Protesters drown out Zuma’s State of the Nation message about inequality
An unprecedented show of state power – more than 400 soldiers and 6,000 police – failed to stop the militant Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) from holding up President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address on the evening of 9 February. Members of parliament (MPs) from the EFF yelled “Tsotsi” (meaning ‘thief’) as Zuma entered the chamber to deliver his speech.
Julius Malema – backed up by his fellow EFF MPs – told Zuma that he had no the right to speak: “Zuma is rotten to the core […] You deployed 441 soldiers to protect you […] There is no soldier inside parliament to protect you now.”
An hour and a half of chaos reigned in the main parliamentary chamber. Parliamentary security officials – known disparagingly as ‘white shirts’ – exchanged blows with MPs from the EFF and then used pepper spray in a bid to subdue them. The pepper spray wafted up to the public gallery, where former president Thabo Mbeki and chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng were sitting.
After the ‘white shirts’ threw the EFF MPs out of the chamber, MPs from the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) walked out in protest to cries of “good riddance” from the governing African National Congress (ANC) benches. To an almost half-empty chamber, Zuma gave a nervous chuckle and started his speech – “And finally…” – to loud cheers from his party’s MPs.
As Zuma was speaking, clashes between ANC and EFF supporters erupted on the streets outside parliament. As they worsened, riot police fired stun grenades, and bystanders ran for cover. Many South Africans expressed anger and outrage at the violent scenes.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe tells The Africa Report that Baleka Mbete, the parliamentary speaker, should have acted more quickly: “The speaker was too patient. You do not allow that kind of disruption for more than an hour. She should have dealt with it quicker and be done with it.”
To the frustration of ANC officials, much of Zuma’s message of radical economic transformation was lost in the drama. “Only 10% of the top 100 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are owned by black South Africans,” he said.
With some of the world’s biggest mining companies in Cape Town for the annual Investing in African Mining Indaba, Zuma said that the state would take a bigger stake in the country’s mining operations to boost black ownership in the industry. A proposed law allowing the state to speed up land redistribution by compulsory acquisition is also to be reviewed to ensure it complies with the country’s constitution.
Mantashe told journalists outside parliament: “The status quo cannot continue […] The 17% [of national land] given to black people are congested. If you go to villages, what used to be grazing land is now full of developments and houses.”
This will have to be re-examined, he added: “We are having an evaluator general to look at this. We must try harder to give our people land. But that land is not just of the sake of land – they must [use it to] produce.”
The DA’s leader, Mmusi Maimane, said his MPs had felt threatened in parliament and would launch an action in the courts today to challenge the deployment of soldiers in and around parliament. The issue is already under “investigation” by parliament.
Narend Singh, an MP from the Inkatha Freedom Party and one of the few opposition MPs to stay for Zuma’s speech, tells The Africa Report that was he was unimpressed: “Words don’t bring food on the table for the poor. We have heard these false promises before. It is time for delivery.”