Reuters International

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma answers questions at Parliament in Cape Town, March 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/Files

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By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma told lawmakers on Thursday to halt their "theatre and antics" after most opposition parties boycotted a speech the scandal-ridden leader gave in parliament.

Political tensions are mounting in South Africa ahead of local elections in August when Zuma's ruling African National Congress faces a stiff challenge from opponents seeking to capitalise on what they see as the president's missteps.

Zuma, dogged by scandals during his seven-year presidency, survived an impeachment vote in parliament last month after the Constitutional Court said he had violated the constitution.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance party, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and others stayed away from Zuma's speech in parliament on Thursday, saying he had been "discredited" after court rulings against him.

"The drama, theatre and antics we see daily in this house will not move South Africa forward," Zuma said while replying to lawmakers' questions over a budget to cover the costs of the presidency.

"Commenting as somebody who, from time to time, comes to this house to participate, I believe the house needs to do more to bring this house in order," Zuma said, adding that the squabbles and scuffles were denting South Africa's image.

On Wednesday the parliamentary protection services forcibly removed members of the EFF party from the chamber after they tried to disrupt proceedings before another Zuma speech.

"STRONG MESSAGE"

Opposition leaders said in a joint statement that their decision to boycott Thursday's speech was intended "to send a strong message to the South African people that the opposition won't allow Zuma to trample on the constitution, ignore court rulings and then come to parliament and ask for more money for his office".

Parliament, dominated by the ANC, rejected a bid last month to impeach Zuma after the Constitutional Court said he had breached the law by ignoring an order to repay state funds spent on his private home.

But Zuma's legal headaches have not gone away. Last week the High Court ruled he should face 783 corruption charges that were dropped in 2009 by state prosecutors.

The hundreds of corruption charges relate to a major government arms deal arranged in the late 1990s.

Zuma said last month that an investigation into the deal had found no evidence of corruption or fraud but critics denounced the findings as a cover-up and said they would continue to campaign for justice.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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