Baleka Mbete’s rescue flight

2014-08-17 15:00

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National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete had a life-threatening health scare that was so serious she was transferred from 2 Military Hospital back to Pretoria’s 1 Military Hospital by military plane.

Mbete is expected back at work when Parliament reconvenes this week after she was booked off on sick leave almost two months ago.

Details of Mbete’s illness are being kept under wraps. City Press has established that the 64-year-old was accompanied on her flight by two doctors, who considered taking a defibrillator – a machine used to treat life-threatening heart conditions – with them on the plane.

Mbete was well enough to walk aboard the jet, dressed in pyjamas and wrapped in a blanket, according to sources.

She shared the plane with Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who had to be dropped off in the Eastern Cape before the plane continued with Mbete to Pretoria.

The flight took place on Friday July 25, three days after Mbete delivered Parliament’s budget speech in the National Assembly and two days after Mapisa-Nqakula delivered her budget speech.

According to Parliament, Mbete was booked off “to rest and rebuild her strength” on June 18, the day after President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address.

She returned only to present her budget vote and to chair a committee meeting.

Earlier in June, she was in Parliament when she was elected Speaker, but she has never taken her seat in the Speaker’s chair. Some staff members have questioned Mbete’s eligibility to use military facilities.

Asked about this, Mapisa-Nqakula’s spokesperson, Joy Peter, said the Ministerial Handbook allowed for this.

“Chapter 6 part 4 of the Ministerial Handbook clearly stipulates that members – which includes a Speaker of Parliament – may use SA Air Force aircraft for ‘health reasons’ and Ms Mbete was not well at the time,” Peter said.

She added that Mbete’s term in 2008 and 2009 as deputy president further qualified her to be transported by the military and to be admitted to a military hospital.

Parliament said this week that Mbete “is recovering well and is expected to resume her duties?...?when the new term starts”.

It said she was “advised by doctors to rest and rebuild her strength following an intense election campaign in May” but emphasised she had been part of the “key moments” of Parliament so far.

Her assistant did not respond to requests for comment.

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