SANDF Legal Service chief in hot water after Mapisa-Nqakula’s request for representation

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The Head of Legal Service of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), Major General Eric Mnisi, is facing a probe after former defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula requested the SANDF assist her with legal representation in her corruption case.

The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans on 19 April said that incumbent Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise had received a request by her predecessor for the department to assist her with legal representation.

“The request, unfortunately came through the office of Head of Legal Service in the South African National Defence Force, Major General Eric Mnisi, who then actioned it prior to seeking counsel from either the Minister nor the [Acting] Secretary for Defence, Dr Thobekile Gamede, who is also the accounting officer, particularly on matters that have financial implications on the department,” the statement read.

“General Mnisi’s handling of the matter without following existing protocols is tantamount to disrespect of executive authority in the Department of Defence,” the statement continued.

“I have instructed the [Acting] Secretary for Defence, Dr Gamede, to look into General Mnisi’s handling of the matter from an administrative and process point of view as there are protocols that must be followed for such requests,” Modise said.

She added that she was applying her mind on the request by Mapisa-Nqakula “and will subject it to the prescripts of the law with the view of protecting public funds.”

The Democratic Alliance’s Shadow Defence Minister Kobus Marais stressed that the request for financial assistance by the former speaker ought to be rejected for the “highly irregular and potentially illegal” submission it was, and Modise should not to even be “applying her mind” to it, he said.

He added that there is nothing that entitles Mapisa-Nqakula to financial support for her corruption trial from the Department of Defence. “Any steps taken to authorise this will be wasteful expenditure and abuse of taxpayer money.”

Mapisa-Nqakula handed herself in to the police on 4 April after announcing her resignation as Speaker of the National Assembly, and a Member of Parliament. This came days after she lost a Gauteng High Court bid to interdict her arrest over corruption allegations totalling up to R4.55 million, dating back to her days as defence minister. The court struck her second urgent bid to interdict her arrest from the roll, with costs.

In her resignation letter, Mapisa-Nqakula said that, “given the seriousness of the much-publicised allegations against me, I cannot continue in this role. As a country’s chief lawmaker, I hold a central responsibility to protect and preserve the integrity of Parliament by ensuring that my actions ensure that its sacred work must continue without blemish. I believe that, at the right time, I will have the opportunity to thoroughly address these allegations as and when they have been formally brought against me in the appropriate forums, at which time I will clear my good name. I maintain my innocence and am determined to restore my good reputation.”

She added that her resignation was in no way an indication or admission of guilt regarding the allegations being levelled against her.

The State alleges that while she served as defence minister, Mapisa-Nqakula received at least R2.3 million in bribes between 2017 and 2019 from defence contractor Nombasa Ndhlovu, who has now turned State witness. Ndhlovu alleges the bribes were paid to secure contracts for her company Umkhombe Marine. Most of the contracts were for logistics to support the continental deployment of SA National Defence Force (SANDF) troops, and amounted to over R200 million.

After turning herself in, Mapisa-Nqakula was earlier this month released on R50 000 bail by the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court.

Mapisa-Nqakula has also been involved in other controversies – in 2022, as the National Assembly Speaker, she approved a salary increase of the Secretary to Parliament, Xolile George, from R2.6 million to more than R4.4 million a year.

Earlier this month Parliament’s Powers and Privileges Committee dropped an investigation against her for greatly inflating George’s salary – something that led to the official opposition filing a complaint with the committee to investigate Mapisa-Nqakula.

Parliament’s legal adviser Andile Tetyana told members of the committee on 10 April that as Mapisa-Nqakula had resigned as both speaker and MP, the committee had no jurisdiction to investigate her. Acting chairperson of the committee, Mankentsi Tlhape, said they should agree that the matter was now moot and the investigation should be dropped. ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude said she agreed with the legal advice tabled that the committee did not have powers to probe matters outside of the national legislature.

Democratic Alliance deputy chief whip Annelie Lotriet said parliament had taken a decision to appoint George on wrong and incomplete information. She said they could not accept the fact that the matter was now moot because Mapisa-Nqakula had resigned.