South African opposition parties today called for a new speaker to be elected after pandemonium erupted in the National Assembly over a report that absolved President Jacob Zuma of any wrongdoing in the scandal over upgrades at his rural home.
On Thursday evening riot police clashed with opposition deputies inside parliament after they sought to stall the adoption of a report produced by African National Congress MPs.
The report exonerated the president over the multimillion-euro overspend on non-security renovations at his KwaZulu-Natal residence.
South Africa’s public protector Thuli Madonsela found in her investigation into the matter that
had unduly benefited from the upgrades and that he should repay to the exchequer the money for the non-security upgrades at the house in Nklandla.
However, as well as clearing the president of any wrongdoing, the subsequent report produced by a parliamentary committee leaves it to Mr Zuma’s cabinet to decide whether he should reimburse the taxpayer or not. The committee was exclusively made up of deputies from the ruling ANC.
Speaker of the house Baleka Mbete, a senior member of the ANC, tried to limit the number of motions opposition party members could table when it became clear they were trying to delay parliament voting on the committee's report.
As a result, tempers flared and Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) deputy Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela took to the podium during one of the debates and called Mr Zuma a "thief". She was ordered to leave the house but refused, which prompted the deputy speaker to call in the police.
A scuffle between opposition MPs and the police, which involved punches being thrown, ensued after police tried to manhandle Ms Mashabela from the podium.
Despite the disruptions, the report exonerating Mr Zuma was adopted by parliament, where the ANC holds a significant majority.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) today said it would no longer recognise Ms Mbete as the National Assembly’s speaker because she had lost control of the house and destroyed her credibility, it said.
Every time Ms Mbete presided over the house, "the DA will send only its chief whip, its deputy chief whip, and those members participating in the debate itself", the party's parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said. He called on a new speaker of the house to be appointed from the ranks of the opposition parties to ensure order was restored.
EFF leader Julius Malema said his party would seek an urgent interdict against the police who entered the assembly during session. "We are scared we will be brutalised by police for expressing a different view," he said.