A brutal fistfight broke out in the South African parliament Tuesday as security guards ejected opposition lawmakers in an ugly fracas that underlined heightened political tensions over Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
About 20 Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party members, who were wrestled from their seats by plain-clothed guards, had refused to let Zuma speak and furiously shouted down the Speaker, Baleka Mbete.
As Zuma looked on impassively, the EFF lawmakers dressed in their uniform of red workers’ overalls — fought back to try to remain in the chamber before they were physically removed through a side door.
The disruption was the latest in a series of showdowns in parliament as pressure mounts on Zuma to resign or be axed as president by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
He has been urged to step down by a number of senior ANC veterans of the struggle against apartheid, which brought liberation icon Nelson Mandela to power in 1994.
But he retains widespread loyalty in the party, and ANC lawmakers have regularly rallied to Zuma’s defence. In April, they easily defeated an opposition move to impeach him.
The EFF, which was also ejected from parliament two weeks ago in similar scenes, has vowed that it will not let Zuma speak in the chamber, saying that it does not recognise him as president in the wake of two recent court cases.
In March, the country’s highest court found that Zuma had violated the constitution over the spending of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on his private rural residence at Nkandla in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.
In April another court said he should face almost 800 corruption charges relating to a multi-billion dollar arms deal that were dropped in 2009, shortly before he became president.