Ramaphosa did not violate the Constitution but some of the changes he announced raised eyebrows. Edgar Su, Reuters.
Ramaphosa did not violate the Constitution but some of the changes he announced raised eyebrows. Edgar Su, Reuters.

Was the ANC’s choice for the position of National Assembly Speaker justifiable?

By Time of article published Aug 21, 2021

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Ramaphosa did not violate the Constitution but some of the changes he announced raised eyebrows.

Professor Bheki Mngomezulu

On August 5 President Cyril Ramaphosa took a decision to reshuffle his Cabinet for the first time.

In so doing, he correctly invoked Section 84 of the Constitution which stipulates powers and functions of the sitting president.

Although in the past some judges asked former president Jacob Zuma to explain why he changed the Cabinet, the reality is that the Constitution accords the power to hire and fire ministers to the president, not judges.

Therefore, Ramaphosa did not violate the Constitution. But some of the changes he announced raised eyebrows.

One of the lingering speculations following this Cabinet reshuffle was the political future of then minister of defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

She was relieved of her duties but was not immediately given another responsibility.

When asked to make a prediction about her possible deployment, I hinted a direct swop with Thandi Modise.

I stated that in the event that she did not take Modise’s position, she would most likely be appointed as an ambassador.

This was not because I believed that she would be a good fit as the Speaker of the National Assembly, but because of several factors, some of which I will ventilate below.

Indeed, as parliament prepared to reconvene after a recess, word circulated that the ANC had resolved to nominate Mapisa-Nqakula as the new Speaker of the National Assembly.

Concerns were raised from different quarters – including opposition political parties and the electorate about her suitability.

Thus, the question arises: was the ANC’s nomination of this candidate to replace Modise justifiable?

Put differently, was this the right move by the ANC in the broader political context? This is the question I am interrogating.

In terms of seniority and experience in government, Mapisa-Nqakula ticks the box.

She has been in government for many years and has served in the ANC’s national structures.

She has also held different ministerial positions.

Second, as the country celebrates Women’s Month, her nomination made logical sense – although some might argue that there are other untainted senior women in the ANC who could have been considered for the position.

While it is true that the ANC exercised its right to nominate this candidate, I don’t think that this was a good move.

My view is predicated on several reasons.

It is an irrefutable fact that Modise proved to be a shrewd politician and an erudite leader who gave the position of Speaker credibility and respect.

She was tough, firm but fair when executing her duties.

She had a way of bringing order in parliament.

Importantly, Modise arguably respected all members of Parliament regardless of their party affiliation and acted in a non-partisan manner while executing her duties.

Therefore, without pre-empting how Mapisa-Nqakula will perform, it would have been preferable to nominate someone with similar credentials and qualities into this position so as to ensure continuity.

I am not sure if Mapisa-Nqakula is a correct match.

First, Mapisa-Nqakula’s record in her portfolio as minister of defence has been clouded by several controversies.

She was accused of “smuggling” a young woman from Burundi into the country using an air force jet.

While this issue became public knowledge and left many talking, it died a natural death but still reverberates in people’s minds.

Second, Mapisa-Nqakula gave the ANC delegation “a ride” on a defence force jet to Zimbabwe when their trip coincided with her official visit to that country.

The recurrent question about the distinction between the state and the party (the ANC) once again came to the fore.

Although Ramaphosa “reprimanded” her, this did not change how she was perceived by many South Africans.

Thirdly, in recent times, the same minister publicly contradicted her boss (the president) on the interpretation of what happened in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal where looting took place.

While the president described these developments as “a failed insurrection”, Mapisa-Nqakula insisted that if this was the case, then the “insurrection” would have a face.

Instead, she described the incidents as epitomising “counter revolution”.

To be fair, Mapisa-Nqakula’s trajectory cannot be summarily dismissed.

The ANC leadership was caught up in the political jargon.

Instead of sitting down and agreeing on a common label, they rushed to the media.

In fact, divergent views were not confined to Mapisa-Nqakula and the president.

The entire security cluster also sang from different hymn books.

In a nutshell, the synopsis presented above provides the basis for an informed opinion.

My view is that Mapisa-Nqakula was not the best candidate for this position.

She could have been deployed elsewhere.

The position of Speaker is critical.

It needs a reputable person who would be accepted by the majority of MPs across the political spectrum.

The controversies associated with Mapisa-Nqakula count against her.

Mngomezulu is full professor of political science and deputy dean of research at the University of Western Cape.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.

SATURDAY STAR

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