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Leader of South Africa’s Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Resigns

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The speaker of South Africa’s National Assembly resigned on Wednesday, a day after a judge cleared the way for her to be arrested on charges that she took bribes when she served as defense minister.

The resignation of the speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, comes amid a tense, weekslong standoff with law enforcement officials over a corruption case that has dealt a blow to the governing African National Congress two months before a critical national election.

On Tuesday, a judge threw out Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s court application seeking to prevent her arrest. As of Wednesday afternoon, she had not turned herself in to the authorities.

Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula, who fought against the apartheid regime as an A.N.C. activist in exile, maintained her innocence in a news release announcing her resignation. Part of her decision to step down, she said, was to “protect the image of our organization, the African National Congress.”

“My resignation is in no way an indication or admission of guilt regarding the allegations being leveled against me,” she added. “I have made this decision in order to uphold the integrity and sanctity of our Parliament.”

The National Assembly is the more powerful of the two houses of South Africa’s Parliament.

Her potential arrest exposes the A.N.C. to one of its greatest vulnerabilities — charges of corruption — ahead of elections on May 29 in which the party faces the threat of losing its absolute majority in the national government for the first time since the end of apartheid 30 years ago.

A.N.C. leaders have faced a litany of corruption allegations over the years that have ignited public furor as the country and many of its citizens struggle economically. Most notably, investigators found that Jacob Zuma, a former president of the party and the nation, oversaw the widespread looting of state coffers to enrich himself, his family and his friends.

If she is arrested, she would be one of the highest ranking A.N.C. officials to face criminal charges for conduct in office, after Mr. Zuma, who faces charges for actions that occurred a generation ago, when he was vice president. (Since departing office, he has left the A.N.C. and formed his own party.)

But in some ways, Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula’s case provides an opportunity for the party to show that it is tackling potential wrongdoing among its members.

Under the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, the A.N.C. has said it is aggressively working to root out corruption in its ranks. The party suggested in a statement released on Tuesday that Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula would be forced to step aside from her role in the party and in government while facing criminal charges, under a rule that the organization put in place in recent years. Her resignation seems to render that moot.

Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula, 67, served as the minister of defense and military veterans from 2014 to 2021. During her final year on the job, some of the worst rioting of South Africa’s democratic era erupted in parts of the country, and Mr. Ramaphosa called it an attempted insurrection. Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula publicly contradicted her boss, saying that the violence was not an insurrection. Shortly afterward, she was removed as minister and became the National Assembly speaker.

She has argued that the prosecution’s case against her is a politically motivated attempt to tarnish her reputation and the A.N.C.’s during campaign season.

Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula is accused of soliciting more than 2.3 million rand ($123,000) worth of bribes from a defense contractor in exchange for awarding contracts between 2016 and 2019. The police raided her home last month. After the raid, she filed an application in court making the unusual demand that prosecutors turn over their evidence to her before her arrest, arguing that their case was weak.

In a court affidavit challenging her arrest, Ms. Mapisa-Nqakula said that prosecutors were abusing their powers for political purposes, as the apartheid-era government did. She feared, she said, “that this practice has once again reared its ugly head and, if not stopped, carries the real risk of further fraying the constitutional fabric of our young democracy.”

In dismissing the effort to prevent her arrest, Justice Sulet Potterill said on Tuesday that “the floodgates will be opened” for every suspect to ask the court to stop his or her arrest “on speculation that there is a weak case.”

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