Anatomy of a fall: How Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula went from ‘superwoman to villain’

Former Speaker of Parliament, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula appearing in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Former Speaker of Parliament, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula appearing in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 7, 2024


In male-dominated sectors, the women who succeed at breaking the glass ceiling and reach high positions are often hailed as heroes.

However, when one such woman falls, she should expect an enormous amount of pressure and public scrutiny.

Former National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula fits into this mould. She was recently given bail in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court after being accused of collecting gratifications worth millions when she was defence minister.

The 67-year-old Mapisa-Nqakula was charged with 12 counts of corruption and resigned on April 3 as the National Assembly Speaker and Member of Parliament (MP).

To say her illustrious career has taken a sudden turn would be an understatement.

Here is what you may not have known about the African National Congress (ANC) veteran’s early career:

According to the South African Government’s Official Information and Services, Mapisa-Nqakula has a project management qualification from the Canadian University Studies (CUSO) and a primary teacher’s diploma from Bensonvale Teacher TRG College.

She also completed courses in communications, community development, and basic human relations. She also received training in youth leadership.

In 1978 she worked as a teacher at Bensonvale Junior Secondary School, while in 1979 she taught at St Matthews Teachers’ Training College.

In addition to serving as the assistant director of Masazane Open School (a project of the South African Institute of Race Relations, or SAIRR) from 1982 to 1984, she was one of the founding members of the East London Domestic Workers Association (ELDWA) in 1982.

Entry into politics

She also held the position of Head of Commission, which was established in 1984 to look into the ANC MK members’ abandonment of the UNHCR in Angola.

She attended the second ANC Consultative Seminar in Kabwe in 1985 and served as the ANC Women’s section's representative to the People's Republic of Angola for two years.

Additionally, she served as the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO) representative for the ANC Women’s section from 1988 to 1990.

During the fight against apartheid, she is renowned for having collaborated closely with women’s organisations, both domestically and abroad.

She was sent to assist in the reconstruction of ANC institutions inside the nation in 1990, and it was around that time that she went to the Malibongwe Conference in Amsterdam.

Between 1990 and 1993, she also held the positions of National ANC Women’s League organiser and member of the National Executive.

In addition to her roles as Chief Whip of the majority party and deputy chairperson of the ANC Political Committee in 2001, she presided over the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) from 2003 to 2008.

Mapisa-Nqakula also served as Minister of Defence and Military Veterans between 2014 and 2021.

The fall

Mapisa-Nqakula is the latest in a line of prominent ANC politicians, including the president and vice-president, to get caught up in corruption scandals.

In March, members of an investigation team appointed by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) conducted a raid on Mapisa-Nqakula’s home, an affluent property in an eastern suburb of Johannesburg.

Following this shocking incident, she drew harsh condemnation from other political parties, including the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) who called for her resignation.

According to Parliament, she will be replaced by her deputy, Lechesa Tsenoli.

Impact on the ANC

As the 2024 general election draws near, this will be a headache for the ANC who have taken hit after hit in terms of scandals.

According to The Guardian, the ANC's share of the vote is projected to fall below 50% for the first time since the establishment of democracy in 1994, potentially requiring it to form a coalition with opposing parties in order to maintain power.