Provided that logistical challenges to arranging a secret ballot (whether virtual or otherwise) during the pandemic can be overcome, members of the National Assembly will vote for a new speaker on Thursday. The vacancy follows the appointment of outgoing speaker Thandi Modise as defence minister.
If the secret ballot produces a result with 240 votes for and the rest against, it will be no secret that the entire ANC caucus in the assembly will have bowed to the will of the apparatchiks in Luthuli House by voting the wishes of their party bosses and not the dictates of their oaths of office.
MPs who appreciate the supremacy of the rule of law in SA’s constitutional dispensation cannot possibly vote for former defence minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula, because it would be irrational to do so. She is married to a presidential special adviser Charles Nqakula, a fact that implies the risk of multiple conflicts of interest between their official responsibilities and private interests in maintaining their marriage. The separation of powers between executive and legislative branches of government would risk being compromised by their relationship.
The speaker is the presiding officer in the National Assembly. Persons of impeccable integrity and unswerving impartiality are meant to occupy this high office. The ANC’s official candidate does not measure up to these high standards. She escaped conviction in the Travelgate fraud scandal because the prosecuting authorities lacked the capacity to charge all miscreants involved. Her political connections spared her a career-saving plea bargain of the kind arranged for lesser fraudsters caught up in that blot in parliament’s copybook.
Smuggling the Burundian girlfriend of her son into the country is another count on her putative rap-sheet, as is the illegal hitchhiking she arranged for an ANC delegation to Zimbabwe on a military flight on which it had no business. She has been accused of receiving a bribe of R5m from a defence contractor. She believes, quite wrongheadedly, that the riots and looting last month were the work of what she infamously called “counter-revolutionaries” in her official reaction. She was fired from cabinet for being caught with her departmental pants down last month. This is not the CV of a suitable candidate for speaker. If the ANC genuinely wishes to clean up its act, she should be among the first to go.
The National Assembly exercises oversight over the executive branch of government. Putting an errant ex-member of the executive in charge of the assembly is akin to putting the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse. Oversight of all that went wrong in the security cluster last month will be bedevilled by Mapisa-Nqakula’s election as speaker.
The doctrine of legality, an element of the rule of law, requires rationality in the decision-making the secret ballot involves. A legitimate purpose of government, by duly appointing a person of integrity and impartiality, cannot possibly be served by voting Mapisa-Nqakula into the office of speaker.
Should the ANC caucus be so ill-advised as to vote for her, it can expect legal challenges of the kind made when Jacob Zuma tried to appoint the tainted and mendacious Menzi Simelane as his first national director of public prosecutions. We all know now why Zuma attempted that. Simelane’s appointment was struck down as invalid and irrational by the courts.
Mapisa-Nqakula is in her 65th year; she should rethink standing for speaker, a most taxing assignment, and could instead retire to write an autobiography to complement that of her husband.
Paul Hoffman, SC
Director, Accountability Now
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