In a stark flashback to the events that led to Zimbabwe's terminal collapse into banana republic status, as well as unleashing hyperinflation and economic devastation, on Thursday South African President Jacob Zuma pledged to break up white ownership of business and land to reduce inequality, in a State of the Nation address which as the WSJ reports was disrupted by a fistfight, walkouts and a release of pepper spray in the parliamentary chamber. It appears South Africa is not fond of implementing "Rule 19."
Scenes of verbal and physical clashes inside the parliament, some 27 years to the day after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, as well as Zuma's contentious speech, highlight the precarious future course facing Africa’s most developed economy.
As the WSJ reports, on Thursday, lawmakers from the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters "shouted over an initial attempt by Mr. Zuma to start his speech, after complaining about what they said was a threatening increase of security inside and outside Parliament. Previously the president had for the first time deployed several hundred troops to help lock down Cape Town’s parliamentary precinct in anticipation of potential clashes between ANC and opposition supporters."
Things then quickly got out of control:
“You’re a constitutional delinquent,” EFF lawmaker Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said of Mr. Zuma, referring to a court finding last year that the president had violated the constitution when he refused to pay back public money that an official report found was used for unnecessary upgrades to his private home. Mr. Zuma has since paid back some of the funds. When EFF lawmakers, dressed in their customary red workers’ overalls and maids’ uniforms, refused to quiet down or leave the chamber, they began fighting with parliamentary orderlies. Some lawmakers used their red hard hats to hit the orderlies, while other legislators were dragged out of the chamber.
Soon after, South Africa’s other main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, walked out in protest over the increase in security. ANC lawmakers shouted after Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s first black leader, as he led his party’s MPs out of the chamber, calling him a racist and sellout. Around the same time, several DA members in the visitors’ gallery reported that tear gas had been released into the gallery, which quickly emptied.
According to the chairwoman of South Africa’s upper house, Thandi Modise, an initial investigation showed that the substance released was pepper spray and called the incident a “breach of security” that shouldn’t have happened. She didn’t say who was behind the incident.
Meanwhile, Zuma didn’t acknowledge the disruptions when he returned to the podium to continue his speech. Instead, he focused on the one issue which may soon plague South Africa for years to come: the stark economic divide between black and white South Africans, one of the issues that the EFF has seized on in recent years.
To appease the rising populist anger, and taking a page out of developed economies around the globe, Zuma then said that “today we are starting a new chapter of radical socioeconomic transformation., The president added that 22 years after the end of apartheid “white households earn at least five times more than black households.”
President Zuma’s focus on redistribution comes as his African National Congress party prepares to elect a new leader to succeed him in December and as he finds himself under growing pressure over corruption allegations. He also said that he planned to send back to Parliament a bill that will make it easier for authorities to redistribute land taken away from blacks during colonization, although white landowners will still receive market prices for any seized land.
Where have we seen this kind of land "redistribution" not too long ago? Oh yes, Zimbabwe.
It took Zimbabwe 15 years to admit its mistakes, and invite white farmers back. It now appears that South Africa will have to learn from the mistakes of its northern naighbor in due course.