South African president Jacob Zuma is set to deliver his annual state of the nation address on Thursday after deploying more than 440 soldiers to prevent a repeat of violent clashes outside parliament.
More than 400 soldiers have been deployed to prevent a repeat of last year's violent clashes which marred Zuma's state of the nation address. The president said the military deployment was to "maintain "law and order" but the move was condemned by the main opposition Democratic Alliance party.
"A sense of paranoia has set in, a president who is terrified of parliament, terrified of the opposition on its own benches and on the opposition benches and is desperate through a show of force to try and re-assert his authority using military might." John Steenhuisen, the Chief Whip of the main Democratic Alliance (DA) opposition said.
Parliament's speaker Baleka Mbeta was quick to defend the move by the government to deploy soldiers whom she said will be on standby to support the police contingent. "Those [soldiers] people will not be anywhere around parliament," Mbeta said.
Capetown, a stronghold of the opposition DA party, has been under tight security this week. "Our nation is facing increasing pain, hunger, thirst and deprivation while those in the center of power turn their backs so they can focus on amassing ill-begotten wealth," Sipho Pityana, a former anti-apartheid struggle stalwart and senior executive member of the ruling ANC, said.
Zuma under pressure to quit
Zuma, 74, has faced growing criticism since his last address over a series of damaging corruption scandals, worsening unemployment levels and slow economic growth.
In December, he beat back an attempt by at least four ministers to oust him from power, following local elections that delivered the worst-ever results for the ruling ANC. During last year's state of the nation address, lawmakers from the Economic Freedom Fighters(EFF) dressed in their red overalls,noisily interrupted President Zuma's speech, before eventually being ordered out of the chamber.
South Africa's highest court last year found the president guilty of violating the constitution after he refused to repay taxpayers' money used to refurbish his private Nkandla rural house. He is also fighting a court order that could reinstate almost 800 corruption charges against him over a multi-billion dollar arms deal in the 1990s.
A separate probe by the country's top corruption watchdog uncovered evidence of possible criminal activity in his relationship with the Guptas, a business family of Indian origin accused of wielding undue political influence over the presidency.
There have been growing calls from anti-apartheid veterans, ANC activists, trade unions, civil society groups and business leaders for Zuma to resign.
Repairing a damaged economy
Zuma is expected to announce plans for radical economic transformation that would allow for black South Africans to become greater players in the mainstream business sector.
South Africa, the continent's most industrialized economy, expanded by about 0.4 percent last year. Inflation hit 6.8 percent in December and unemployment has risen to a 13-year high of 27 percent.
"The party is unsure of itself, they appear overly paranoid," Daniel Silke, an independent political analyst, told AFP. "Deploying the military shows the increasing frustration within the ANC after the last two years of disruptions."
Zuma, a traditionalist leader who came to power in 2009, is widely seen as being at loggerheads with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, a reformist respected among international investors.
In his speech on Thursday, he is also set to announce plans for rapid land transfer from the white minority to the black majority. Zuma claims not much has changed for majority of black South Africans over the past 22 years of freedom.
Subry Govender contributed to this report