South Africa redeploys sacked minister as parliament speaker

Thursday August 19 2021
SA PC

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was removed as defence minister this month during a cabinet reshuffle. Photo |File

By AFP

South Africa's parliament on Thursday elected a recently fired ex-defence minister as speaker, a senior position, angering opposition parties who cast doubt on her competence and probity.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was removed as defence minister this month during a cabinet reshuffle that followed a spree of deadly unrest and looting in parts of the country.

The ex-minister had come under fire for her perceived incompetence in responding to the violence, and for contradicting President Cyril Ramaphosa's claim that the events had been a pre-planned "insurrection".

She was replaced by former national assembly speaker Thandi Modise, but later nominated by Ramaphosa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party as its preferred candidate take over from Modise.

MPs chose her as the new speaker on Thursday, with 199 out of 298 votes.

Mapisa-Nqakula's election "has disarmed parliament" from ensuring "accountability and transparency", the main opposition Democratic Alliance party said in a statement. 

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"It is an indictment on the ANC and highlights their determination to render parliament... toothless," it added.

The left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters boycotted the election, accusing Ramaphosa in a statement of "rubber stamping factional politics" and violating the "separation of powers".

Critics have also noted that Mapisa-Nqakula is under parliamentary investigation for allegedly taking five million rand ($330,000) in bribes from a defence contractor, and spending seven million rand ($462,000) on private jet holidays in New York and Paris between 2017 and 2019.

"To see her being proposed to a position that is almost tantamount to a promotion... is seen as a reshuffle tainted by failure," political analyst Ralph Mathekga, author of a book on Ramaphosa, told AFP. 

"Ramaphosa removed her but is leading a party that is very much divided," he added, suggesting "forces not aligned" with the president had "prevailed".

Ramaphosa was elected in 2018 on a ticket to root out corruption blamed for undermining the economy of Africa's most industrialised country.

The unprecedented unrest that followed the jailing of his predecessor Jacob Zuma last month, as well as a string of coronavirus-linked graft scandals, have piled pressure on the president to take decisive action against inept and fraudulent party members.

A new finance minister was also named during the cabinet reshuffle, as well as a replacement for  ex-health minister Zweli Mkhize -- lauded for his handling of the pandemic but shrouded in a corruption scandal over coronavirus communications funding.