“I would like to thank the ANC and three successive leaders of the executive, former president [Thabo] Mbeki, former president Jacob Zuma and current president of the Republic of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa for the confidence and opportunity they gave me to serve in the executive in various capacities over the years.”
At best, this expression of gratitude by newly elected National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was a nod to protocol. At worst, it signals a slide into kowtowing by the legislative arm of state to the executive.
“I fully appreciate the extent of the transition I must personally make in order to fulfil my obligations and those of this House to ensure accountability and oversight of the executive branch,” said Mapisa-Nqakula in her acceptance speech which included at least two “thank yous” to the governing ANC.
And it might just have been a case of the jitters that had the new Speaker keep her eyes firmly to her right, on the ANC benches, even as she pledged that all should feel “comfortable” that their interests would receive due consideration.
“I extend a hand of cooperation to each member and each political party represented in the House and pledge to protect the integrity and the mandate of the House, together with each one of you, without fear or favour.”
The EFF chose not to participate in Thursday’s election of Mapisa-Nqakula – effectively a straight swap with her predecessor Thandi Modise, who is now minister of defence – saying their participation would be “rubber-stamping Mr Cyril Ramaphosa’s violation of separation of powers”.
That Mapisa-Nqakula would come to Parliament was in the making ever since Ramaphosa’s 5 August Cabinet reshuffle. As president he couldn’t announce a Speaker, who must be elected by the National Assembly, according to Section 52 of the Constitution (Cabinet Reshuffle: Parliament’s Speaker Thandi Modise a…).
“For a head of the executive to chop and change the Speaker… as and when he wishes, undermines the spirit of South Africa’s constitutional democracy,” the EFF said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The DA maintains that Mapisa-Nqakula is unfit for the position of Speaker and that her election makes a complete mockery of Parliament and it’s principles of transparency, accountability and integrity,” said DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone in a statement on Thursday, adding that the opposition party would continue to fight to ensure the national legislature worked for the people of South Africa.
Criticism of Mapisa-Nqakula’s guaranteed nomination for Speaker – the ANC holds 230 of the National Assembly’s 400 seats – emerged as soon as her name was pitched last week. Not only because she lacks a parliamentary track record, but also because of conflicts of interest.
In September 2020 she was docked two months’ salary and received a presidential reprimand when it emerged several ANC officials accompanied her on a military plane to Zimbabwe. And in April 2021, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa successfully complained about Mapisa-Nqakula gaining a R5-million personal benefit from a defence service provider, with an investigation pending by the Joint Standing Committee on Defence
It will be an important signal whether this inquiry will now be dropped, even if Mapisa-Nqakula previously dismissed the allegations, or whether the newly elected Speaker is ready to subject herself to parliamentary scrutiny.
And it could get awkward on the presiding officer’s chair as soon as Tuesday next week when the National Assembly considers various committee reports on the July unrest that hit parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Over 340 people died in the looting and violence.
As defence minister, Mapisa-Nqakula was part of the security cluster sharply criticised for failing to respond to warning signs of the impending unrest. Mapisa-Nqakula’s characterisation of the violence as “counter-revolutionary thuggery” contradicted Ramaphosa’s labelling it “an attempted insurrection”.
A parliamentary inquiry remains pending until the police committee, which this week started considering the terms of reference, finalises these. Should such an inquiry get underway, it will be another process that would require Mapisa-Nqakula to answer questions.
On Thursday, Parliament said in a statement that Mapisa-Nqakula’s election as Speaker had “reaffirmed the (institution) as one of the leading parliaments in Africa and the world in terms of women representation and leadership, being placed second and tenth respectively by the international body of parliaments, the Inter-Parliamentary Union”.
ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina, decked out in pink for the occasion, formally nominated Mapisa-Nqakula as Speaker, with Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu seconding: “Long live the spirit of the women of SA!”
The DA nominated its MP Annelie Lotriet, who received 82 votes from just about every DA parliamentarian in the House.
The 17 spoiled votes would have come from other opposition parties, although this will only emerge once the results of the vote are published in the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports (ATC), or record of Parliament’s work.
Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo assigned the role of overseeing the election of the Speaker to controversial Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe. For the past decade, he’s been embroiled in disciplinary proceedings over improperly seeking to influence two Constitutional Court judges in proceedings related to Jacob Zuma. Further legal wrangling followed the April 2021 Judicial Conduct Tribunal finding that Hlophe was answerable for gross misconduct.
On Thursday, after all the votes were counted, double-checked and reconciled, Hlophe announced, “… I accordingly declare Honourable Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula duly elected as the Speaker of the National Assembly.”
And with that, the ANC benches erupted in applause. DM