Friday, February 10, 2017

South African President Jacob Zuma Promises More Equality as Fists Fly in Parliament
Opposition lawmakers disrupt State of Nation address

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, dressed in red, being forcibly removed from Parliament in Cape Town. PHOTO: SUMAYA HISHAM/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wall Street Journal
Feb. 9, 2017 4:54 p.m. ET

South African President Jacob Zuma pledged Thursday to break up white ownership of business and land to reduce inequality, in a State of the Nation address disrupted by a fistfight, walkouts and a release of pepper spray in the parliamentary chamber.

The speech, as well as the verbal and physical clashes inside the legislature, highlights increasingly fraught divisions over the future course of Africa’s most developed economy. Mr. Zuma’s focus on redistribution comes as his African National Congress party prepares to elect a new leader to succeed him in December and as he finds himself under growing pressure over corruption allegations.

The race to succeed Mr. Zuma currently pits Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president and businessman, against the president’s ex-wife and former African Union chairwoman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The contest has split the ANC and provided openings for opposition parties.

On Thursday, lawmakers from the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters shouted over an initial attempt by Mr. Zuma to start his speech, after complaining about what they said was a threatening increase of security inside and outside Parliament. The president for the first time deployed several hundred troops to help lock down Cape Town’s parliamentary precinct in anticipation of potential clashes between ANC and opposition supporters.

“You’re a constitutional delinquent,” EFF lawmaker Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said of Mr. Zuma, referring to a court finding last year that the president had violated the constitution when he refused to pay back public money that an official report found was used for unnecessary upgrades to his private home. Mr. Zuma has since paid back some of the funds.

When EFF lawmakers, dressed in their customary red workers’ overalls and maids’ uniforms, refused to quiet down or leave the chamber, they began fighting with parliamentary orderlies. Some lawmakers used their red hard hats to hit the orderlies, while other legislators were dragged out of the chamber.

Soon after, South Africa’s other main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, walked out in protest over the increase in security. ANC lawmakers shouted after Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s first black leader, as he led his party’s MPs out of the chamber, calling him a racist and sellout.

Around the same time, several DA members in the visitors’ gallery reported that tear gas had been released into the gallery, which quickly emptied.

Thandi Modise, the chairwoman of South Africa’s upper house, said an initial investigation showed that the substance released was pepper spray and called the incident a “breach of security” that shouldn’t have happened. She didn’t say who was behind the incident.

Mr. Zuma didn’t acknowledge the disruptions when he returned to the podium to continue his speech. Instead, he homed in on the stark economic divide between black and white South Africans, one of the issues that the EFF has seized on in recent years.

“Today we are starting a new chapter of radical socioeconomic transformation,” Mr. Zuma said, adding that 22 years after the end of apartheid “white households earn at least five times more than black households.”

Mr. Zuma said that his government would this year propose changes to the country’s competition rules to make it easier to “deconcentrate” high levels of ownership in certain sectors and open up the economy to black-owned businesses.

He also said that he planned to send back to Parliament a bill that will make it easier for authorities to redistribute land taken away from blacks during colonization, although white landowners will still receive market prices for any seized land.

Write to Gabriele Steinhauser at

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