JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete said on Wednesday she was sorry for calling a firebrand opposition lawmaker a “cockroach” in the aftermath of a chaotic State Of The Nation address by President Jacob Zuma.
South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said this week that Mbete’s comments proved that she was unfit to lead parliament and political analysts said her position was under threat.
Members of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) repeatedly interrupted Zuma’s speech at the opening of parliament on Thursday to challenge him about graft allegations.
A visibly angered Mbete, a member of Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC), ordered the EFF lawmakers, led by rebel former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, to be thrown out of parliament, prompting a brawl between the EFF and police.
Two days later, Mbete told an ANC rally that Malema was a “cockroach” and that Zuma’s speech was a “beautiful opportunity” to “deal with those irritants”.
“I withdraw my remarks unreservedly. I apologize unconditionally, to South Africans, to Parliament and Honorable Julius Malema for any hurt or harm I may have caused,” Mbete said in a statement.
In parliament follow-up sessions this week, opposition lawmakers have heavily criticized Zuma for his failure to address allegations of graft and for South Africa’s struggling economy and chronic power shortages.
Zuma is due to respond on Thursday.