WAR OF WORDS
Minister Sisulu slammed for public outburst during walkabout in fire-ravaged Khayelitsha
In a recording of the encounter, which has gone viral, Lindiwe Sisulu rips down her mask and shouts at a housing activist who is questioning her.
The Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, has been criticised for her outburst during an inspection of the fire-ravaged Taiwan informal settlement in Site C, Khayelitsha, where a blaze on New Year’s Day left 500 residents homeless.
It was a sweltering day in Cape Town on Tuesday, 5 January, when Sisulu, accompanied by the MMC for Human Settlements, Malusi Booi, and Western Cape MEC Tertius Simmers, ripped down her mask and began shouting at housing activist and Khayelitsha Community Action Network (CAN) member Nkosikhona Swartbooi.
A recording of the encounter has gone viral and Sisulu on Wednesday issued a statement accusing Swartbooi of being an “opportunist” seeking to “hijack the plight of the poor”.
Are Ministers’ bodyguards/personnel allowed to confiscated people’s phones when said people are asking a Minister to account? The guy in the video (presumed to be Minister Sisulu’s bodyguard) took @NSwartbooi‘s phone after asking the Minister to not make false promises as before pic.twitter.com/Do0ouskY0K
— Axolile Notywala (@Xila_Notywala) January 4, 2021
The heated exchange occurred after Swartbooi had asked Sisulu during her walkabout of the Taiwan settlement what had happened to relief she had promised residents of Empolweni, also in Khayelitsha, back in April 2020 after the City of Cape Town demolished shacks in mid-winter and during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Let’s hope, Minister, you won’t do the same as at Empolweni. You promised structures to be built, but you never built them… we are waiting till this day,” Swartbooi can be heard saying.
Sisulu, wearing pink surgical gloves, appeared enraged by the comment. She turned to Swartbooi, ripped down her mask and shouted: “You are lying! You are lying!”
The exchange escalates as Sisulu says, “You are not going to tape me and talk nonsense. You are talking rubbish. I said to you, I will buy that material. Just switch that off. Switch that off.”
“And did you buy it?” Swartbooi asks, to which Sisulu replies: “Did you bring it to me?” before the minister’s bodyguard appears to step in to stop the recording.
Sisulu issued a statement on Wednesday about the incident, condemning “opportunists seeking to hijack the plight of the poor”.
The statement, issued by ministry spokesperson Steve Motale, claimed that Sisulu had been “confronted by a man making unfounded accusations”, which had resulted in “an exchange of words”.
However, the statement did not contain an apology for Sisulu’s behaviour or her angry response.
Rather it was a justification and a setting out of the political ping-pong being played out between the City of Cape Town and the national government while residents of Cape Town’s informal settlements are left homeless and caught in official and legal bottlenecks.
Sisulu set out how after her visit to Empolweni in 2020 she had “requested the National Department of Human Settlements and the Housing Development Agency to consult with and engage officials from the City of Cape Town in order to make sure that materials [that were seized] were returned as per court order”.
The City of Cape Town demolished the shacks in mid-winter and during the Covid-19 lockdown in April. The high court found the city’s actions to be illegal and ordered it to return materials confiscated from residents.
Sisulu said she had advised the City of Cape Town to provide households with building kits, “which was refused”.
While activist group and NGO the Social Justice Coalition had been an integral part of the lawsuit against the city, some of its leaders, said Sisulu in her statement, were “not part of the community leadership and would not have been engaged in subsequent discussions and reports to the community.
“In his interaction with the minister during her visit in Taiwan, the man clearly sought to insert himself and score cheap personal credit rather than continue to push and assist the minister who was engaged at the time.”
Sisulu was “currently seized with providing relief” to residents of Taiwan as well as Masiphumelele where 6,000 people were left homeless in December. The statement ended by saying that Sisulu was in consultation with her lawyers.
Meanwhile, in a joint media release on Wednesday, the City of Cape Town, the Western Cape government, the Department of Human Settlements and the national Housing Development Agency (HDA) said that relief would be fast-tracked to both Masiphumelele and Taiwan.
Following meetings with Sisulu, the three spheres of government had made R32-million available to provide temporary structures, water and sanitation to affected residents of Masiphumelele, read the statement.
Taiwan residents were being accommodated in a nearby church while the site was cleared.
The HDA would be the implementing agent and planned to construct 420 “units” in Masiphumelele using “alternative building technologies”. The city said it planned to construct an additional 656 units on city-owned land.
A “long-term” plan for a “permanent solution” to the affected communities would be delivered by the three tiers of government, the joint statement promised.
Meanwhile, Sisulu’s outburst has drawn widespread condemnation, with many on Twitter accusing her of arrogance.
“She could have handled the matter differently and maturely. Considering there is truth in what the man is saying, rather than saying he is lying,” tweeted @Diced81.
Activist and Khayelitsha CANS member Axolile Notywala tweeted: “You are a Minister. You make promises. You fail to deliver on those promises. When you are asked questions about those failures you react angrily and instruct bodyguards to intimidate and confiscate people’s phones. Disgusting.”
Swartbooi tweeted that Sisulu’s bodyguards had attempted to confiscate his phone and force him into a car. DM
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