A South African parliament session broke out into a brawl on Thursday during an important annual speech from President Jacob Zuma, resulting in the forceful removal of legislators from the chamber.
In his first State of the Nation speech in his second term as president, Zuma was expected to use his address to parliament to discuss plans for the coming year. Members of the opposing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, however, barely let the head of state get started before interrupting with complaints about Zuma's controversial, multi-million dollar home upgrade.
While Zuma spoke, EFF's outspoken leader Julius Malema began to interject, shouting "Pay back the money" — referring to the $23 million security upgrade to the president's home that was paid for by the government. After that interruption, Malema was asked to leave by parliament speaker Baleka Mbete, a member of African National Congress (ANC) Zuma's ruling party.
The two politicians then argued over the request for Malema to make an exit. Malema told Mbete he would not leave, saying, "I'm not working for you, I'm not here on your invitation, I'm elected to be here."
Live footage of the session shows chaos quickly erupting, as members of the EFF party — who wear red jumpsuits, and either construction hats or maid aprons in the parliament chamber — go head-to-head with ANC politicians. One EFF member can be seen slamming his construction hat down on the shoulder of an MP from another party. Security officers were reportedly sent in to break up the session, according to Reuters.
Mmusi Maimane, a leader of the country's primary opposition party Democratic Alliance, said bringing in police was an affront to South African democracy.
"She cannot escalate the issue by sending police into the chamber," Maimane said.
Addressing the media after the scuffle, Malema said their opponents asked them not to bring the fight outside because that would result in fights with police officers.
"We have seen that we are part of a police state," Malema said.
According to the politician, seven party members were injured in the fight. He said these individuals would "open cases."
Controversy over Zuma's home upgrades has been ongoing for months. In March 2014, a public report criticized the state-funded improvements. EFF has continued to push the issue, even after the ANC pushed through a committee report that let Zuma off the hook. The committee report said the security issues had made it necessary to carry out the upgrades on the estate, which has a swimming pool and a chicken run.
"We are going to continue holding this executive accountable," Malema told reporters on Thursday. "We're not going anywhere."
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