Zuma Faces ‘Pay Back the Money’ Chants as Parliament Halted

A South African parliamentary sitting in Cape Town was suspended and the chamber was evacuated today after members of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters heckled President Jacob Zuma during a question-and-answer session.

The EFF members, led by Julius Malema, started chanting “pay back the money” after Zuma said he had already responded to all reports about a 215 million-rand ($20 million) security upgrade to his personal residence at Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.

The group of about 24 lawmakers, dressed in red workmen overalls, refused to abide Speaker Baleka Mbete’s order to leave the National Assembly. Mbete then asked legislators to vacate the room to allow security officials to remove the EFF members and the live broadcast of the parliamentary sitting was also cut.

After a stand-off that lasted more than an hour, during which the EFF sang protest songs in the debating chamber watched over by police and parliamentary officials, the sitting briefly resumed before being adjourned for the day. The EFF then voluntarily vacated the building, dancing and singing.

The African National Congress is “appalled” by the behavior of the EFF, who seem intent to “promote anarchy and general disrespect,” Zizi Kodwa, spokesman for the ruling party, said in an e-mailed statement.

Defend Democracy

“The violent nature in which the EFF engages on issues is likely to take South Africa backward,” he said. “We warn them not to take us back to the past where we will have no option but to defend our hard won democracy.”

An investigation by South Africa’s graft ombudsman found Zuma unduly benefited from the state-funded home upgrades and recommended he repay some of the money. Zuma denied wrongdoing and a ministerial team that investigated the project said in December the president had no role in authorizing the expenditure.

Zuma, 72, is serving his second five-year term as president after the ANC won 62 percent of the vote in a May 7 election. The EFF, which Malema formed last year after his expulsion from the ANC for criticizing Zuma and sowing disunity in the party, won 6.4 percent.

On July 22, police used stun grenades to stop EFF members from forcing their way into the Gauteng legislature in Johannesburg, after officials ejected them for wearing red overalls that did not comply with its dress code. A month earlier, Malema was ejected from the national parliament after he refused to withdraw comments accusing the ANC of being murderers.

Under Parliament’s rules, an expulsion from the chamber is limited to that session.

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