The Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters have condemned President Jacob Zuma for deploying 441 members of the South African National Defence Force to “maintain law and order” at the president’s State of the Nation address (Sona) on Thursday.
The DA and the EFF released statements on Tuesday night immediately after the presidency had announced that army personnel would be posted around Parliament together with the South African Police Service (SAPS) from February 5 to February 10.
John Steenhuisen, the DA’s chief whip, said in a statement that the DA is seeking an “urgent meeting” with Baleka Mbete, the speaker of Parliament, for a response from the House to the deployment.
“I will accordingly seek an urgent meeting with the speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, as the Head of the Legislative arm of the State, over this worrying development and seek a definitive response on behalf of Parliament that this sort of conduct will not be tolerated by the executive,” Steenhuisen said.
It is not unusual for the SANDF to be seen around Parliament during the Sona for ceremonial purposes, but Steenhuisen said it is “deeply concerning” that they will now perform the task of security personnel. The DA’s chief whip went on to say that the move by the presidency is an attempt to clamp down on dissent by opposition parties.
“Our message to President Zuma tonight is clear: no number of SANDF soldiers will deter us from holding you accountable in Parliament this week, or any other day of the year. We will not be intimidated,” Steenhuisen said.
The EFF, meanwhile, said on Tuesday night that the deployment of the army is a “declaration of war” on South Africans.
“We condemn this initiative as the unleashing of the army on the people of South Africa. It must be seen as the declaration of War on citizens, which means Zuma is planning to murder those he disagrees with at the Sona,” the EFF said.
Last year, the EFF were thrown out of Parliament within the first hour of the Sona. The party heckled Zuma and rose on points of order as the president tried to speak. In the end, they left chanting “Zupta must fall” – a reference to Zuma’s controversial relationship with the Gupta family.
On Monday, EFF leader Julius Malema tweeted that the party would not be deterred by Parliament security. At the 2015 Sona, fist fights broke out after Parliament’s security clashed with EFF members, forcibly removing them from the House. Malema, however, hinted that the EFF would once again be ready to disrupt Zuma’s speech.
In its statement on Tuesday night, the EFF said that it is the mandate of the SAPS and not the SANDF to maintain law and order in South Africa. The party urged the SANDF to defy the orders from the presidency, saying should “turn their guns against Zuma” instead.
“We further call on SANDF members to defy unjust orders from a criminal president. They must refuse to be turned against the people; they must instead turn their guns against Zuma! We call on them to respect parliament and the parliament of the people and not of Zuma,” the EFF said.
Concern has mounted over the presidency’s decision to deploy the army, with the Right2Know campaign calling it “controversial”.
But according to EWN, the presidency’s spokesperson, Bongani Ngqulunga, said that the defence department requested the army to be deployed for the Sona.
“Normally when the president deploys troops, the Presidency doesn’t communicate on it, because the request comes from the defence department, even the request to deploy comes from them,” Ngqulunga said.
“They are bound by law and the Constitution that they should ask the president when they want to deploy troops, and that’s the reason why it becomes the president’s decision.”
The Sona is scheduled to take place on Thursday night at 7pm. Zuma will attend the ANC’s people’ assembly at the Grand Parade near Parliament after his speech.