A South African court on Tuesday upheld a ban on leaders of a boisterous opposition party from attending a speech this week by President Cyril Ramaphosa opening the new parliamentary session after they were sanctioned for disrupting the event a year ago.
The leader, deputy leader and four other officials with the Economic Freedom Fighters — the third biggest party in Parliament — will not be allowed at Thursday’s State of the Nation Address.
The six lawmakers were suspended from Parliament from Feb. 1 to Feb. 29. They were among a group of EFF members ordered out of the room by the speaker for interrupting Ramaphosa’s 2023 speech. But instead of leaving, the group, led by EFF president Julius Malema, jumped onto the stage and held up signs calling for Ramaphosa to step down before security forced them out.
EFF lawmakers have interrupted parliamentary sittings and scuffled with security officials on several occasions.
Malema, EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu and the others went to court to appeal their suspensions. When that was dismissed, they filed another case seeking that the new parliamentary rules under which they were suspended be declared invalid. The Western Cape High Court rejected that challenge Tuesday.
Malema, who was expelled from the ruling party in 2012, is renowned for his contentious politics and has previously been accused by South African-born billionaire Elon Musk of being anti-white and stoking racial tensions.
The leftist EFF says it represents South Africa’s poor Black majority, which it argues has been failed by the African National Congress-led government and is still economically disadvantaged because of the legacy of the apartheid system of racial segregation that ended 30 years ago. Their policies are sometimes cast as anti-white by critics.
EFF lawmakers often attend Parliament dressed in red industrial work clothes, rubber boots and hard hats like those worn by miners or construction workers in a display of solidarity with South Africa’s working class. Female EFF lawmakers wear the uniforms that maids and domestic workers wear.
Ramaphosa may use his State of the Nation Address to announce a date for this year’s national election, due to be held between May and August.
The ANC has been in government since apartheid ended in 1994, but this year’s vote could be a landmark moment for South Africa. Polls suggest the ANC might slip below 50% of the vote for the first time. That would force it into a coalition to stay in government and keep Ramaphosa as president for a second and final term.
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