lawmakers being forcibly removed.
In his address, Ramaphosa, who completes two years in office at the weekend after he tyook over from scandal-tainted Zuma, said “our country is facing a stark reality. Our economy has not grown at any meaningful rate for over a decade”.
Ramaphosa, 67, has been praised for turning the page on the Zuma era.
But many South Africans are frustrated, disenchanted or angry that his rhetoric of a “new dawn” in a country bedevilled by joblessness, inequality and crime has fallen so far short.
“The rate of unemployment is deepening,” he admitted in his address.
The rate of joblessness now stands at 29.1 percent and is the highest in 11 years.
Growth in the most industrialised economy in Africa has “stalled” amid persistent power shortages.
“We need to fix our public finances,” the president said, adding the “debt is heading towards unsustainable levels”.
“We cannot continue along this path!”
“We will not let up in the fight against corruption,” he vowed.
The country’s newly crowned Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi and Siya Kolisi, captain of the Rugby World Cup champions, Springboks listened to the address from the gallery.