Baleka Mbete anxious over her future in Parliament

The Speaker of the National Assembly will preside over Parliament for the last time this term at the State of the Nation Address, and she’s not relieved.

A screengrab of National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete briefs the media on Parliament's readiness to hold the 2018 State of the Nation Address.

CAPE TOWN - Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete is serving her last four months as the current head of Parliament. Mbete told journalists during a press briefing last week that she was anxious about what the future held for her.

"It's actually a time of anxiety because you don't know what's coming in the next couple of months,” said Mbete.

Mbete said that her future was dependent on where her name featured on the ANC’s list of Members of Parliament to represent the party. She said that the party would only know where it stood after the elections.

“But for all I know, beyond the election we might be sitting right at the back as back-benchers and have to learn from scratch how to be good back-benchers. It’s just that anxiety of not knowing where you are ending up after the elections,” said Mbete.

Mbete said there was more to being Speaker of the National Assembly than chairing house sittings and reciting the rules of Parliament to wayward Members of Parliament (MPs).

“Presiding over the National Assembly is not the sum total of what we do,” she said. “Generally, I would say a whole lot more of the work we do is done not in the glare of the public in the plenary halls. And therefore, when we think about what has gone on in the past five years, there’s a lot more we have in mind than the presiding. Even in terms of presiding, we don’t only preside in the plenary halls, we preside over structures that are at the core of the function of parliament beyond the plenary.”

Mbete commended Parliament for the work done in the last five years. She said some of its successes included the strengthening of oversight and accountability, which saw various inquiries into governance failures at state entities like Eskom and the SABC.

Mbete, who has been in her position of Speaker of the National Assembly since 2014, was no stranger to the role. She previously served as Speaker of the National Assembly from 2004 to 2008.

It was during her current term as Speaker that Mbete came under heavy criticism from opposition parties. They have on a number of occasions called on her to recuse herself from parliamentary proceedings, arguing that she was biased when presiding over the house.

In 2017, Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen accused Mbete's “shameless use of the Speaker’s chair to bully and intimidate” the opposition during debates.

During the same year, the Constitutional Court ruled that Mbete must make a “rational” decision on whether or not to allow Members of Parliament to vote by secret ballot in a motion of no confidence in former President Jacob Zuma. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, in his judgment, ruled in favour of opposition parties seeking clarity on whether Mbete had the power to prescribe that voting in the motion could be conducted by secret ballot.

In a separate and more scathing judgment, the Constitutional Court found that Parliament failed to hold Zuma accountable for the controversy over the upgrades at his private Nkandla home. This led to calls for her removal as Speaker.