Baleka Mbeta on Her Role in the ANC
The Speaker, Baleka Mbete, remains an ambivalent figure. Janet Smith talks to political scientist Professor Daryl Glaser about her role, her life in the ANC and what could happen next.
Janet Smith: How powerful is the position of Speaker? It’s important not to forget that, in the event of President Jacob Zuma or Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa not being available, the Speaker, in this case Baleka Mbete, would have to act as president until the National Assembly designated another member.
Daryl Glaser: That’s absolutely right. She would have to act as president.
The Speaker is an extremely powerful position in Parliament, because of the role she has in regular parliamentary debate and also because of the constitutional role the Speaker has.
There’s always a great importance that attaches to the position, which is one we would normally expect to be held by someone who commands widespread respect. On the whole, the previous Speakers were able to do that.
Baleka Mbete has been the most controversial of the Speakers so far, but this is partly also because she has had the most difficult circumstances to deal with.
Her election was contested, though. I think she started off already as someone seen as partisan because of her position as chairperson of the ANC.
This could certainly be seen as a conflict, but it’s not unusual in the world. In the British House of Commons, there’s the same phenomenon. It’s also the same thing in the US Senate, where the Speaker is a partisan figure.