SOUTH Africa’s National Assembly suspended proceedings Thursday as President Jacob Zuma was due to answer questions, following an argument between the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Speaker Baleka Mbete called for the adjournment after the ANC blocked EFF leader Julius Malema’s attempts to make Zuma respond to a question as to when he would repay money spent on upgrading his private home.
While South Africa’s Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that Zuma unduly benefited from a 215 million rand ($17.6 million) home upgrade and said he should repay part of the money, the ANC and Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko absolved him of any wrongdoing.
Zuma, who left Parliament without answering any questions, denies having authorized the contracts.
“Zuma will not answer any questions in this house before he answers when he will pay back the money,” Malema said in an interview after the session. “Nkandla has become synonymous with corruption.”
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said the EFF’s conduct spared Zuma from facing questions on issues including the government’s failure to comply with a court ruling to prevent Sudan’s leader from leaving the country on June 15 before a decision on whether he should be arrested under an International Criminal Court warrant.
“The EFF played into the ANC’s hands,” Democratic Alliance Chief whip John Steenhuisen said in an e-mailed statement. “Today, the President escaped being held accountable yet again. The EFF’s actions allowed the President to not answer questions on the state capture of constitutionally protected institutions, the circumstances surrounding the escape of Sudan President Umar Al-Bashir, and the low economic growth.”
ANC chief whip Stone Sizani said Zuma wasn’t obliged to comment further on Nkandla.
“It is clear that the EFF came to today’s sitting with a clear purpose and orchestrated plan to disrupt the sitting,” Sizani said in an e-mailed statement.
“The party demanded, in clear violation of the longstanding procedure and rules of the House, that the President must first answer a question which was not included in the question paper prior to the sitting.”
EFF MPs have been the target of police action in the National Assembly on two occasions, when one of their lawmakers was removed on Nov. 13 and when their caucus was ejected during Zuma’s state of the nation address on Feb. 11.
“The issue of using the police to remove Members of Parliament never crossed my mind,” Mbete told reporters after the aborted question and answer session.