Where is Baleka Mbete?

2014-08-10 15:00

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National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete has not presided over a sitting of the House once since the start of Parliament’s new term and has not presided once over the House.

Mbete, who was redeployed from Luthuli House back to the position of Speaker in May, has only been to Parliament three times?–?when she was elected Speaker, for President Zuma’s State of the Nation address and to present the legislature’s budget vote to the National Assembly. At no point has she taken her seat in the Speaker’s chair.

After the budget vote, she immediately went back on sick leave and has been at home ever since. Word doing the rounds in Parliament is that she is quite ill. This has been confirmed by senior officials.

Others say she is exhausted because of her taxing election campaign schedule. Neither her private office, Parliament nor the ANC were willing to comment this week.

Parliamentary spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs first referred queries to Mbete’s private office for comment.

Her private secretary, Zanele Hlatshwayo, referred all queries back to Parliament.

Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli said Mbete had been advised to rest as much as possible given her state of health.

He said they were confident she would be back when Parliament resumes in the week beginning August 18.

“We are quite aware she has not been well, was advised to receive treatment and that she must rest as much as possible so she recovers before she returns.

“We are very optimistic she will return when we get back,” Tsenoli said.

He said the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) had given party officials time off to rest and, given her condition, Mbete needed all the rest she could get to regain her strength.

President Jacob Zuma was admitted to hospital in June after he left an NEC meeting complaining of a pain in his neck. He took time off to recuperate.

Mbete was in Parliament for her nomination as Speaker. She also attended its official reopening on June 17, the day of Zuma’s state of the nation address.

She left immediately afterwards and National Council of Provinces’ chairperson Thandi Modise presided over the debate on the address.

As is the practice, House chairpersons presided over the taxing schedule of departmental budget votes that took place between July 15 and July 25.

Mbete came back briefly to present Parliament’s budget vote on July 22 and immediately went off sick again.

She was not there when President Zuma presented the presidency’s budget vote and did not preside over the heated debate after that speech, which took place over two days beginning on July 23.

DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said the party was concerned about Mbete’s wellbeing and wished her a speedy recovery.

According to him, the DA had only been informed that Mbete was sick and would be off work for a while.

“It’s a cause for concern on humanitarian levels,” he said. He was hopeful that the Speaker would be back when Parliament resumed as there were a number of outstanding matters to be addressed that needed the head of the institution.

He said Tsenoli was still new to the role and needed time to become acquainted with the workings of Parliament. In the intervening period, House chairpersons Cedric Frolick and Thoko Didiza had helped keep the ship afloat, he said.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said Mbete had taken extended leave as part of the decision by the NEC to allow officials to rest after a punishing campaign period.

“This is part of a decision to allow ANC officials time off to rest after working around the clock in the last general elections. [Mbete] will resume her political responsibility soon,” he said.

At the time of her appointment as Speaker by the ANC, there were reports Mbete was seriously unhappy with the deployment as she had hoped to get the post of deputy president.

She denied the reports at the time.

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