Stun grenades outside Parliament and brawls between opposition lawmakers and security personnel marred South African President Jacob Zuma's state-of-the-nation speech.
Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete called in the security personnel to remove members of the Economic Freedom Fighters after they refused to stop trying to delay the address. As soon as the president entered the chamber, EFF members, wearing their trademark red coveralls, shouted "tsotsi," or criminal, while their counterparts from the ruling African National Congress tried to drown them out by chanting "president".
Before being ejected, EFF members engaged in fistfights with security agents as they moved in. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and several other opposition groups walked out of the assembly. Outside Parliament, EFF and ANC supporters clashed. Zuma resumed his speech 80 minutes after he was due to begin.
"Parliament has been militarised," EFF leader Julius Malema said outside the chamber after he was thrown out. "This place has been declared a state of emergency."
The sight of the legislature being reduced to fistfights and the security clampdown outside showed the growing tensions in South Africa's democracy that have deepened under Zuma's controversial administration.
The scope of the lockdown was unprecedented since the end of apartheid more than two decades ago. Zuma ordered 441 soldiers to join about 6000 police maintain order during his speech. They erected barricades and closed roads around the legislature, preventing anti-government protesters from approaching the precinct.
Under Zuma's presidency the economy has floundered, with the Treasury predicting 0.5 percent growth last year, and the 27 percent jobless rate is the highest since 2003. The nation is struggling to retain its investment-grade status at S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings.
The ANC suffered its worst electoral performance last year, when it lost control of Pretoria, the capital, and the economic hub of Johannesburg. While Zuma has said he'll step down as head of the ANC in December, his term as president continues until 2019.
The EFF repeated its charge that Zuma, 74, was no longer a legitimate president after the nation's top court ruled last year that he violated the constitution by not obeying an order by the nation's graft ombudsman to repay state money spent to renovate his private residence. The ANC has used its 62 percent majority in Parliament to shield him from opposition motions to impeach him.
Zuma was also implicated in another report released by the ombudsman last year, which implied that he allowed members of a wealthy family who are in business with his son to influence cabinet appointments and the issuing of state contracts. Zuma has denied ever intentionally breaking the law and has challenged the report in court.
The president's approval rating has slumped to four out of 10, from 5.7 in November 2014, a survey of 3,416 South African adults conducted by research company Ipsos between Oct. 25 and Nov. 28 for broadcaster eNCA that was released Wednesday showed.