S. Africa ANC Employs Strong-Arm Tactics to Maintain GripMike Cohen and Amogelang Mbatha
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is increasingly using force to tighten its grip on power as discontent toward President Jacob Zuma mounts, opposition parties and political analysts said.
Parliament erupted into chaos on Thursday when more than 20 armed officers dragged Economic Freedom Fighters members from the National Assembly in Cape Town when they disrupted Zuma’s state-of-the-nation speech. Lawmakers from the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition group, walked out in protest at the use of force, leaving Zuma, 72, to address a legislature filled with mainly ANC members.
“Those in control of the ruling party are very firmly in power but that power is becoming less legitimate in an openly democratic way, therefore requiring more force and more tricks,” Nic Borain, a political analyst who advises BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities Ltd., said by phone from Cape Town on Friday.
The ANC, Africa’s oldest political movement that led the fight against apartheid rule, has been in power since all-race elections in 1994. It won 62 percent of the vote in elections in May last year, while the DA won 22 percent and the EFF 6.4 percent.
Zuma’s speech was delayed by more than an hour after the DA first objected to the scrambling of mobile-phone signals in the legislature, preventing reporters from transmitting information. Jeff Radebe, minister in the Presidency, said on Thursday he wasn’t aware of who had given the instruction to obstruct the signal.
The EFF disrupted Parliament several times last year, demanding that Zuma repay state funds spent on renovating his private home at Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province. While graft ombudsman Thuli Madonsela found Zuma unduly benefited from the 215 million-rand ($18.4 million) renovation, the president has denied wrongdoing.
“The ANC is experiencing discontent not only in Parliament but even on the streets with all the protest action we have seen and they are feeling it,” Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst at the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said by phone. “They will use their majority in Parliament in a much more authoritarian and crude way.”
EFF leader Julius Malema said the forcible ejection of his party members, seven of whom were injured and one hospitalized, signified South Africa’s descent into a police state. Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s parliamentary leader, said there had been a fundamental violation of the nation’s constitution by the decision of Baleka Mbete, the speaker of Parliament and chairwoman of the ANC, to call armed officers into the chamber.
The ANC said the EFF and DA were solely to blame for the pandemonium and commended the security forces.
“It would be highly erroneous on the part of the EFF and its fellow travelers in the DA to think that this Parliament would fold its arms as rampant anarchy and thuggery undermine our hard-fought democratic gains,” Dorris Dlakude, the ANC’s deputy chief whip, told reporters in Cape Town on Friday. “What they want is to make sure that Parliament is ungovernable. We didn’t disrupt anything.”
The protests overshadowed Zuma’s bid to use his speech to reassure investors and the public that his administration is addressing an energy crisis. Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the state-owned power utility, implemented nine days of rolling blackouts as it struggles to meet demand. The rand reached a 13-year low against the dollar on Feb. 11 and foreigners dumped 6.9 billion rand of the nation’s bonds since Feb. 3, when the outages began.
The South African currency gained 0.4 percent to 11.6660 on Friday, paring a weekly retreat of 1.4 percent. Yields on benchmark government rand bonds due December 2026 fell three basis points to 7.55 percent.
“The disruptions to parliament do ultimately reflect poorly on the ANC, specifically because they have conflated party and state,” Daniel Silke, director of Political Futures Consultancy, said by phone from Cape Town. “It adds to the negative malaise and sentiment about the independence and effectiveness of our broader institutions.”