Current South African President Jacob Zuma ordered the deployment of 441 troops from the South African Defense Force (SADF) to be present at this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on February 9th. Zuma insisted that these troops were for the purpose of maintaining ‘law and order’ and would work only to enhance traditional police presence. However, this is the first time that security presence will serve more than a ceremonial role. This action also doubled the amount of security, which has been present in the past.
Zuma’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), justified his action by expressing that intelligence operatives have received reports indicating that SONA was at risk of being the site of a massive uprising from disgruntled civil rights groups. The alliance of various groups all have many reasons for opposing Zuma. Despite his history in grassroots civil rights movements and fighting apartheid alongside Mandela, Zuma has been dodging corruption and malpractice charges for a decade. Most notably, the country’s highest court ruled last March that Zuma had violated the constitution by failing to repay government money that was spent on his private home.
One of the intelligence sources elaborated by saying, to news24, a local South African source, that “This is more of a preventative measure to protect the proceedings. This won’t just be teargas; this could mean sharp point ammunition. There’s serious division in the ruling party and there’s been a push to mobilize as many groups [that are disgruntled with the ANC] together so that they can disrupt things.”
The Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition party, has condemned Zuma’s actions. “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,” the DA said to BBC. They also claimed that the move violated the doctrine separation of powers between the army and state.
The far left and pro-labor opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), have been the leading force among civil rights groups disgruntled with the ANC. The EFF has even gone as far stating that Zuma’s actions are a “declaration of war.” They also called on SANDF to “defy unjust orders from a criminal president [and] instead turn their guns against Zuma.”
Since winning seats in 2014, they have repeatedly caused disruptions at SONA by chanting and jeering at the president over allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest. At the SONA, in 2015, the EFF were thrown out of parliament by security who were disguised as waiters. This year, they refused to attend SONA out of protest, and have consistently denounced Zuma as an illegitimate ruler and insisting that he step down. EFF party spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi assured News24 that “no amount of security and intimidation would stop the EFF from holding Zuma accountable in terms of the Constitution.”