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15 April 2024

With the storms raging around the head of the now, thankfully, former Speaker of Parliament, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, there are surely quite a number of people wondering where the office of speaker originated; how much power the officeholder wields; and who is pulling his or her strings. Or vice versa.

South Africa’s Parliament is predominantly based on the British Westminster system which developed alongside the United Kingdom. The offices of, among others, the speaker and whips were taken from the British as is.

The first speaker of the British Parliament was appointed in the 14th century and originally acted as the monarch or queen’s mouthpiece.

This individual was tasked with protecting and managing the royal seal, which was used to seal laws and official documents. The speaker also fulfilled a role in parliamentary processes, such as facilitating debates and maintaining order during parliamentary sessions.

In those years, the office of speaker was not quite as attractive as it is today. It was usually a dangerous office which most members of parliament avoided as far as they could.

The speaker was the one person who had to protect parliament’s interests against the royal authority, and even oppose that authority, if need be.

This often resulted in the speaker being persecuted or punished. Several even lost their heads for conduct that offended the monarchy. Whether right or wrong.

With the transformation of the British parliamentary system, the office of speaker took on a more ceremonial and less dangerous character.

Under ANC rule, though, the dignified office of speaker became more and more of a mockery. True to form, the ANC destroyed the office of the speaker – just like everything else it touches.

In countries such as Great Britain, Canada and Australia, to name but a few, the office of speaker is regarded as being above party politics, so, the officeholder is expected to act independently of his or her political party.

Moreover, an individual who accepts this office is expected to resign as member of his or her political party to ensure the office remains entirely independent.

This is to safeguard parliamentary processes, as far as possible, against any political interference, and guarantee that decisions are taken which are in the best interest of the country and its people.

It is, furthermore, imperative that the elected speaker’s integrity is above reproach, and that he or she is not implicated in corruption, or any other activity, which could undermine public faith in the office and parliament’s credibility.

The ANC, however, steadily kicked these requirements to the curb and elected some of the most controversial figures as speaker.

It may be long forgotten now, but in 1997, a former Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Baleka Mbete, was embroiled in a serious corruption scandal while serving as Deputy Speaker.

She was accused of obtaining her learner’s and driver’s licence in an unlawful manner. It may sound like no more than a storm in a teacup, but it illustrates the ANC’s attitude towards accountability very well.

During her tenure as Speaker, the arms scandal unfolded and unbridled state capture took place. The opposition’s hands were tied and there was no doubt about where Mbete’s loyalty lay.

The reputation of her successor, Thandi Modise, currently serving as the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, is not unblemished either.

In 2014, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) looked into allegations of cruelty against animals on her Modderfontein farm in the North West.

According to the charge sheet, more than 50 pigs and a number of other animals, including sheep, chickens and geese, were already dead when the SPCA visited the farm for the first time. A further 224 animals had to be put down.

Although she was found not guilty by the court, her name will forever be tainted by the idea of animal abuse.

And then there is the more recent appointment of Mapisa-Nqakula as Speaker after she fared so poorly as Minister of Defence that she was ultimately relieved of her office after the 2021 unrest.

The scandals and the incompetence she displayed during her term as Minister of Defence made it clear that she is not speaker material – to everyone except the ANC, it seems.

Is the ANC trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes regarding Mapisa-Nqakula?

That is the question which arises after she, despite the ANC’s tradition of cadre protection, so easily gave in and resigned as Speaker and ANC Member of Parliament.

Is the ANC trying to prove that it has suddenly become serious about acting against corrupt members in its own ranks by sacrificing the third most powerful person in the country, after the president and deputy president?

What deepens my misgivings about the ANC’s true motives is that an ANC MP, who has opted to remain anonymous, alleged that it was better for her to resign seeing as the ANC would not have been able to defend her against a motion of no confidence on the eve of the elections.

This statement implies that if the elections were not around the corner, the ANC would have fought for her tooth and nail – just like it did for all its other corrupt cadres.

The ANC has diluted Parliament’s oversight role over the executive authority (government) and transformed it into a rubber stamp for its obsolete laws and ideologies.

On 29 May, voters have the opportunity to get rid of the ANC and vote for a better dispensation.

Together, we can restore and rebuild South Africa.

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