South Africa’s hard-fought democracy in turmoil


African National Congress, Luthuli House

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) –  DEMOCRACY in South Africa is in the dock, literally, as the nation heads to watershed elections on May 29 and marks 30 years of democracy.

Lauded as a shining example of democracy and human rights in the continent, the country heads to polls with a president embroiled in a corruption and money laundering scandal.

Its judiciary is beset by turbulence and allegations are rife it has been sucked into the ruling party’s (African National Congress) infighting. It is said to be “captured” by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Now, the head of Parliament is under probe for graft.

Thus, all the three arms of the government, namely the Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature are beleaguered.

Head of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, is the latest high-ranking official of the government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to be embroiled in a graft scandal.

Last week, the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) raided her house in Bruma, Johannesburg in a search and seizure procedure linked to allegations she received between R2 million (US$106 000) and R5 million from a defence contractor during her tenure as Minister of Defence.

Reports vary as to how much she allegedly received. A wig she allegedly received from a briber is part of the prosecution team’s exhibit.

She led the defence portfolio from 2012 to 2021, after which she was elected Speaker of the National Assembly.

Mapisa-Nqakula (67) has taken “special leave” in the wake of reports of her imminent arrest on charges of corruption.

On Monday, her legal team fought in court to avert her arrest, raising concern of selective application of the law by the South African judiciary.

Judge Sulet Potterill of the High Court in the administrative capital, Pretoria, on Monday reserved judgment until April 2, when it would be clear if the former head of the ANC Women’s League would be arrested.

“The NPA must stop negotiating with a suspect on how and when he or she must be arrested. We are all equal before the law,” said opposition leader, Bantu Holomisa.

United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader, Holomisa, was the first individual, in 2021, to call for a probe on Mapisa-Nqakula after reportedly receiving information from a whistleblower that the then defence minister received cash and gifts from an unnamed South African National Defence Force (SANDF) contractor between 2017 and 2019.

Mapisa-Nqakula has since then pleaded innocence.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has denounced the “special leave” and called for her resignation.

“Mapisa-Nqakula must resign or be removed through a motion of no confidence. Anything less than that will be a mockery of Parliament and more importantly, South Africa,” Simile Gwarube, Chief Whip of the DA, said.

Mapisa-Nqakula, seen as belonging to the Ramaphosa faction of the ANC, against one sympathetic to ex-president Jacob Zuma, is synonymous with controversy.

Yet under the Zuma presidency, she was defence minister when the notorious Gupta family landed a private jet in a military base ahead of a family wedding in 2013.

Ramaphosa docked her three months salary in 2020 when it emerged she flew an ANC delegation in an air force plane to Zimbabwe for interparty discussions with that country’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

Meanwhile, within and outside the ANC, the probe has raised allegations of selective application of the law, with critics arguing Ramaphosa has never faced the threat of arrest despite money laundering accusations after millions of cash in foreign currency were allegedly stashed at his farm in Limpopo in 2020.

He has also evaded a probe for allegedly buying his way into the presidency of the ANC in 2017, amid allegations money was laundered to secure votes.

Critics accuse president Ramaphosa of capturing the judiciary, which itself is in crisis.

Justices John Hlophe and Nkola Motata were last month the first judges in local history to be impeached by the House of Assembly.

Motata was found guilty of gross misconduct after a drunk-driving conviction in 2009.

Hlophe was found at fault for a similar offence after he attempted to improperly influence some Constitutional Court judges to decide matters in favour of then president, Zuma.

Another school of thought suggests the probe into Mapisa-Nqakula is a ploy by the governing party to portray itself to the electorate, ahead of the watershed elections, as committed to fighting corruption.

Opposition parties are making the most of the corruption blamed on the ANC-led government as a campaign strategy to unseat the party that has been at the helm since the end of apartheid in 1994.

– CAJ News

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