Friday, 20 February 2015

Chaos at South Africa's State of the Union address leaves one MP with fractured jaw

South Africa was left in shock as further details emerged of a brutal police and security operation during the annual State of the Union address.

Opposition parties claimed that elite police squads changed into civilian clothes and concealed their weapons as they entered the floor of the National Assembly to remove a group of opposition MPs who were challenging Jacob Zuma, the South African president, over a corruption scandal.

As scuffles broke out and tables were overturned, one female MP was said to have been pinned down by several men who kicked and stamped on her before hitting her over the head with a shoe, breaking her jaw.

A showdown had been anticipated after Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, warned he would disrupt Mr Zuma’s annual speech to mark the reopening of parliament in Cape Town over a corruption scandal which saw £12.9m of taxpayer money spent on renovations to the president's country home.
Members of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) (in red) clash with security officials after being ordered out of the chamber during President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address in Cape Town, South Africa Photo: REUTERS
Journalists found their phone and data signals jammed and launched an impromptu protest, waving their phones and chanting “Bring back the signal”.

The speaker ordered for the signal to be restored and later admitted it had been “scrambled”.

The Democratic Alliance, the largest opposition party in parliament, said police also fired water cannons on its supporters waving placards along Mr Zuma’s route to parliament and arrested five people including its national spokesman.

SBathabile Dlamini, the Social Development Minister, appeared to threaten journalists for trying to report the news, tweeting to the head of one of South Africa’s largest broadcasters: “You are pushing us too much and you are hardening us day by day. We are at the edge right now, if you want to know us carry on.”

The fight came 25 years, almost to the day, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Mr Zuma now faces a no-confidence vote.

“Mr Zuma is without a plan of how to take South Africa forward. The only thing the ANC is now concerned with is how to stay in power so that President Zuma does not end up in jail,” said Mmusi Maimane, the parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the largest opposition party which walked out in protest.

The DA will also refer Baleka Mbete, parliament’s speaker and the ANC chair, to a disciplinary committee for allowing armed police into the chamber and jamming the phone signal, he said.

“What’s most concerning is that this was not a haphazard event, it was planned as a military operation by security forces in collusion with the speaker of the house,” he said.

He said police from the elite Public Order unit changed out of their uniforms and into white shirts and black trousers to masquerade as security guards working in the parliament.

“They had guns tucked under their jackets and into the back of their trousers under their shirts,” he claimed.

Julius Malema said only eight of the security staff who entered parliament were from its own staff, and that the rest were from the POU, the Presidential Protection Unit and police National Intervention Unit, adding: “the same people who killed at Marikana”, in reference to the police shooting of 34 protesting mine workers three years ago.

Mr Malema, the former ANC Youth League president who was expelled for indiscipline, said his MPs were kicked, punched and manhandled for doing their “duty” and that he was a particular target for hostility, with one officer repeatedly twisting his genitals.

One of his female MPs, he added, was in hospital. “She is badly injured, has a fractured jaw. It looks as though she must go for an operation,” he said.

Meanwhile South Africans, who woke up to newspaper headlines including House of Shambles and State of Chaos, took to social media and radio airwaves to express their horror at what happened.

Dumisane Lubisi, executive editor of the Sunday City Press newspaper, said the widespread feeling was one of "disgust". "Not just at the signal jamming or the police coming into the chamber but they are also questioning why Jacob Zuma continued with his speech as if nothing had happened," he said. "People are saying that this is the house where Mandela once stood as president of this country and suggesting he would be turning in his grave."

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