Mapisa-Nqakula’s case symbolises a disconcerting trend

True to the script of the ‘Global Guild of Accused Politicians’, former Speaker of Parliament Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula remains adamant that she has done nothing wrong, rejecting corruption and money laundering allegations against her, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

True to the script of the ‘Global Guild of Accused Politicians’, former Speaker of Parliament Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula remains adamant that she has done nothing wrong, rejecting corruption and money laundering allegations against her, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 13, 2024


The resignation of Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula as Speaker of the National Assembly and as a sitting ANC MP earlier this month, following allegations of soliciting bribes from a former military contractor and flouting anti-money laundering rules during her previous tenure as defence minister, symbolises a disconcerting trend of a resurgent global pandemic playbook of corruption in political governance and representation.

Whether Mapisa-Nqakula was forced to resign or whether she willingly stepped up to clear her name, reputation and preserve her ministerial pension will become clearer on June 4 when her case resumes in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court. True to the script of the Global Guild of Accused Politicians, she remains adamant that she has done nothing wrong and strongly rejects any such allegations.

While the response of the opposition parties, including the DA, EFF and ActionSA, is predictable in their condemnation of the erstwhile Speaker’s delayed resignation over an alleged scandal which has been festering since her stint as defence minister from 2014–2021, the reaction of her ANC party officials was rather curious.

“In her resignation, Comrade Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula highlighted her intention to protect the reputation of our organisation, the ANC, after dedicating more than 30 years of service.

We value her commitment to maintaining the image of our organisation, as it reflects our principles of organisational renewal that promote proactive responsibility-taking among members, rather than waiting for instructions to step aside,” declared senior party apparatchiks on April 3.

So, its official – Mapisa-Nqakula’s resignation is an act of selfless step aside “responsibility-taking”! Nevermind the fact that this is the latest in a string of senior ANC politicians, including the current president and vice-president, to be embroiled in corruption scandals, which in the post-Madiba era was fine-tuned by the ‘Mother of All Corruption Scandals’ – the estimated trillion-rand State Capture of Assets saga under the Zuma presidency, for which he seems to have walked away with impunity.

I am a strong believer in the rule of law and its fundamental precept that “a person is innocent until proven guilty”. That is a basic tenet of liberal democracy and of the South African Constitution. While the case unfolds, Mapisa-Nqakula has every right to profess her innocence and be treated as such.

It would be unfair to single out South Africa, let alone the governing ANC. The latest Corruption Perception Index 2023 published by Transparency International (TI) shows that corruption is a universal phenomenon and is thriving across the world, with both authoritarian and democratic leaders undermining justice.

The global trend of weakening justice systems is reducing accountability for public officials, which allows corruption to thrive. Some of the biggest enablers of corruption are the advanced democracies, which have an impunity problem of their own.

“Many cross-border corruption cases,” warns TI, “have involved companies from top-scoring countries that resort to bribery when doing business abroad. Others have implicated professionals who sell secrecy or otherwise enable foreign corrupt officials.

Yet, top scoring countries often fail to go after perpetrators of transnational corruption and their enablers.”

A quick survey of some of the current high-profile corruption scandals around the world is implicit. Last week, the home of Peruvian President Dina Boluarte was raided by police as part of a corruption inquiry dubbed “Rolexgate”, allegedly involving undeclared assets.

In the UK, we are glued to the blow-by-blow accounts of multiple corporate and institutional corruption scandals as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government sleepwalks into an electoral meltdown.

These include the Post Office scandal, the contaminated blood scandal, the water and energy utilities scandals, and even the PPE procurement scandal during the pandemic which saw Tory government cronyism at its most blatant.

Between 1999 and 2015, hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly prosecuted by the Post Office due to the faulty Horizon IT software, which showed errors that did not exist. Some lost their jobs, businesses, and homes.

Many were left financially ruined. Others were convicted and sent to prison, and some died while waiting for justice while others died by suicide. Former sub-postmaster and campaigner Alan Bates in the public inquiry on Tuesday said the Post Office was being run by “little more than thugs in suits” since 2010, accusing a once-great institution of lying about the accounting system.

In Nigeria, on the same day the irony could not be starker. The country’s financial watchdog recovered $24 million (R452m) from a web of private bank accounts associated with suspended Poverty Alleviation Minister Betta Edu – an allegation of corruption she continues to deny.

A few days earlier, Nigeria’s former Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele pleaded not guilty to 26 fresh charges brought against him by the financial watchdog.

He is accused of allocating $2bn in foreign exchange without following due process and remains in custody.

In South Africa, the ultimate irony is that a day before Mapisa-Nqakula’s resignation, President Cyril Ramaphosa assented to the new “failure to prevent corrupt activities offence” in section 34A of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

“The introduction of the new failure to prevent corrupt activities offence,” observed ENSight, the pan-African legal services entity, “constitutes a significant change to South Africa’s anti-corruption legal landscape and will require organisations to re-examine their compliance programmes to ensure they align with the Six Principles approach (of the act).”

One has to assume that this new anti-corruption initiative applies equally to national and local government departments, agencies, SOEs, corporates and institutional organisations.

There is also a danger that in the increased push back against corruption scrutiny, the Rule of Law convention seems to be making way to the “Rule of Lawfare” metric, exacerbating inequalities in access to the judicial process.

A latter-day form of legal due process apartheid in the post-1994 democratic dispensation. But it is also a universal phenomenon. Donald Trump is using every trick in the lawfare playbook to obfuscate his manifold court cases including the alleged slush fund saga and allegations of corrupting the political process by encouraging supporters to march on Capitol Hill in January 2021 in the aftermath of Joe Biden’s presidential victory in 2020.

Again, it is Jacob Zuma that has stolen the thunder of politics by lawfare.

No sooner had he been barred by the Electoral Commission from standing in the general election on May 29, over a 15-month contempt of court conviction in 2021, than the Electoral Court in Johannesburg reversed the ban.

This means that the 81-year-old ex-president is now free to stand for his new uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party as a candidate in the general election.

Politicians are a breed unto themselves. Timing, perversity, the near certainty of impunity, and the democratic process are oft lost in the cause of political narcissism.

South Africa alas is no exception in this respect.

* Parker is a writer based in London.

Cape Times