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Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: GCIS
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: GCIS

As parliament moves to elect a new Speaker of the house, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s own words at the state capture inquiry will come back to haunt him.

He mounted a spirited defence of the so-called cadre deployment policy, under which the governing party makes recommendations about who should occupy political and administrative offices in government departments and state-owned enterprises.  

A day before Ramaphosa was due to appear before the Zondo public hearings that had been detailing shocking testimony of widespread, industrial-scale corruption, it emerged that Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula had been named as the ANC candidate for parliamentary speaker after a cabinet shake-up that removed her as minister of defence and military veterans.  

Aside from the fact that Mapisa-Nqakula publicly contradicted Ramaphosa on the causes of the looting and rioting that brought the country to its knees last month, she is among those in the security cluster that Ramaphosa said were “caught napping” when a critical mass of citizens ran amok and set ablaze commercial buildings.  

Given that her competence as defence and military veterans minister is in question, it’s understandable that opposition parties and political commentators would accuse Ramaphosa of putting the party above the state.   

A long-serving cadre of the party, Mapisa-Nqakula’s deployment to arguably a more powerful post than the one that she vacated, coming with the same salary as the deputy president, reaffirms the ANC’s message that one can expect to be rewarded, even with a cloud hanging over one’s head.  

Furthermore, Mapisa-Nqakula has a history of finding herself in controversial situations. In 2016 she admitted to smuggling a Burundian civilian bearing a false passport using an official jet, defending her move as an act of benevolence for an abused child.   

She was in hot water again in 2020 when she transported a six-member ANC delegation on a SA National Defence Force plane to Zimbabwe, flouting lockdown regulations and raising justifiable questions about why the delegation were flown on state aircraft when they held no official government positions.      

Add accusations by Bantu Holomisa, leader of the UDM, that Mapisa-Nqakula received wads of cash and gifts amounting to about R5m from a contractor at the SANDF between 2017 and 2019, and you are looking at a candidate for parliamentary speaker whose integrity is up in the air. She has denied wrongdoing. Holomisa has written to the chairpersons of parliament’s joint standing committee calling for an urgent investigation into the claims.

As the head of the engine house of democracy, one of Mapisa-Nqakula’s primary duties is to protect the integrity of parliament, which ideally needs a person without faults to carry out its oversight functions.  

Ramaphosa, who insiders say pushed for Mapisa-Nqakula’s promotion, could not have chosen the worst time to defend the ANC’s deployment committee that sends cadres to state institutions such as state-owned enterprises with loyalty to the party being apparently the most important qualifying criteria.

The cadre deployment policy came under a lot of criticism at the commission, with evidence leaders rightly suggesting it was one of the foundations of corruption and inefficiency in the government and state-owned enterprises.

Underqualified people have presided over the collapse of municipalities across the country, leaving communities in everlasting service delivery protests and forcing businesses into hefty losses. The committee, which few believe is merely an advisory body with no power to enforce the will of the party, has given us executives in big institutions such as SAA, which tumbled into business rescue months before the pandemic plunged the airline industry into its biggest crisis.          

Like leaders in state-owned enterprises, municipalities and government departments, the speaker of parliament should ideally be a bold champion of integrity and impartiality.

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