CAPE TOWN – South African parliament collapsed into unprecedented chaos on Thursday when a group of radical lawmakers hijacked presidential question time, standing and yelling repeatedly at President Jacob Zuma, "Pay back the money."
Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by firebrand Julius Malema, were not satisfied with Zuma's response to questions over the $24 million of taxpayers' money spent on security upgrades at his private residence. Speaker Baleka Mbete ordered the group of around 20 lawmakers out of parliament but they refused to budge.
She then called on security for help and all members of the parliament were asked to vacate the chamber while the EFF members were dealt with. Zuma, who had at first smiled as the chanting began, was among the first to leave. For around 10 minutes, live broadcasts of parliament showed the EFF members alone in the assembly and still chanting.
They were dressed in their usual outfits of red overalls and maid's uniforms, which they say represent their solidarity with the poor. Then both sound and vision from parliament were cut, leaving viewers to speculate how the rebels were being dealt with. A report by South African government-appointed Public Protector had called for Zuma to repay some of the millions spent on items such as a swimming pool, amphitheatre, cattle kraal and chicken run at his rural home in Nkandla.
After delaying his response beyond deadlines, Zuma said he had appointed the police minister to decide whether he needed to pay back any of the money. The EFF accuses Zuma's ruling African National Congress of selling-out to white economic interests since the end of apartheid 20 years ago, and wants to nationalise mines, banks and white-owned land.