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National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: FRENNIESHIVAMBU/GALLO IMAGES
National Assembly speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Picture: FRENNIESHIVAMBU/GALLO IMAGES

Embattled speaker of the National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who is under investigation by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for alleged corruption, is no stranger to controversy. 

The raid on her home last week by the NPA, which is related to allegations that she solicited R2.3m from a contractor while she was minister of defence, is just the latest of her brushes with the law. 

It was during her almost nine years as minister of defence & military veterans under the presidencies of Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa between 2012 and 2021 that she became embroiled in a series of scandals that led to charges being laid against her, probes into her conduct and repeated calls for her dismissal. 

These included the controversial landing of a private plane carrying wedding guests of the Gupta family at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in April 2013, which was considered a serious security breach. Zuma ordered her to return from a working trip in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to report on the matter. In terms of the law, planes may only land at the base with the permission of the minister of defence.

It was found in an investigation that though no minister had been involved in authorising the landing, it had been achieved by “name dropping”, with Gupta associates dropping Mapisa-Nqakula’s name, along with those of the then president and then transport minister Ben Martins. 

Mapisa-Nqakula also attracted controversy for her use of air force aircraft.

In May 2016 when it was reported that Mapisa-Nqakula had used an air force jet to smuggle a Burundian woman, Michelle Wege, into SA. The saga led to the minister being suspended, though she did not face a disciplinary inquiry. 

Mapisa-Nqakula secured the release of Wege after her arrest at Kinshasa International Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo for attempting to travel using fraudulent documents. She claimed that she had travelled to Kinshasa on official business. Wege was transported with defence officials to Addis Ababa for an AU conference and brought to SA.

Mapisa-Nqakula denied abusing state resources and claimed she had rescued Wege from an abusive father, saying: “I’d do it again if I had to.”

Wege’s father denied abuse and said his daughter had been in a romantic relationship with Mapisa-Nqakula’s son, who subsequently died. 

The DA laid criminal charges against Mapisa-Nqakula, alleging that she had breached the Immigration Act by bringing Wege into the country. A complaint was also submitted to the public protector to investigate possible violations of the Executive Members’ Ethics Act. 

Mapisa-Nqakula was embroiled in a scandal in September 2020 causing Ramaphosa to reprimand her and deprive her of three months’ salary. This occurred when she transported a delegation of top ANC leaders to and from Harare, where they met leaders of Zimbabwe’s governing party, Zanu-PF. They travelled on an SA Air Force plane allocated for use by VIPs.

The DA and Freedom Front Plus (FF+) called for her dismissal and a complaint was laid with the public protector. The DA accused the ANC of “gross abuse of government resources” for party political purposes. The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) called for “stern corrective action” saying that docking three months’ salary was an insufficient sanction. 

Ramaphosa confirmed that he had authorised Mapisa-Nqakula’s ministerial visit to Harare but concluded that she had contravened the executive members’ code and “failed to adhere to legal prescripts warranting care in use of state resources”, in an “error of judgment ... not in keeping with the responsibilities of a minister of cabinet”. He instructed her to ensure that the ANC reimbursed the state for the costs of the flight. She sent the ANC an invoice for R105,000 to cover the party’s share of the flight costs. 

Kholeka Gcaleka, who was then the acting public protector, agreed with Ramaphosa’s assessment, reporting in September 2022 that “Mapisa-Nqakula’s conduct by giving a lift to the ANC delegation on the aircraft constituted an improper advantage and or unlawful enrichment to the ANC”.

Mapisa-Nqakula was also criticised for what the DA called the waste of millions of rand of taxpayers’ money on chartered flights and luxury accommodation while minister of defence.

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