Mbete to leave National Assembly after 2019 elections

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There has been mixed reaction to the weekend announcement by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete that she will leave parliament after next year’s elections.

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution says Mbete will be remembered as the presiding officer of parliament whose impartiality was  questionable.

Mbete has had a torrid time as Speaker,  often trying to reign in the EFF during Jacob Zuma’s presidency.

Opposition parties also frequently accused her of attempting to  shield the former president from parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.

Mbete’s previous dual roles as the national chairperson of the ANC and Speaker of the National Assembly exposed her to much criticism. Opposition parties and civil society often accused her of placing the party above parliament.

The Executive Director of CASAC, Lawson Naidoo – once worked under former Speaker, Frene Ginwala. He says Mbete hasn’t covered herself in glory as the Speaker of the National Assembly.

Naidoo says Mbete’s former senior position in the ANC compromised her impartiality as Speaker.

“Parliament needs to rebuild, to go through the process of re-asserting its autonomy and independency. In many people’s eye Baleka failed to perform that, partly because she was struggling to the position of being the Chairperson of the African National Congress – the governing party. The significant part of her tenure as a Speaker, remember she serves two terms after her predecessor Sisulu…”

Constitutional Law Professor Pierre de Vos says Mbete will leave a mixed legacy as Speaker. De Vos says the arrival of the EFF in parliament has not made her work easy.

‘The Speaker had a difficult time. Firstly because of especially the EFF. They pushed her and make a lot of noise and disruptions. She didn’t deal with this well, partly because, especial in the first few years. It appears that she was not familiar with the rules of parliament and the opposition seems to be familiar with the rules. Later she seemed to be better, maybe because the politics have changed. Lately she has improved. So I would say it’s a mix assessment about her tenure.”

Political analyst Keith Gottschalk agrees. “Her role as Speaker of Parliament was quite controversial, because of the high position she held in the ANC, in its national executive committee and its caucus. So this created the perception that she was a referee and a player; and that’s why this created the protest from some of the oppositions.”