South African Opposition Parties Boycott President's Speech

  • Zuma is discredited, illegitimate, DA's Maimane says
  • Opposition want Zuma ousted for violating constitution

South Africa’s main opposition parties, who are seeking President Jacob Zuma’s ouster following a ruling by the nation’s highest court that he violated the constitution, boycotted his appearance in the National Assembly in Cape Town on Thursday, leaving him to address a two-thirds-empty chamber on his office’s budget.

“We cannot in good conscience legitimize an empty speech of an utterly discredited and illegitimate president,” Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, said in an e-mailed statement. “This collective decision was taken by opposition parties after much consideration to send a strong message to the South African people that the opposition won’t allow Zuma to trample on the constitution, ignore court rulings, and then come to Parliament and ask for more money for his office.”

Opposition parties have called for Zuma to resign or be fired since a March 31 ruling by the Constitutional Court that he “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution” by refusing to abide by a Public Protector directive to repay part of the 215.9 million rand ($14.5 million) of state funds spent on his private home.

Their attempts to impeach the president last month were blocked by the ruling African National Congress, which controls 62 percent of the seats in the 400-seat National Assembly. Almost half the ANC’s lawmakers didn’t attend Thursday’s debate.

The campaign against Zuma gained impetus last week, when the High Court in Pretoria ruled that prosecutors erred when they dropped a corruption case against him shortly before he became president in 2009, opening the way for the 783 charges against him to be reinstated.

Lawmakers from the Economic Freedom Fighters, the second-largest opposition party who were forced from the chamber on Wednesday after they tried to prevent Zuma from speaking, were among those to join the boycott.

Zuma, the ANC’s former head of intelligence who took office in May 2009, defended his record in office and called for political differences to be resolved peacefully. 

“Ours is a success story,” he said. “The drama, theater and antics that we see daily in this house will not move South Africa forward.”

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