JOHANNESBURG (AA) – South African opposition leader Julius Malema was escorted by security guards outside parliament on Friday along with some of his party’s lawmakers after disrupting an address by President Jacob Zuma.
“When is he (President Jacob Zuma) going to pay the money?” a lawmaker from the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters Party (EFF) asked shortly after the President had started delivering his much-awaited State of the Nation Address.
The lawmaker was referring to taxpayers’ money that the President allegedly benefited from in upgrading his personal residence in his home province of KwaZulu Natal.
Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete told the MP that the joint sitting of parliament was not a question-and-answer session.
However, EFF lawmakers did not heed the advice and went ahead to ask the same question hampering the president’s televised speech.
The shouts prompted the speaker to order a few of the EFF deputies to leave the chambers of parliament, but they refused.
“Honorable Malema, leave the chamber!” the speaker ordered, but the vibrant youthful leader replied: “I will not leave, Honorable speaker!”
Mbete then called for the intervention of security officers to assist in escorting the EFF members out of parliament.
South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) Party lawmakers walked out of the house in protest.
DA parliamentary leader Mussi Maimane also criticized parliament leadership for allowing police and other security agencies to enter into parliament.
Veteran politician and founder of Inkatha Freedom Party Mangosuthu Buthelezi, however, blamed the chaos on the EFF lawmakers’ disruption of the president’s speech, saying it was “disgusting” and “utterly nonsense.”
Earlier this week, the EFF threatened to disrupt the Zuma’s annual State of the Nation Address, if he does not commit to paying back taxpayers’ money used to upgrade his personal home.
The address is annually made by the country’s president on the status of the nation before a joint sitting of parliament, which includes the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
The president’s address also marks the start of the parliamentary year. The event is normally attended by former presidents, diplomats and top government officials and is usually broadcast live on television and radio.
Last year, the country’s anti-corruption czar Thuli Madonsela blamed Zuma for using public funds to renovate his country residence.
The upgrade of Zuma’s rural home was supposed to have cost the state some $2.5 million. But with lavish upgrades – including a swimming pool, cattle kraal and visitor’s center – total costs skyrocketed to $23 million.
Zuma has denied any involvement in the procurement and construction phases of the renovation and has adamantly refused to pay back the money.
During an appearance in parliament in August of last year, the same EFF lawmakers interrupted Zuma as he was addressing parliament, heckling him and asking him to pay back the money used to upgrade his personal residence.
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