South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Friday mocked the opposition as “useless” and ignorant, after rowdy radical lawmakers repeatedly disrupted his annual state of the nation parliamentary address.
In the latest attack on the embattled president, who is tainted by graft allegations, lawmakers from the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) noisily interrupted his speech on Thursday night before being ordered out of the chamber.
When he was finally able to speak after chaotic scenes in parliament, Zuma announced plans for “an effective turnaround plan” for South Africa’s ailing economy, amid dire warnings about growth from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
And on Friday he took aim at the EFF protesters who chanted calling on him to step down.
“They are showing how useless they are, people will never vote for them,” Zuma said. “They don’t understand democracy, how it works.”
“They just move with the wind when it goes this way, that way, shame on them.”
The EFF’s firebrand leader Julius Malema had yelled at Zuma that he was “no longer a president that deserves respect from anyone”.
But Zuma said the opposition’s rowdy behaviour was damaging South Africa’s reputation — and also working to his ruling African National Congress (ANC)’s advantage.
“If the party or the president commits a mistake, there is a process how you deal with that,” he said in his first reaction to his latest heckling.
“You are really not doing good for your country. You are making this country look bad out there.”
He said opposition parties were too focused on criticising the ANC and were “not convincing people”.
– Zuma under fire –
Zuma is facing moves in court, in parliament and on the streets to have him impeached or dumped by the ANC.
Among a slew of issues that have angered the opposition and sparked calls for his removal from office is the use of taxpayers’ money to upgrade his private residence.
Malema’s party and the main opposition group, the Democratic Alliance, have dragged the president to the Constitutional Court over his initial refusal to obey a ruling by the national ombudswoman that he repay some of the $24 million lavished on the Nkandla home.
On Friday Zuma insisted he had “never” refused to reimburse for the refurbishments but said the case had been “highly politicised”.
“This was just a political perception created that I am refusing to pay. I never said I was not going to pay this money,” he said.
“What I have been refusing to do is to pay back the money that I don’t know how much it is,” said Zuma, adding that his repaying the money was not an admission that he did “something wrong”.
The court has reserved judgment, and if the ruling goes against Zuma, the EFF has pledged to use it to press for Zuma’s impeachment.
Any such attempt however would likely fail in a parliament where the ANC holds an overwhelming majority.
Zuma’s own lawyers accepted in court that the case had “traumatised the nation,” and conceded that he needed to obey.
Zuma, who plunged markets into chaos in December when he fired two finance ministers within days, held talks this week with business leaders in an attempt to avoid a downgrade of Africa’s most advanced economy’s debt to junk status by global ratings agencies.
The country is wrestling with a sharply slowing economy, high unemployment, grinding poverty and a resurgence of public racial animosity.
Commentators have predicted that 2016 could be South Africa’s toughest year since the ANC came to power under liberation icon Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid in 1994.