Lawmakers scuffle in S Africa parliament

Legislators nearly trade blows after speaker attempts to delay debate on corruption report involving President Zuma.

    Lawmakers scuffle in S Africa parliament
    In an unprecedented move, police were called into parliament as chaos erupted in the chamber [Twitter]

    At least four lawmakers have been injured in scuffles and scenes of chaos in South Africa's parliament.

    Parliamentaries almost came to blows on Thursday after they traded insults on the floor of the chamber that opposition leaders say is fast becoming the lair of the ruling African National Congress.

    On Thursday, lawmakers told Baleka Mbete, at National Assembly Speaker "you must go!" after she attempted to delay discussions over a corruption report involving President Jacob Zuma.

    Mbete's move enraged lawmakers in parliament resulting in opposition parties demanding the speaker reverse her decision. 

    Opposition politicians accused Mbete, a member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), of bias after she postponed the debate on the $23m state-funded upgrade to the president's private residence.

    One of its members shouted at Mbete: "You won't get away with this one." 

    John Henry Steenhuisen, chief whip of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, said the speaker changed the order of debate at the behest of ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe.

    Outrage 

    "I am amazed by your excitement," Mbete said, eventually overturning her decision.

    The ruckus was captured and streamed live online and on a paid-for television channel and spilled immediately on to social media, drawing outrage and riducule from ordinary South Africans.

     
    One opposition parliamentarian, Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), was asked to withdraw her statement that described Zuma as a "criminal".

    "President Zuma is a thief. He is a criminal. He is the greatest thief in the world," she said.

    When she refused, public order police officers were brought in and dragged her out.

    According to the Mail &Guardian, the live audio and visual feed from the chamber was then cut. 

    On Friday. the ruling African National Congress raised concerns that recent disruptions by opposition parties in parliament could lead to the institution losing its integriy.

    "Yesterday [Thursday]... the nation watched with shock and horror as the National Assembly degenerated into a chaotic circus due to the unruly conduct of members," spokesman Zizi Kodwa said in a statement.

    Public Protector Thuli Madonsela reported in March that Zuma had "benefited unduly" from some of the upgrades, which included a cattle enclosure and amphitheatre, and should pay back some of the costs of the unnecessary renovations.

    The alternative parliamentary report cleared Zuma of any blame over the upgrades but opposition lawmakers were expected to reject the findings and call for the president to resign.

    The national assembly report was compiled only by ANC members after opponents walked out of the committee, saying it was created solely to protect Zuma.

    Police officials are not allowed to enter parliament unless the speaker or deputy speaker requests their presence. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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