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South African lawmakers wrestle over Zuma scandal

13 November 2014, 19:04

Cape Town - South Africa's parliament descended into chaos -- and comedy -- Thursday ahead of a debate over the building of a palatial home for President Jacob Zuma with taxpayers money.

Rambunctious opposition lawmakers refused the speaker's orders to sit down or leave the house, instead standing and yelling at her: "You must go!"

It was the second time the issue of Zuma's $23 million (18.5 million euros) home has thrown parliament into turmoil.

In August, riot police were deployed after a group of radical lawmakers yelled at Zuma: "Pay back the money".

The session was suspended and Zuma has not returned to parliament since.

On Thursday, uproar broke out within minutes of the start of the session when speaker Baleka Mbete, chairwoman of the ruling African National Congress, tried to limit the programme for the day.

She was met with a barrage of angry objections and accused of trying to "bully" the opposition and run a "one-party dictatorship".

After around 40 rowdy minutes Mbete was forced to back down -- a rare victory for the opposition in a house dominated by the ANC.

Opposition sources revealed that their tactic was to extend the parliamentary session into the night, when ANC lawmakers usually fly home for the weekend.

That would leave the ruling party unable to muster the numbers to pass a committee report into Zuma's home, which has been dismissed as a whitewash.

The report, adopted by a committee made up entirely of ANC MPs after the opposition withdrew, exonerated Zuma of responsibility for the "security upgrades" to his rural Nkandla home.

Once the speaker backed down, opposition members rose endlessly to give notice of motions for future debate, many of which made scornful digs at Zuma.

The "security upgrades" at his home included a chicken run, a cattle enclosure, a swimming pool and an amphitheatre -- giving lawmakers vast scope for jokes about their security uses.

But the scandal has created great bitterness and seriously damaged Zuma's standing.

When it does finally come up in parliament, seven of 12 opposition parties plan to call for his removal from office on the grounds that he has violated the constitution.

When that fails -- as it will because of the ANC's overwhelming majority -- they plan to take the issue to court.

Zuma also faces a police investigation into the building works.

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