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Economic Freedom Fighters

Members of South Africa’s opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have been removed from parliament after they tried to block President Jacob Zuma from speaking.

EFF lawmakers heckled and chanted “Zuma leave the house” during the president’s first appearance in parliament since two damning court rulings against him.

The speaker ordered security officers to throw them out.

On April 29, a court said that Jacob Zuma should be charged with corruption.

The case is related to a multi-billion dollar arms deal the government negotiated in 1999.

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled that Jacob Zuma had violated the constitution when he failed to repay government money used to upgrade his private home in the rural area of Nkandla.

Jacob Zuma denies any wrongdoing, and says he will continue to “shepherd” the nation. His term is due to end in 2019.

Punches were exchanged and parliamentary benches knocked over as plain-clothed security officers dragged the EFF MPs out of their seats and evicted them from the chamber, AFP news agency reports.

The lawmakers had earlier denounced Jacob Zuma as an “illegitimate” ruler who should step down.

The High Court said on April 29 that prosecutors should review their 2009 decision to drop 783 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering against Jacob Zuma over the arms deal.

After the Constitutional Court ruling, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, failed in a bid to impeach Jacob Zuma after the governing African National Congress (ANC) rallied behind him in parliament.

The South African parliament descended into chaos as leftist lawmakers scuffled with security during a key annual speech by President Jacob Zuma.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, repeatedly interrupted Jacob Zuma, demanding answers over a spending scandal.

The speaker of parliament then ordered their removal, prompting scuffles.

The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, walked out in protest at their expulsion.

“You can’t send police into parliament,” said Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane.

The EFF used President Jacob Zuma’s annual State of the Nation speech to question him about a state-funded, multi-million dollar upgrade to his private residence.

They were evicted by large numbers of security guards. Among those thrown out was Julius Malema.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Julius Malema defended his lawmakers’ actions, calling it a legitimate attempt to defend democracy, adding that seven of his party had been injured and would be pressing charges.

It is not clear whether the guards were police or parliamentary officials: an important distinction, according to one lawmaker, who said the use of police would be a way of intimidating the opposition.

Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma were once close allies but the pair fell out.

The EFF has shaken up South African politics with a series of populist proposals to redistribute wealth.

EFF lawmakers accuse Jacob Zuma of benefitting unduly from taxpayer-funded upgrades to his private residence in the village of Nkandla and they wanted the president to answer questions about this before making his state of the nation speech.

In 2014, an independent inquiry found the president had “unduly benefited” from the expensive upgrades, which included a pool and a cattle enclosure and cost about $23 million.

President Jacob Zuma has denied any wrongdoing.

Despite criticism of the Nkandla upgrade and South Africa’s stagnant economy, Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress was overwhelmingly re-elected last year.

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