South African opposition parties walked out of a parliament session today, accusing the governing African National Congress (ANC) party of trying to silence critics.
Mbhazima Shilowa, who left the ANC last year to form the Congress of the People party (COPE), said his party and the main opposition Democratic Alliance walked out after the deputy speaker ordered a COPE politician to withdraw a comment about the government leading the country into lawlessness.
When the politician refused to withdraw his comment, he was expelled.
The deputy speaker is a member of the ANC, which has 264 seats, just short of two-thirds of the house in Cape Town. The Democratic Alliance has 67 and COPE has 30.
Mr Shilowa said that Mluleki George, another former ANC leader, was only commenting on what COPE saw as a lack of moral leadership that could lead to lawlessness. He said the deputy speaker should have allowed him to explain the remark.
The Democratic Alliance called the deputy speaker’s ruling “an assault on freedom of speech”.
The ANC, in a statement, stood by the deputy speaker’s decision, and criticised opposition members’ conduct.
“The allegation by Mluleki George that the president of the republic is leading the nation into lawlessness is outrageous and cannot be taken lightly,” the ANC said. “Parliament cannot be turned into a circus where rowdy members of parliament can impugn on the integrity of the president and hurl insults at fellow MPs just because they disagree with them.”
Ian Davidson, a spokesman for the Democratic Alliance, and Mr Shilowa said their parties would be back in parliament tomorrow. Mr Shilowa said the COPE politician had been expelled for just one day, and the protest would extend only as long as his expulsion.
The governing ANC has won every election since the first multiracial vote in 1994.
Today’s walkout came after President Jacob Zuma delivered a speech expanding on last week’s state of the nation address. President Zuma received sharp criticism from opposition parties on his speech, which largely focused on economic matters. Politicians also pointed to his admission of having had sex outside his polygamous marriage.
President Zuma has expressed regret over the affair that resulted in a daughter born in October.
The affair, first reported by a Johannesburg newspaper, has attracted steady criticism.
However, South African voters last year overwhelmingly supported Mr Zuma, who had admitted having sex outside marriage.