Cape Town (AFP) – Police erected razor wire barricades outside the South African parliament Thursday ahead of President Jacob Zuma’s address to the nation against a background of concerted efforts to oust him from office.
The embattled president faces moves in court, in parliament and on the streets to have him impeached or dumped by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Protesters are expected to march near the parliament in Cape Town, where several city blocks were put under security lockdown ahead of the flagship speech.
Factors fuelling the “Zuma must fall” demonstrations are public money spent on his private residence, damage done to the economy when he fired two finance ministers within days, and government corruption.
The annual state of the nation address in parliament comes just two days after the Constitutional Court heard a crucial case accusing the president of violating his oath to uphold the constitution.
Two opposition parties took the case to court over Zuma’s initial refusal to obey a ruling by the national ombudswoman that he repay some of the $24 million lavished on his private home at Nkandla.
His own lawyers accepted in court that the case had “traumatised the nation,” and conceded that he needed to obey.
But they urged the court not to be “inveigled into a position of making some form of wide, condemnatory order, which will be used effectively for… an impeachment in parliament”.
The court reserved judgement.
A radical opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), pledged after the hearing that they would indeed use an adverse ruling by the court to press for Zuma’s impeachment.
Any such attempt however would likely fail in a parliament where Zuma’s ANC party holds an overwhelming majority.
– ‘Delicate time’ –
But critics hope the groundswell of discontent, expected to result in losses for the ANC in municipal elections later this year, could lead the party itself to oust Zuma as president.
The EFF has also vowed to disrupt Zuma’s address in parliament if he fails to explain his sacking of the finance ministers in December, which sent South Africa’s rand currency into free fall and hammered the stock market.
Similar tactics used by the EFF last year saw parliament degenerate into chaos and led to lawmakers being violently evicted.
Parliamentary officials hope to prevent a repeat performance at this evening’s speech scheduled for 7:00 pm (1700 GMT).
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has said it will not disrupt proceedings, but called on Zuma to use the occasion to step down.
“The most appropriate pronouncement President Zuma could make during his State of the Nation Address this evening is to announce his resignation,” party leader Mmusi Maimane said in a statement.
Zuma “hops from one scandal to the next, all to protect himself and his cronies… while our country remains on the verge of economic meltdown,” he said.
The heightened tension comes amid a sharply slowing economy, high unemployment, grinding poverty and a resurgence of public racial animosity.
Commentators have predicted that 2016 could be South Africa’s toughest year since the ANC came to power under liberation icon Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid in 1994.
Even Zuma’s lawyer Jeremy Gauntlett told the Constitutional Court this week: “This is a delicate time in a dangerous year.”
Underlining the gloom hanging over the state of the nation address is the fact that it comes 26 years to the day since Mandela was released from prison.
As the nation’s first black president, Mandela won global admiration for his skill in turning a country tortured by apartheid into what came to be known as the “Rainbow Nation”. He died in December 2013.
- Politics & Government
- Legislative Branch
- Jacob Zuma
- South African parliament