CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance said on Friday it was seeking a court ruling on the deployment of armed soldiers in parliament saying the move, during President Jacob Zuma’s state-of-the-nation speech, was unconstitutional.
The president’s address was delayed by more than an hour and descended into chaos on Thursday as far-left lawmakers brawled with officials after interrupting the speech and the main opposition party walked out.
Zuma had authorised more than 400 soldiers to join the security team at the parliament building during the speech, an unprecedented move his opponents described as a “militarization” of parliament.
“Armed military police, with live ammunition, on the precinct of parliament is completely untenable in a constitutional democracy,” Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters.
President Jacob Zuma told state broadcaster SABC the disruption in parliament did not reflect a divided nation.
“I doubt that it’s a reflection of the national character. I think it is a reflection of a few kind of people like some parties in parliament,” he said.
“Democracy is not about angry young people, democracy is about debating what we need to do with our country.”
He said of the opposition’s actions in parliament: “It does not bother me. The fact that you could make parliament not to talk and undermine the choice of the majority of this country because you have your own feelings, I think it’s a misplaced kind of vision, in fact there is no vision at all.”
Previous speeches in parliament by Zuma have also led to disruption, but Thursday’s - in which he said the government would push for a greater role for blacks in the economy - was the most violent, with the scuffles spilling over into the precinct of the building.
Zuma, halfway through his second five-year term, ousted Thabo Mbeki in his African National Congress (ANC) party and became president in 2009. He has been dogged by persistent corruption allegations that he has denied.
In September, the president took out a home loan to repay state money spent on non-security-related upgrades to his rural home, in compliance with a court order.
The president’s popularity has waned in tandem with an economy that has slowed sharply over the past five years while unemployment has hit a record 27 percent.
Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Janet Lawrence