South Africa’s radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party Thursday walked out of Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address in the latest attack on the embattled president who is tainted by graft allegations.
In chaotic scenes for more than an hour, EFF lawmakers shouted down the Speaker before obeying her order to either allow the president to deliver his address or to leave the chamber.
“Zuma is no longer a president that deserves the respect from anyone,” EFF leader Julius Malema yelled as Zuma sat impassive at the podium.
“He has stolen from us, he has corrupted the economy of South Africa, he has made this country a joke and after that, he has laughed at us.”
The EFF lawmakers, dressed in their regular uniform of red workers’ overalls and red hardhats, then left the chamber.
The party, which supports land redistribution without compensation and nationalisation of mines, was formed by former ANC youth leader Malema in 2013 and has become an effective critic of Zuma’s government.
Its lawmakers had earlier vowed to disrupt the president’s address if he failed to explain his sacking of two finance ministers in one week in December, which sent South Africa’s rand currency into free fall.
Once he got the chance to speak, Zuma acknowledged that the country’s economy was in trouble and pledged to implement “an effective turnaround plan” in partnership with the private sector.
This would include cutting wasteful government expenditure and getting rid of underperforming state-owned enterprises, he said.
Earlier, police fired stun grenades to disperse angry protesters outside parliament shortly before Zuma delivered his address.
Zuma faces moves in court, in parliament and on the streets to have him impeached or dumped by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Factors fuelling the calls for Zuma to quit include public money spent on his private residence, damage done to the economy when he fired two finance ministers within days, and government corruption.
His address to parliament comes just two days after the Constitutional Court heard a crucial case accusing the president of violating his oath to uphold the constitution.