South African opposition MPs disrupt president’s speech

By Hassan Isilow

JOHANNESBURG (AA) – South Africa’s second-largest opposition party disrupted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s much-awaited State of the Nation address in parliament Thursday, challenging the presence of the apartheid era’s last president, F.W. de Klerk, who had been invited as a guest.

“Honorable speaker, we have got a murderer in the house. We have got a man who has blood of innocent people on his hands [sitting] in this house, which is supposed to represent the will of our people,’’ Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema told Parliamentary speaker Thandi Modise.

He said it was wrong for parliament to have invited De Klerk to attend the opening of parliament and demanded that the former president leave.

“It is an insult to those who died and were tortured during apartheid under instructions of De Klerk. It’s an insult for him to sit in a democratic parliament,’’ Malema said during live televised proceedings from parliament in Cape Town.

Modise ruled against Malema’s submission, saying the special sitting of the two houses of parliament had been called to give President Ramaphosa the opportunity to address the nation.

She said it is the procedure for all former presidents who are still alive to be invited for the opening of parliament and dismissed the EFF’s submission.

De Klerk served as president from 1989-1994, bringing the apartheid system of racial segregation to an end after negotiating a transition to majority rule.

After the speaker dismissed their submission, EFF members of parliament started chanting “De Klerk must leave.”

They also demanded that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, whom the EFF has been at loggerheads with, be fired from his position by President Ramaphosa. The EFF claims Gordhan is mismanaging the country’s assets and accuse him of supporting what they call “white monopoly capital.”

Chants and constant interruptions delayed Ramaphosa’s speech to the nation. Opposition members of parliament from other political parties and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) strongly condemned the behavior of the EFF, saying they were depriving millions of South Africans from listening to the president’s important annual speech, which outlines his leadership plan.

EFF members got rowdy when their microphones were later switched off after the president had started speaking, but they chanted, interrupting him for a second time and delaying his speech for about an hour.

The parliamentary speaker had to temporarily suspend the sitting to restore calm. However, EFF MPs dressed in red overalls and berets remained outside parliament as other MPs went back to the house to listen to the president.