South Africa’s parliament collapsed in chaos on Thursday, allowing President Jacob Zuma to escape questions over why Sudan’s leader was allowed to leave the country despite a court order barring his departure.
The Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party prevented Zuma from speaking, demanding that he first agree to pay back millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money spent on his private rural residence at Nkandla — a long-running domestic scandal.
Zuma, appearing for his quarterly question time in parliament, had been expected to be pressed on the international scandal over Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to the country.
Bashir flew out of South Africa on Monday in defiance of a court order as judges weighed up an application for his arrest on a warrant from the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and genocide.
The court condemned the government’s failure to prevent his departure as unconstitutional and gave it seven days to disclose why he was allowed to leave the country.
Bashir had been in South Africa for a summit of the African Union (AU), and the government’s failure to uphold the court’s order has been roundly condemned internationally by rights groups and governments including the United States.
However, many members of the AU have accused the ICC of targeting only African leaders, and point out that the US and other major powers such as Russia and China have refused to place themselves under The Hague-based ICC’s jurisdiction.
South Africa is a signatory to the treaty and its provisions have been taken into local law.
Internationally, the repercussions may lead to a further weakening of the ICC and possible moves by South Africa and other nations to withdraw from the treaty.
But the Nkandla scandal, as it is known, trumped the ICC issue in parliament on Thursday, with the EFF’s 25 members of parliament chanting “Pay back the money” and refusing to obey the speakers’ orders before the session was abandoned.
There was no guarantee that Zuma would have addressed the Bashir issue even if questions had been asked.
Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, was asked about the debacle by parliament’s provincial council on Wednesday, but was shielded from answering by the speaker’s ruling that he could not address an issue that was still before the courts.