South Africa’s ‘President in Waiting’ Arrested in Corruption Probe 

Investigators say speaker of parliament took bribes in exchange for awarding lucrative military contracts.
South Africa’s ‘President in Waiting’ Arrested in Corruption Probe 
Former Speaker of the National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula sits in the dock for her court appearance at the Pretoria Magistrate Court in Pretoria on April 4, 2024. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)
Darren Taylor

JOHANNESBURG—A week ago, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, 67, was the powerful speaker of the South African Parliament and third in line for the presidency of Africa’s largest and most developed economy.

Today, the veteran anti-apartheid activist from the governing African National Congress (ANC) is awaiting trial on 12 counts of corruption and money laundering.

Investigators told The Epoch Times they will prove that Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula “solicited bribes amounting to 4.5 million rands ($241,000)” in return for awarding contracts when she was defense minister between 2017 and 2019.

“The case against her is super-strong,” one officer said. “She faces imprisonment of up to 15 years.”

Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula appeared in court on April 4, denying wrongdoing and telling a magistrate, “I do not have a propensity to commit crime.”

She was released on bail.

Last week, she became the highest-ranking ANC official ever to resign from office because of corruption, while emphasizing that her “stepping aside” was not an “indication or admission of guilt.”

On 19 March, after the Hawks police unit raided her home in Johannesburg as part of a “search and seizure operation,” Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula said she felt “persecuted” but would cooperate with law enforcement.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa commended her for resigning.

“We should recognize that her level of integrity for our democracy has made her do this,” he said.

One of South Africa’s most astute political analysts, professor Susan Booysen, told The Epoch Times that Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s resignation as speaker, a position that meant she was effectively the head of the legislative sphere of state, is unprecedented.

“South Africans have become numb to corruption scandals involving the ANC because there are always so many,” Ms. Booysen said.

“What they are not used to though is actual arrests and court appearances of senior ANC officials, and the sheer speed at which this case has unfolded is very surprising.

Former Speaker of Africa's National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula arrives in the dock for her court appearance at the Pretoria Magistrate Court in Pretoria, South Africa, on April 4, 2024. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)
Former Speaker of Africa's National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula arrives in the dock for her court appearance at the Pretoria Magistrate Court in Pretoria, South Africa, on April 4, 2024. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images)

The charges against Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula come with little more than six weeks to go before an election that surveys are showing will herald the end of the ANC’s 30-year dominance in South Africa.

Analysts say the party will likely be forced into a coalition government if it wants to hold office but that its power will be severely eroded.

Ms. Booysen said Mr. Ramaphosa and his fellow ANC National Executive Committee members “obviously green-lighted” the case against one of their own.

“It would be silly to think anything other than this, since the ANC micromanages everything in South Africa and exerts excessive state control over all sectors, especially over police, intelligence, and legislative services,” she said.

“It’s a strategic move because going into this election the ANC is being lambasted for being an organized crime syndicate that’s plundering the country, while protecting senior members implicated in corruption.

“Now that its third most senior office bearer has been charged with financial crimes, President Ramaphosa can say to voters: ‘See; I promised to be tough on corruption, even if it’s happening within my own organization; I promised to clean my government up.’”

Hundreds of top ANC officials have been implicated in corruption since the end of apartheid in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected president after South Africa’s first multiparty, multiracial elections.

But only a few senior ANC office bearers have been charged with crimes; none have yet been jailed for corruption.

In the most notorious case, a commission of inquiry found in 2022 that former ANC leader and South African President Jacob Zuma appointed “cronies” to loot state-owned enterprises of an estimated 500 billion rand (almost $30 billion) when he led the government from 2009 until early 2018.

But no charges related to his time in office have been brought against Mr. Zuma, who remains a powerful political player in South Africa.

The former president is, however, being tried on 16 charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption, and money laundering linked to a $2 billion arms deal he helped conclude with a French defense firm in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Zuma denies wrongdoing, claiming that all charges and allegations against him are part of a “political campaign” led by Mr. Ramaphosa and his alleged co-conspirators, a group of South African businessmen whom Mr. Zuma describes as “white monopoly capitalists.”

Mr. Ramaphosa ousted Mr. Zuma at an ANC leadership conference in late 2017, promising to “renew” an ANC he said had been “infiltrated by criminal elements.”

Now, however, he’s also mired in corruption allegations, as is his close ally South African Deputy President Paul Mashatile.

But, despite the ANC’s long links to corruption, party members reacted with shock to Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s arrest.

“We thought Comrade Nosiviwe was being groomed to be South Africa’s first woman leader,” said David Adriaanse, an ANC branch official in western Johannesburg.

“We kind of regarded her as a president-in-waiting,” he told The Epoch Times.

Yet Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s various tenures in government since 1994 have been characterized by allegations of improper conduct and misuse of public funds.

In 2015, South Africa’s public protector at the time, advocate Thuli Madonsela, found that there was “significant evidence” that she’d misused millions of dollars by ordering the South African Air Force to transport ANC members to private meetings across Africa.
Mr. Ramaphosa fired Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula as defense minister in August 2021, following severe criticism of her response to deadly riots that erupted in South Africa in July of that year.

However, just weeks later, the president appointed her as speaker in the ANC-dominated Parliament.

Siviwe Gwarube, a senior official from chief opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA), told The Epoch Times that Mr. Ramaphosa’s “so-called fightback” against corruption was “stillborn” from the beginning.

“That’s where it still is, even with the charges against the former speaker,” she said.

“If he was so serious about fighting corruption, why did he make Mapisa-Nqakula third in line for the presidency, knowing full well in 2019 already about the allegations of bribery against her?”

The DA is also calling for an investigation into Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s role in awarding high salaries to ANC parliamentary officials during her tenure as speaker.

“In one instance, she signed off on an annual salary of almost 3 million rand ($161,137) for a parliamentary secretary,” Ms. Gwarube said.

“So Ramaphosa, like all of us, has always known how dodgy she is. He admitted that much, in fact, when he fined her three months in salary for giving lifts to her ANC friends on army airplanes.

“Now, he tells us the case against her is proof that the ANC is dedicated to [the] rule of law. Ramaphosa thinks we’re all idiots.”

On the streets of Johannesburg, citizens overwhelmingly welcomed Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s arrest and the charges against her. But none of the many people questioned by The Epoch Times were optimistic that she’d eventually be brought to justice.

“We’ve seen often what happens to these well-connected ANC people who commit crimes; they get off scot-free,” said Mike Mkhwanazi, manager of an electronics repair store.

His colleague, Loyiso Mlangeni, laughed and added: “The government will use public money to pay for the best lawyers in the land to defend this woman.

“If there’s a miracle, she’ll be convicted. Then she’ll be jailed for a few weeks and released on medical parole.

“Then a few months later, we’ll hear that she is now an ambassador in China or Russia or Brazil, where she can spend all the money she stole from us.”