The raucous scenes unfolded on national television as opposition legislators tried to stop Zuma from addressing the chamber, repeatedly insulting the president and declaring him unfit for office. In the surrounding streets of Cape Town, police and hundreds of members of the military patrolled to guard against protesters who want Zuma to quit.
Security teams were eventually called into the chamber to remove red-clad members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), some of whom scuffled with guards.
Lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance, the country’s biggest opposition group, then walked out in protest. Some members of the ruling African National Congress party heckled them as they left.
“Out! Out!” they shouted.
“Finally,” said a laughing Zuma, who then started an annual address on the economy and other national matters.
A politically weakened figure, the president has faced calls to resign even from factions of the ruling party. Some ANC members blame Zuma’s scandals for the party’s poor performance in local elections in August, in which it lost control of several key metropolitan areas.
Critics condemned an announcement by Zuma’s office that 441 members of the military would assist police in maintaining order during the speech and the opening of parliament. The military has previously been deployed for the event, but the security operation was among the largest in recent years.
While at least one group of protesters scuffled with police who blocked their path, the streets were mostly calm before the speech, in contrast to the events later in parliament.
The EFF leader, Julius Malema, said Zuma was “rotten to the core”. Other opposition legislators described the president as a “scoundrel” and a “constitutional delinquent”.
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