09/02/2017 19:47 SAST | Updated 09/02/2017 20:20 SAST

'Sit Down Zuma.' Déjà Vu As Sona 2017 Kicks Off With Repeated Disruptions

"Please leave Baba!"

POOL New / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma takes the national salute ahead of his State of the Nation Address (Sona) to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in Cape Town, South Africa, February 9, 2017.

The 2017 opening of parliament started with the interruptions from opposition parliamentarians that South Africans have come to expect.

President Jacob Zuma made his way into parliament on Thursday evening, amid the tightest security in recent memory.

Zuma deployed an unprecedented number of soldiers on the occasion of his State of the Nation Address (Sona), amid criticism from the public, civil society and the opposition.The move came against the backdrop of threats by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third biggest party in parliament and led by Julius Malema, to disrupt proceedings.

Zuma walked into the chamber just after 7pm to praise singing which, in a novel departure, came from an elaborately dressed young boy. The moment was spoilt however by immediate chants of "ANC" from the ruling party's MPs and "Tsotsi" from the EFF's MPs, who stayed seated when others stood.

The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), kicked off with their objections with a request to have a moment of silence for the 94 psychiatric patients who died thanks to state bungling, which was revealed earlier this year in a report that shocked South Africans.

Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, who has earned censure for her handling of opposition MPs in the past, asked the DA to allow the president to speak where he might address the matter.

The DA continued to insist, to no avail.

The EFF, meanwhile, registered their alarm repeatedly over the hyper security at the precinct.

In 2015 EFF MPs were at the receiving end of brutal treatment by the so-called "white shirt" parliamentary security when they were thrown out of the chamber after their disruptions, themed that year around their catchy slogan #PayBackTheMoney, referencing how R246 million in public money had been used in security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma's private residence in Nkandla. Zuma has since paid back a portion of the money owed as ordered by the Constitutional Court.

The EFF however, have not had a lack of material to work with in the Zuma presidency and have latched on to a portion of the judgment that found Zuma did not uphold and protect the Constitution.

Forty minutes into the opening of parliament, Zuma still had not been given a chance to speak with other opposition figures like Cope's Mosiuoa Lekota chiming in.

When Zuma did try to speak, he was drowned out by shouting MPs telling him to sit down.

"Please leave Baba," said EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. "You are a constitutional delinquent, you have to leave."