World

South African politicians brawl during protest against president

South Africa's parliament descends into chaos, with opposition legislators denouncing President Jacob Zuma as a "scoundrel" and "rotten to the core" because of corruption allegations and then brawling with guards.

Guards drag opposition MPs from legislative chamber as scene unfolds on national television

Members of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters, in red, clash with security officials after being ordered out of South Africa's parliament during President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation address. (Rodger Bosch/Reuters)

South Africa's parliament descended into chaos on Thursday, with opposition legislators denouncing President Jacob Zuma as a "scoundrel" and "rotten to the core" because of corruption allegations and then brawling with guards who dragged them out of the chamber.

The raucous scene unfolded on national television as opposition legislators tried to stop Zuma from addressing the chamber, repeatedly insulting the president and declaring him unfit for office.

In the surrounding streets of Cape Town, police and hundreds of military forces patrolled to guard against protesters who want Zuma to quit.

President Jacob Zuma reacts as opposition MPs interrupt his speech in South Africa's parliament. A brawl broke as guards exchanged punches with legislators with the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party, who tried to shout down Zuma and prevented him from speaking for about an hour. (Sumaya Hisham/AFP/Getty Images)

Security teams eventually were called into the chamber to remove red-clad members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters, some of whom threw punches and pounded guards with plastic helmets.

Legislators from the Democratic Alliance, the country's biggest opposition group, then walked out in protest. Some members of the ruling African National Congress party heckled them as they left.

"Out! Out!" they shouted.

"Finally," said a laughing Zuma, who then started an annual address on the economy and other national matters.

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) protest in Cape Town ahead of President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation address to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

A politically weakened figure, Zuma has faced calls to resign even from factions of the ruling party. Some ANC members blame Zuma's scandals for the party's poor performance in local elections in August, in which it lost control of several key metropolitan areas.

Critics condemned an announcement by Zuma's office that 441 members of the military would assist police in maintaining order during the speech and the opening of parliament. The military has previously deployed for the event, but the security operation was among the largest in recent years.

While at least one group of protesters scuffled with police who blocked their path, the streets were mostly calm before the speech, in contrast to the events later in parliament.

'Constitutional delinquent'

Zuma is "rotten to the core," said Julius Malema, leader of the EFF. Other opposition legislators described the president as a "scoundrel" and a "constitutional delinquent."

Earlier, police near parliament used stun grenades to disperse ruling party members and opposition groups who were fighting.

The hours leading up to Zuma's speech featured the pomp associated with the annual opening of parliament, when dignitaries walk on a red carpet and pose for cameras in an impromptu fashion show.

Zuma has been under scrutiny for an allegedly improper relationship with the Guptas, a business family of Indian immigrants that has been accused of meddling in top government appointments. The president has denied wrongdoing.

Zuma, who took office in 2009, also reimbursed the state more than $500,000 US in a scandal over upgrades to his private home.

The president's speech addressed numerous sources of frustration for many South Africans, including the delivery of basic services and an economy that has stalled. He said he expects 1.3 per cent growth in 2017, after just 0.5 per cent last year.

now