Friday, February 13, 2015 9:05 am
South Africa’s hard-won democracy, symbolised by the late liberation hero Nelson Mandela, was the main victim of the chaos in parliament during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address, commentators said Friday.
Radical lawmakers who interrupted Zuma to demand he “pay back the money” spent on upgrades to his private residence were dragged kicking and fighting out of parliament by a large force of security officials on Thursday night.
“Chaos sign of SA’s democratic decline”, the respected Business Day newspaper declared in a front-page headline.
“Unthinkable less than five years ago, the disturbing scenes that unfolded in and outside the national assembly last night are cause for SA to pause and reflect on why and how the country has arrived at this point.”
The paper pointed to Zuma’s presidency as a key factor in the decline.
“SA is in the mess that played out in parliament precisely because it has prioritised acquiescence to executive sensibilities over the critical need to do what is right.”
Many commentators pointed to the jamming of mobile phone signals in the assembly ahead of Zuma’s speech — preventing journalists from filing text and pictures — as a clear indication of the government’s disregard for freedom of expression.
The signal was unjammed after protests from media and MPs, which enabled video of the fracas to be shown despite the official parliamentary television feed focusing only on the speaker as the sound of desperate scuffles could be heard.
“A large part of our democracy died last night; the ANC can never again claim that it is ruling for the benefit of all of us,” Stephen Grootes wrote in the analytical Daily Maverick online newspaper, taking issue with the signal jamming.
“That attempt to control the representatives of the country, for the benefit of one party…, pushed everyone else into rebellion.
“We would certainly not agree with the EFF’s (Economic Freedom Fighters) agenda or tactics, but we were, for a bit, on the same side as them,” he wrote, referring to the party whose members were evicted from parliament on Thursday.
EFF leader Julius Malema told reporters his party would not be cowed.
“This is just the beginning,” he said.
“We are continuing participating in this democracy. We will continue to ask questions from the number one tsotsi (criminal).”
Zuma, however, appeared to suggest that even stronger tactics should be used in future in parliament.
“They are actually causing chaos. So you have a problem,” he told a business breakfast broadcast live on national television.
“Clearly to my view this is a time for parliament to stand up and apply the rules more strictly than they do,” he said.