President Jacob Zuma of South Africa on Wednesday authorised no fewer than 400 soldiers to join the security team at his annual state of the nation speech this week, drawing outrage from opponents who called it “militarisation”.
Since the radical left wing Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) won seats in parliament at 2014 elections, Zuma’s speech to open parliament has been a chaotic affair with EFF lawmakers chanting and jeering at the president over corruption scandals.
At Zuma’s address in 2015, parliamentary security guards disguised as waiters physically removed EFF members from the chamber, but this is the first time soldiers will be deployed as security rather than a ceremonial role.
“President Jacob Zuma has authorised the employment of members of the South African National Defence Force for service in cooperation with the South African Police Service to maintain law and order,” a presidency statement said late on Tuesday.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said it condemned the decision and would be asking the Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete for an explanation.
“This announcement is deeply concerning,” the DA said in a statement on Wednesday.
“President Zuma’s deliberate use of the words ‘law and order’ in his statement points to an excessive use of the army outside of their ceremonial role in the annual fanfare.”