Who is Baleka Mbete?

2008-09-25 17:26
This week Baleka Mbete's celebrates her 59th birthday. A call from the ruling party to become the Deputy President of the country is a fine way to wish her many happy returns.

Mbete has no experience of cabinet, and none of running a government department, so her presidency is likely to be a case of learning as rapidly as she can while doing the job. Some innovations are therefore likely.

As Speaker of the National Assembly she has, nevertheless, been the executive head of a department with a budget of around a billion rand, which puts her administrative task on a par with a minister.

But her administration has been often strongly criticised, not least over the way many (but not all) guilty members of parliament were allowed to get away with cheating the public over their travel expenses in the 'Travelgate' saga.

She herself was at one time on the list of 200 members who were found to have misused the travel funds, though she has been reported as having paid the money back in full.

She also found herself in bother over acquiring a driving licence without ever going near a driving test centre and explained at the time that she was far too busy to have to go and stand in queues.

When the opposition objected to her being at once the chair of the ruling party - to which post she was elected at Polokwane last year, after having in timely fashion expressed her support of Jacob Zuma for party president - and staying on as the supposedly impartial director of Parliament, she said she was well able to do both jobs. After all had not her predecessor in the chair of the party also held down the not inconsiderable task of defence minister?

And when it was pointed out that she also took on the job of liaison between Parliament and the party, which impugned her impartiality, she said that anyway the speaker's job had always been a party political position.

She was reported to be a shareholder in Dyambu Holdings which is involved in building the massive Gautrain project. Dyambu Holdings was reported to have had links with murdered magnate Brett Kebble.

Mbete ran the National Assembly like a school-mistress, which was of course her early training. She gave a severe wigging, for example, to Democratic Alliance MP Mike Waters when he seemed disinclined to take her instructions and ordered him from the house smartly in a manner that was caught on television, and exposed her inner tiger-cat.

Her teaching diploma came from Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape, which at one time was the only place that offered training for black teachers. Thabo Mbeki and Chris Hani were also former students at the college situated a little north of Alice.

She taught in Kwamashu until 1975, and then in exile in Mbabane, Swaziland. She worked in exile in Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia and Kenya as administrative secretary for the national executive and as an official of the women's league.

In the country's first democratic election she became an MP, and was plainly a rising star.

She became deputy speaker after the National Party left the government of national unity in 1996, and Speaker in 2004 after Frene Ginwala was edged out. She married a poet, but has since divorced him, and dropped his surname Kgositsile.

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