On Thursday 21 August 2014, riot police in the South African parliament forcibly removed MPs from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) from the house after they refused to obey the request of the speaker to sit down.
The shenanigans began when president and African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma finished his prepared response to pre-set questions relating to the public protector’s report on misspent funds for his private residence, Nkandla. The EFF posed a follow-up question, asking if Zuma intended to pay back the money. They were interrupted by a ‘point of order’ from an ANC MP, who said the president had already responded to the public protector’s report and that further investigations would follow. The EFF countered by saying that the ANC was trying to avoid the question and continued to demand in chorus that Zuma ‘pay back the money’ owed to taxpayers. The speaker then ordered them to sit down and refused to allow the point of order they raised despite their numerous pleas. They continued their chanting until the speaker ordered the riot police to remove all of the EFF members.
Many South African citizens were shocked by the debacle. The EFF, known for its disruptive antics and anti-establishment rhetoric, is seen by citizens as something of a nuisance to parliamentary process. However, the EFF is really the only political party that is putting the ANC under pressure. Zuma and the ANC believe, somewhat smugly, that by saying nothing about the president’s expenses the issue will eventually disappear. This complacency is fuelled by the weakness of the main South African opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). However, like the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, the EFF is starting to introduce some contention into South African politics, something which has clearly unsettled Zuma and his party.
The EFF itself, and its leader Julius Malema, are little more than opportunists. It has little political substance to offer. However, to some among the frustrated and sidelined masses of South Africa, the EFF’s willingness to stick two fingers up to establishment is refreshing. What’s more, the party’s protests have brought up legitimate questions about whether parliamentary protocol is stifling free speech and damaging South African democracy. Long may the EFF’s antics continue.
Sharmini Brookes is a writer based in Johannesburg.