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President Zuma heckled in annual speech

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Friday, February 12th, 2016
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South African protesters clash with police before the opening of parliament ceremony in Cape Town [EPA]

Opposition members have disrupted South African President Jacob Zuma’s annual State of the Nation speech, with some politicians walking out of the joint session at parliament.

Zuma had not yet stepped to the podium on Thursday when members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party delayed proceedings by raising questions before the much-anticipated address.

After more than an hour of delays, Zuma began to read his speech, only to be repeatedly interrupted by members of opposition parties in chaotic parliamentary scenes.

“We cannot listen to somebody who has broken his oath of office. He is no longer fit to lead our people,” Mosiuoa Lekota, the leader of the Congress of the People party which split from Zuma’s African National Congress in 2008, said before being escorted out of the chamber.

EFF party members also walked out of parliament after being asked to leave or remain silent.

Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from outside the parliament, said that anti-Zuma protesters are angry at government corruption, the state of the flagging economy and the president’s use of public money to  renovate his private residence.

“Analysts are calling this Jacob Zuma’s toughest State of the Nation yet,” Miller said.

“The country is facing a number of issues, many of them centred around the economy,” she continued.

The central bank has forecast that growth will reach only 0.9 percent this year and unemployment is at 25 percent. The worst drought in a century is forcing Africa’s top grain producer to import maize. The mining industry, hit hard by slowing demand from China, is shedding jobs and shutting unviable mines.

In his speech on Thursday night, Zuma said the government was working to attract foreign investment.

“Our country seems to be at risk of losing its investment grade status from ratings agencies. If that happens, it will become more expensive for us to borrow money from abroad to finance our programmes,” he said.

Zuma also announced that the government would implement austerity measures to cope with the weak economy and asked parliament to look into whether it could still afford state offices in both Cape Town and Pretoria.

However, he failed to address why he fired two finance ministers in one week in December. Minister Nhlanhla Nene was replaced by the relatively unknown politician David van Rooyen, sparking a selling frenzy in the markets. Zuma swiftly replaced van Rooyen with the respected Pravin Gordhan.

Earlier on Thursday, police had fired stun grenades to disperse crowds outside parliament in Cape Town as opposition followers clashed with Zuma supporters.
South Africa court to rule on Zuma funding scandal

On Tuesday, South Africa’s Constitutional Court reserved its decision on whether Zuma should pay back state money he used to upgrade his residence at Nkandla.

The court said on Tuesday that it would announce the decision at a later date once it has been made.

Two opposition parties took the case to court over Zuma’s initial refusal to obey a ruling by the national ombudswoman that he repay some of the money lavished on his private home.

After months of denying wrongdoing, Zuma promised last week to repay money spent on improvements unrelated to security.

Opposition parties have asked the country’s top court to rule on whether the president broke the law.

The opposition is hoping public anger over the upgrade and the nation’s economic woes will translate into votes in forthcoming local elections.

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