South African police scuffle with MPs after Nkandla vote

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Police officers closing parliament's doors in Cape Town, South Africa in August 2014Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Police came to parliament in August after the EFF disrupted a session but did not remove MPs

South African riot police clashed with opposition MPs hours after parliament absolved President Jacob Zuma over the use of some $23m (£14m) of state money to upgrade his private home in Nkandla.

They intervened after opposition MP Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela repeatedly called Mr Zuma a thief.

Four MPs were reportedly injured in the scuffle during the late-night session.

In March, the country's corruption investigator said Mr Zuma had "unduly benefited" from the improvements.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The improvements at Nkandla included a swimming pool and cattle enclosure

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela also accused him of unethical conduct and recommended he repay money used on non-security features in the renovation of his rural home in Nkandla, KwaZulu Natal province, which includes a swimming pool, cattle enclosure and chicken run.

But a parliamentary committee report - passed by a majority of African National Congress (ANC) MPs on Thursday - absolved Mr Zuma of any wrongdoing.

The government has always argued that the work was needed to improve security.

Analysis: BBC's Andrew Harding in Johannesburg

The fighting in parliament can be traced directly to two immediate factors - one is the recent influx of MPs from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party. They are unapologetically rowdy and populist, and have energised - not always in a constructive way - an institution that many South Africans, numbed by the ANC's overwhelming majority, had apparently stopped caring about.

The second factor is the scandal about the lavish taxpayer-funded renovations to President Zuma's private home in Nkandla that will not disappear. Although many senior ANC figures have privately expressed deep unease about the issue, the party has publically rallied around the president. The last straw came in the shape of an ad-hoc parliamentary committee that exonerated Mr Zuma of any personal wrongdoing, after opposition members had left it in frustration. The ANC then used its majority to adopt the committee's report on Thursday.

South Africa's opposition is usually divided in parliament - and outside - to the advantage of the ANC. But Nkandla has seen political rivals united against the governing party with unusual vigour and co-ordination. It could be a sign of things to come - an opposition coalition one day strong enough to challenge the ANC's majority.

There were heated scenes before the vote, as MPs from several opposition parties attempted to filibuster the session in Cape Town's parliament.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The EFF MPs often wear red workers' overalls in parliament

Ms Mashabela, a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, made her comments in one of the debates that followed.

"President Zuma is a thief. He is a criminal. He is the greatest thief in the world," she said.

When she refused to withdraw the statement and refused to be removed from the chamber by an official, the riot police intervened.

By this stage the parliamentary TV feed was cut.

Scuffles broke out between officers on the one side and MPs from the opposition Democratic Alliance and the EFF on the other.

According to South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper, ANC MP Lindiwe Zulu was involved in a brawl with an EFF MP in the corridor outside the chamber before Thursday's debate.

'Racist and fascist'

The ANC criticised the "chaotic circus" and "unruly conduct" of MPs.

"The dangerous alliance of a racist DA and a fascist EFF driven by a common hatred and disdain for the ANC has once again displayed its contempt for our democratic institutions," ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said in a statement.

On Friday, parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete defended the use of the police.

"We could not sit here in this institution and forever allow disruptions and outrageous conduct of honourable members who have come here not to work as we all do, but to come here and just push the boundaries in the process to rubbish this institution of the people," the South African Press Association quoted her as saying.

The EFF, which calls for radical policies to ease poverty, has 25 MPs in the 400-member parliament. They often wear red workers' overalls or red maids' uniforms in the chamber.

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