South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance said it was seeking a court ruling on the deployment of armed soldiers in parliament saying the move, during President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation speech, was unconstitutional.
The president’s address was delayed by more than an hour and descended into chaos on Thursday as far-left lawmakers brawled with officials after interrupting the speech and the main opposition party walked out.
Zuma authorised more than 400 soldiers to join the security team at the parliament building during the speech, an unprecedented move opponents described as a “militarisation” of parliament.
“Armed military police, with live ammunition, on the precinct of parliament is completely untenable in a constitutional democracy,” Democratic Alliance leader Musi Maimane told reporters.
Previous speeches in parliament by Zuma have also led to disruption, but Thursday’s – in which he said government would push for a greater role for blacks in the economy – was the most violent, with scuffles spilling over into the precinct of the building.
Zuma, halfway through his second five-year term, seemed unfazed by the chaotic scenes, witnessed by his predecessor Thabo Mbeki in the public gallery, and immediately after the sitting went to a gathering of his African National Congress (ANC) party, where he briefly entertained the crowds singing apartheid liberation-era songs.
A Zulu traditionalist and former ANC intelligence chief who ousted Mbeki in 2008, Zuma’s presidency has been dogged by persistent corruption claims he denies.
In September, the president took out a home loan to repay state money spent on non-security-related upgrades to his rural home, in compliance with a court order.