Amid wide expectations that the red-bereted Economic Freedom Fighters would shake up this year’s State of the Nation address, the annual event got off to a tense start. The day started off with police bolstered in around the city as DA and EFF supporters protested against President Jacob Zuma. Police then used water cannons to disperse the crowd, with some demonstrators allegedly manhandled. DA MP Marius Redelinghuys was arrested in Adderley Street for apparently enquiring why DA members were being moved by SAPS.
Meanwhile at the Parliamentary precinct, there was a tense and sombre atmosphere ahead of SONA. Parliament’s protection services and police were beefed up and media access was more restricted than usual. VOC’s outside broadcast van was parked on a strategic spot, where presenter Shafiq Morton and the newsteam could capture the events as it happened.
Even the glitz and the glamour of the red carpet was somewhat mundane. While some guests were ready to pose for photos, DA MP’s walked in solemnly together dressed in black, a symbol of mourning. Even EFF members, clad in their revolutionary regalia, were not keen on any interviews and rushed into the National Assembly.
When the proceedings finally began, it was one comedy of errors after another. Journalists sitting inside the chamber discovered they could not live tweet or report, as the signal had been jammed. This triggered a furore inside the chamber, with opposition parties and journalists chanting “bring back the signal”. After DA members raised points of order questioning why the signal had been cut, it was eventually restored.
Things just snowballed from there. Within a few minutes of the president beginning his speech, EFF MP Godrich Gardee interupted the speech by calling for a point of order. As more EFF members stood up, and the Speaker Baleka Mbete’s frustration grew, security was called in to physically remove the EFF out of chamber. Scuffles ensued between EFF members and the security guards, who EFF claimed were police in plain clothing.
After the EFF’s removal from the chamber,the DA’s Mmusi Maimane stood up to question whether the security were policemen. When the NCOP chairperson Thandi Modise refused to provide adequate answers, Maimane led the DA caucus in a walkout.