Imagine over 20 riot police storming into parliament and forcibly removing members of the opposition.
That’s what happened in the South African national assembly on Thursday of last week at the opening of parliament.
MPs from Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were violently ejected for asking a question about corruption during president Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation speech.
Seven MPs were injured as members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) clapped and jeered.
Zuma resumed his speech with a giggle—and avoided all the key issues. He did not mention the xenophobic attacks on black non-South Africans.
Or the appalling joblessness of our youth, the enduring low wages of black workers, or the homelessness of hundreds of thousands.
Nor did he mention the Marikana massacre, or the £14 million stolen from state funds for his private residence in Nkandla—two issues that the EFF is keen to get answers on.
The move to silence the EFF was premeditated. Zuma spent the best part of 2014 ducking parliament in order to avoid embarrassing direct questions from the EFF that have exposed the ANC’s lack of regard for democratic processes.
For the opening of parliament, Cape Town was turned into a military zone, with heavily armed police vehicles and snipers lining key roadways.
The EFF, formed in 2013, is the most significant left split from the ANC since 1994 and a product of the crisis of enduring inequality in South Africa.
The EFF’s president Malema, once leader of the ANC Youth League, was the only politician to visit Marikana immediately after the 2012 massacre and to openly support the mineworkers’ struggle for a living wage.
The party’s demand for “economic freedom in our lifetime”, and commitment to nationalisation of mines, and land redistribution without compensation has resonated with many young black South Africans.
In recent months EFF local structures have actively organised and supported land occupations and the building of shacks, which have seen violent clashes with police.
In the 2014 election the EFF won 6 percent of the national vote and 25 MPs.
Its uncompromising stance in the national parliament regarding state corruption, parliamentary rules and its insistence that MPs wear workers’ uniforms is seeing its popularity rise.
The newly formed United Front (UF), initiated by the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), has called for a national day of action on 21 March, against police brutality and the EFF will support it.
Both the EFF and the UF represent those who see the need for strong organisation that represents the interests of the poor and oppressed, and is independent of the ANC.
But the EFF and UF’s inability to come together at leadership level is weakening the potential for a mass fightback.
However in the townships, workplaces and informal settlements, EFF members and UF supporters often find themselves thrown together as they take on local demands.
The rapidity at which democracy is breaking down demands a speedy unity.
The 21 March day of action provides an opportunity for this unity to be visible.
In January Zuma told business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos that South Africa is open for business—this means more attacks on the working class.