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Video Shows Brawl Break Out in South African Parliament After President Is Called a 'Thief'

Tensions escalated between politicians during the National Assembly session following a vote that let President Jacob Zuma off the hook for home remodeling expenses.

by Kayla Ruble
Nov 14 2014, 6:40pm

Image via Flickr/Government ZA

A brawl erupted between South African lawmakers over millions of dollars spent on the president's house during a late-night parliamentary session on Thursday and ended with riot police being called in, the ejection of an opposition party member donning a red maid outfit, and four injured politicians.

An Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party politician, Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela, caused an uproar after she called South African President Jacob Zuma a "thief" in front of the assembly and refused to rescind the remark. National Assembly Chairman Cedric Frolick had demanded she make an exit after her refusal to do so.

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Live footage from the session shows parliament members of the EFF, which holds 25 of 400 total seats, addressing the assembly while dressed in their signature red outfits, and the exchange of words between Mashabala and Frolick. The feed was cut off before the riot police entered and clashes began.

Riot cops made their appearance after Mashabala stood her ground and refused orders to leave. While the CCTV footage was disrupted, cell phone video shows the physical dispute between the police officers and EFF, with fellow opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) backing them up.

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"Yesterday wasn't simply an assault on the members who are in this house, it was an assault on the constitution," DA leader Mmusi Maimane said at a press conference, alleging that four of his party's politicians had been injured, as well as on EFF member. "Members acted to defend the constitution and defend their fellow colleagues, who were then pushed to the floor."

The scuffle revolved around charges that Zuma had "unduly benefitted" from updates and improvements to his home, a project in which he used approximately $23 million in government funds to carry out. A committee report that was pushed through by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and approved by parliament on Thursday, however, let Zuma off the hook on the grounds that security issues had rendered the upgrades necessary for the house that boasts a chicken run and swimming pool.

"The EFF is not going to retreat from making sure that no one, including the majority party, renders parliament as toothless," the opposition party said in an email to Bloomberg. "Parliament must robustly hold the government and president accountable and no amount of kangaroo disciplinary hearings, police harassment will deter us from fulfilling this task."

Zuma's charges date back to March after public protector Thuli Madonsela issued a report criticizing the Nkandla home improvements. At the time, she said the president should reimburse some of the government funds. The divisive leader has inspired walkouts in different parliament session this year. In one instance, EFF cancelled a session over calls for Zuma to reimburse the government for the expenses.

An ANC spokesman labeled the recent actions "unruly conduct," slamming the "chaotic circus." Another politician stood by the decision to call in law enforcement.

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Image via Flickr/Government ZA