Sisulu vs Sexwale – the battle royal that’s causing the mother of all headaches

By Branko Brkic 28 November 2009

“Man,” says Gwede Mantashe, “this Malema-itis is seriously contagious. First the BMF and NUM, then Jeremy, and now, of all people, Tokyo and Lindiwe.” He didn’t actually say that, not to us at least, but he might as well have.

He must be wondering what on earth has gotten into the water. What started as a throwaway comment about a play has turned into an epic confrontation. And, as always, when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled.  Or in this case, the people.

Not many people had ever heard of “A re Ageng Mzansi”, or “Let’s Build South Africa” before this week. But apparently, it’s a play that’s been seen by thousands of people across the country. It’s supposed to somehow contribute to housing. How exactly hasn’t been properly explained. But either way, one production company got about R5 million for its trouble. How the rest of the bill mounted all the way up to R22 million has not been made public either. But that’s quite a few houses. Sexwale apparently first saw the play and approved of it. But once he realised how much it cost (how did he realise this, you wonder), he canned it. All well and good.

But then he went on Talk Radio 702 and said he “had no time for plays and theatre that have nothing to do with building houses”. All in a very nice sound-bite execution.  In fact, almost presidential. It’s vintage Tokyo and it promotes his image as someone who gets things done without getting caught up in minor-league stuff.

Well, he hadn’t counted on Lindiwe Sisulu, who wanted to show that this lady was not for turning. And the vitriol she threw at him was spectacular. He hasn’t “launched a single housing product since he took office,” she said, “he should spend some time in the office reading cabinet reports and memos from 2004”. That’s a slightly muddled message, but the emotion’s pretty clear.

Photo: Tokyo Sexwale (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

What seems to have irritated her is that he’s committed, allegedly, the biggest political sin there is. Taking credit for something someone else did. And, boy, is she mad. The fact that one of Sexwale’s first public statements as a minister was to tell us all he was demolishing some of her houses probably didn’t help. He said they were defective and bemoaned, in a highly public fashion, the quality of building of some of those structures. He’s also gone on at length about how much they cost.

One of the rules many politicians are careful to observe, particularly if they’re from the same party as their predecessor, is that you don’t criticise the previous incumbent, or their work, not loudly at least. Notice how Barbara Hogan tiptoed when she took over at health, or how careful Jeff Radebe was when he took over the reins at justice. But Sexwale, as always, doesn’t think the normal rules apply to him. And so Lindiwe’s gone straight for him.

Of course, being the ANC, it’s much more complicated than that. On the one hand you have the Sisulu dynasty, Lindiwe and Max, their surname alone gives them huge weight in the ANC. And rightly so, generally speaking where there’s a Sisulu, there’s competence. But Sexwale’s a lion in his own right. The man whose cell was next to Madiba’s, who is one of the glorious stars in the political firmament. Or, to put it another way, a man who thinks he could be the next president.
And therein lies the rub. Lindiwe Sisulu hasn’t forgotten Polokwane, or the man who tried to be the third candidate. She won’t be alone in thinking Sexwale’s support for President Jacob Zuma is probably pretty soft. He’s only doing it for the public platform, or so she might think.

The ANC has now taken the rare step of publicly calling on the pair to kiss and make up. That statement probably originally came from the secretary-general’s office. You see, this is one fight Gwede Mantashe really doesn’t want to get involved in. There’s no way he can win. And they’re both senior enough to really not care a fig about what he thinks. They can count on massive support from other quarters, and they’re not going to be afraid to use it. He’ll hope they find a way to get around all of this.

The one person who can end it of course, is the president himself. And he’s in the West Indies. He may just have run out of headache pills over the Eskom affair a couple of weeks ago and is surely hoping peace will have broken out by the time he gets back. We’re not so sure. Maybe he’d want to ask his doctor for a new prescription, once he’s back here.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)

Main photo: Former housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu is sworn in as the new defence minister at the presidential guest house in Pretoria, May 11,2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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