As Parliament gears up for the State of the Nation address, President Jacob Zuma is expected to receive a hostile reception, with opposition parties set to challenge him over graft allegations and the weakening economy.
Opening Parliament on Thursday, Zuma’s first State of the Nation speech since winning elections last May should have been a welcome opportunity for him to highlight the achievements of the ANC and its plans for the year ahead.
However, members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, are expected to take the unusual step of quizzing Zuma over the controversial security upgrades to his home, Nkandla.
“All we are going to do is ask the president questions because the president has gone AWOL [Absent Without Official Leave] and never reported to Parliament for question and answer sessions,” Malema told Talk Radio 702 on Thursday.
Malema said he would “insist in a polite manner” that he be allowed to quiz Zuma on the scandal.
The scene has been set, with security tight. Traffic was barred from streets for several blocks around the National Assembly, with armed police stationed strategically throughout the area.
Although similar measures have been taken in previous years, Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said that this year “the security is insane, it is absolutely insane”.
The DA has expressed concern that any debacle in Parliament will be an “embarrassment” to Nelson Mandela’s South Africa.
The EFF had said in a statement it had learned that police would be called in to Parliament to “manhandle and arrest” EFF members.
Nkandla on Malema’s agenda
Parliament has been shaken-up since the EFF won 25 seats in last year’s election. Its members wear red overalls and hard hats in the chamber, in a symbol of their apparent close ties to the working classes.
Malema is likely to focus his examination of Zuma on the upgrades to Nkandla, which came under heavy criticism in a report by public protector Thuli Madonsela last March.
Madonsela’s report said Zuma had “benefited unduly” from some of the upgrades, which included a cattle enclosure and amphitheatre, and should pay back some of the costs.
Zuma has denied any wrongdoing.
At Zuma’s last appearance in Parliament in August, raucous EFF members relentlessly chanted “pay back the money” at the president, prompting Speaker Baleka Mbete to suspend the session.
State of the economy
Zuma will also be under pressure to explain the increasingly precarious state of the economy, which was hit by record strikes in the mining sector last year and its worst power shortages since 2008.
Treasury has cut its economic growth forecast for 2015 to 2.5% from 3.2% previously, while the rand collapsed to a near 13-year low earlier this week.
Zuma is likely choose to focus his speech on the huge strides South Africa has made under the ANC’s leadership since the end of apartheid in 1994, and its vision for economic transformation under the 20-year National Development Plan. – AFP, Reuters