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.Cape Town – Former Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula today officially begins her first day as the National Assembly Speaker following her election by a majority of ANC MPs in the House on Thursday.
The ANC had to use its majority vote in Parliament to elect her after the DA fielded Annelie Lotriet to challenge her for the position.
But opposition parties and analysts warned that Mapisa-Nqakula’s election was questionable given the allegations levelled against her.
But the former minister assured MPs that she would work with all political parties.
“I also felt great pride both as a member of this House and as a South African observing the exercise of democracy during these proceedings with all parties, big and small, fully utilising the opportunity and space to nominate freely the candidate of their choice for the position of speaker. It is upon this foundation that Parliament has continued to stand as the foremost custodian and protector of our democracy,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
“It is important that this foundation of true democracy particularly should never be compromised, not for personal whim or for narrow party political interests,” she added.
But DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone said that Mapisa-Nqakula’s election as speaker had disarmed Parliament from carrying out its mandate to ensure accountability and transparency.
She said that Mapisa-Nqakula was not fit for the position.
“What makes matters worse, is that the new speaker is heading up the very institution which she for years tried to undermine and where serious allegations of misconduct have been levelled against her.
“Her election is therefore not ‘democracy at work’ but rather another example of how the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment will ruin yet another democratic institution.”
She also said the official opposition would continue to fight tooth and nail to ensure that Parliament worked for the people of South Africa in spite of the ANC’s attempts to undermine it.
Lawson Naidoo of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution said judging by the responses from the opposition parties, Mapisa-Nqakula would face a tough challenge.
“The most important thing a speaker has to do, it is to command respect across political parties in the House. It seems there is a great deal of scepticism about her ability to do so,” he said.
“She is going to have a tough job to win them over to ensure there is respect and dignity of the House and that Parliament conducts its constitutional mandate properly,” Naidoo said.
Lawyer Ulrich Roux pointed out that if there was any party aggrieved about her election they could approach the high court.
“The high court can be approached by any party to review her election and that is how you can hold her accountable,” said Roux.
IFP chief whip Narend Singh said his party had made its feelings known before the vote that they were not in favour of Mapisa-Nqakula’s election.
“Now that it is said and done, democracy has played its part. We will offer our fullest support to the speaker of the House because we respect the Office of the Speaker. In the same way we hope she will reciprocate as she indicated to the House that she will work with all parties,” Singh said.
He also pointed out that all parties generally co-operate with the speaker and her office but time would tell if “we will receive the same kind of co-operation from the Office of the Speaker as we received in the past”.
Freedom Front Plus leader Petrus Groenewald said the ANC did not act in the best interest of South Africa.
“They act in the best interest of the ANC itself,” he said.
Groenewald found it odd that Mapisa-Nqakula spoke about integrity after her election.
“Ironically she is part of the problem in the sense she used her position in the past to favour the ANC by taking (the party’s) executive council members to Zimbabwe on a defence plane.”