The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has condemned president Jacob Zuma’s order to deploy 441 soldiers to Parliament to maintain “law and order” ahead of the State of the Nation address this week, saying it must be seen as a declaration of war on South African citizens.
The party – which is known for being disruptive at any opportunity the president is given to address the public – took its condemnation even further, saying that “Zuma is planning to murder those he disagrees with”.
“The military has no place in the maintenance of law and order as the South African Police Services are given such a mandate. The military are people who get deployed for war and whose training is about killing the enemies of the state,” the party said.
The party accused the president of trying to intimidate the media and politicians, saying that he has no confidence in Constitutional processes and now wants captains and the SAPS to execute his illegal decisions and actions.
South Africa’s biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, had a more muted response to Zuma’s move, calling it “deeply concerning”.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said that he would seek an urgent meeting with the Speaker of the National Assembly over the development, to get a definitive response from Parliament that Zuma’s actions will not be tolerated.
“The DA will not stand by and allow for the “people’s parliament” to be turned into a security-state show of force, meant to intimidate opposition both inside and outside of the ANC,” the party said.
The DA and the EFF have both committed to holding Zuma accountable, irrespective of the military presence, with the latter party going as far as saying that the president will not get an opportunity to speak.
“As the EFF, we shall never be deterred. No amount of security and intimidation will deter us from holing Zuma accountable in terms of the constitution. We will defend the constitution to the end and with whatever revolutionary means possible,” the party said.
Decision should set alarm bells ringing
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said that Zuma’s decision appears to be a “flagrant breach of the separation of powers”.
In statement posted to social media, De Vos said that the executive branch of government (the president) cannot deploy the arm to another branch – in this case the legislature.
“Imagine the president deployed 450 soldiers to the Constitutional Court while it was busy deciding whether the state of capture report was valid – it would be an outrage,” he said.
The legal expert cited a Constitutional Court case between the Democratic Alliance against the Speaker of the National Assembly, which makes specific reference to the dangers of the executive abusing the army to intimidate MPs, be it directly or indirectly.
In that ruling, the ConCourt said that Parliament is entrusted with the task to oversee the executive, warning that “tyrannical rule is usually at the hands of the executive”, because it had control over the police and the army.
“Even in a democracy, one cannot discount the temptation of the improper use of state organs to further the interests of some within the executive,” the court said.
To make sure it can fulfil its role of executive oversight, Parliament needs to operate in an environment that guarantees freedom from arrest, detention, prosecution or harassment, “of whatever nature”, it said.
De Vos pointed to several steps in the process to deploy troops that appear to have been skipped by president Zuma in his order. He specifically questioned whether the president informed Parliament of the deployment of troops, and given reasons for it as required by section 201 of the Constitution.
He also questioned whether the Minister of Defence has gazetted the deployment of troops at the State of the Nation Address as required by section 19(2) of the Defence Act.
At this stage, there is no clear indication that the president followed any of these rules.