ANALYSIS

Lindiwe Zulu’s contrarian move could be a sign of new ANC factional fights to come

By Stephen Grootes 24 August 2021

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu’s suggestion for a National Social Security Fund, made without the agreement of the rest of the Cabinet, while disregarding important stakeholders, could become a test of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ability to keep control over his Cabinet.

Stephen Grootes

Over the past week, more details have emerged about a Green Paper published by the Department of Social Development and about the context in which it was published. While it seems unlikely at this stage that its main elements will ever become government policy, the fact that it was made public in the first place and that it came during this time may be politically significant.

This mini mess may be proof of just how much some ministers believe they are able to act without the backing of the rest of the government. This could turn out to be a test of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s mantle and his ability to keep control over his Cabinet.

On Thursday last week, the Department of Social Development published the Green Paper on its website. It starts off by saying: “I, Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, hereby give notice for the publication of the Green Paper on Comprehensive Social Security and Retirement Reform (2021) for public comments.”

After the executive summary and other parts of the introduction comes what may be the most contentious proposal: a National Social Security Fund. The paper says: 

“All employers and employees will be obliged to initially contribute between 8 and 12 percent of qualifying earnings up to a ceiling, based on the Unemployment Insurance fund (UIF) ceiling, which is currently at R276,004 per annum.”

In other words, it would be mandatory for people to pay into the fund.

Later it details how the fund would be run, with an independent board and a CEO etc.

The paper also suggests moves towards a full basic income grant (BIG), in other words, government money which everyone would receive.

Already by Thursday afternoon last week it was clear that not everyone in the government was on board with this.

On Newzroom Afrika a deputy director-general of the department, Brenda Sibeko, explained the rationale behind the proposal. She said that the pandemic had revealed the deep inequality and poverty in South Africa, how so many people had become exposed to a lack of income and a lack of food, and that the government needed to change policy.


She explained that many people reach retirement age with no pension at all to fall back on, and a National Social Security Fund was a way to ensure that this no longer happened.

But immediately after that interview, the National Treasury’s Deputy Director-General for Tax and Financial Sector Policy, Ismail Momoniat, appeared on the same television station programme. He made it clear that this was not government policy and still had to be examined and debated.

When asked if the proposal of forcing people to make mandatory payments to such a fund (on top of the money already paid to the government through tax and other means) would be constitutional, Momoniat suggested, “That’s a good question….”

In other words, the National Treasury poured as much cold water on the proposal and as quickly as it possibly could.

Then, on Monday morning, Business Day reported that a National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) report on the issue, which spelt out the risks of this approach, had been ignored. The paper said that research commissioned by the International Labour Organization had also been disregarded. The newspaper suggested that the social partners at Nedlac had been taken “by surprise”, because there is no consensus on this issue.

So why would such a document be published now, and without the agreement of the rest of the Cabinet, while disregarding important stakeholders?

There can be no question that the timing is difficult.

The country’s middle classes have just finished binging on the climax of the Zondo Commission, a TV series which demonstrated almost to the last decimal point how much money had been stolen by people in government and linked to those in government. Even the president, the politician with probably the highest approval ratings in the country, did not manage to escape unscathed.

And here was a government department suggesting that it be made mandatory for people to pay more of their money to the very same government.

At the same time, this proposal goes counter to the demands of organised labour.

Cosatu and other unions have been pushing for workers to be given access to their pensions in order to be able to pay off their personal debts. The Treasury had opposed that demand, but suggested that it could be considered.

Now Zulu is pushing the idea that these workers, who want to access their pensions now, should in fact have even less access to their incomes in the future.

At worst, this suggests that Zulu has not been aware of public sentiment, ignored the wishes of unions, ignored Nedlac, ignored reports detailing the risks and decided to go alone.

If that is the case, why did she do it?

Zulu has previously come out in support of a basic income grant, speaking in favour of the idea during a mini-plenary debate in Parliament this year.

The debate in the ANC has gone back and forth many times over the last two decades. But in the past fortnight Enoch Godongwana, the still-new finance minister, has said that he opposes the idea. He would prefer to use the money such a grant could cost to pay for more education and training for young people.

Some might presume that Zulu is trying to put pressure on Godongwana as he starts his new job.

But there may be other agendas at play.

One of the political near-certainties about a BIG in any country is that if you ask people if it should be implemented, those who have no certain income will always say yes. It is in their interests to do so. Given the numbers of our people who do not have a substantial and secure income, any referendum on the issue would see the proposal being adopted by a landslide.

It may be that Zulu is trying to be on the “right” political side of this debate.

It is also not clear where her allegiances lie in terms of the factional divisions within the ANC.

Zulu has a long history in the party: she has previously been a spokesperson for the ANC, chair of its sub-committee on international relations and an adviser on international relations to former president Jacob Zuma (it appears her main focus was the situation in Zimbabwe, and perhaps as a sign of her effectiveness, then-president Robert Mugabe hurled an insult on her at one point).

During Zuma’s long-running dispute with the then finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, Zulu displayed her support for Zuma and disdain for Gordhan in Parliament in 2017. In February that year, as the battle lines were drawn between the factions in the ANC and Zuma was preparing to fire Gordhan, she and three other ministers showed their political colours.

When almost all of the MPs stood to applaud Gordhan’s Budget speech, Zulu and the three others remained stubbornly in their seats. It was a moment which showed who supported Gordhan and who supported Zuma

It was clear that Zulu supported Zuma and was happy to show it.

This may suggest that she believes she needs all the support she can get to remain in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet.

It is also not clear how much of an interest she has in all aspects of her portfolio.

Her department is responsible for social grants, and for early childhood development centres, or care centres for younger children (these are moving across to the Department of Basic Education; some are currently already in that department but others are under her ministry).

The sector eventually went to court because the conditions under which it could reopen after the hard lockdown were unclear. It appeared that those centres under the Department of Basic Education had clear guidelines, while those under Zulu’s control did not. Her department has also been accused of not paying out subsidies to these institutions.

Eventually, the high court said that Zulu’s “conduct falls short of the standard expected in these crucially important proceedings concerning young and vulnerable children”.

All of this may suggest that she is concerned for her job. Or it could suggest that she is looking for an issue to champion, one which would be difficult to oppose. The BIG could be a useful issue for her at this moment.

This could pose a challenge for Ramaphosa.

He now knows that Zulu is prepared to ignore reports about risks and simply publish a Green Paper, which then required swift action from the Treasury. For a deputy director-general (DDG) of one department to immediately comment on an interview with a DDG from another department in the way in which this occurred could well suggest divisions in the government that Ramaphosa leads.

(Another issue that jumps out of this latest development is that Zulu’s support for a BIG could be the birth of the next acronym that the populist forces coalesce around. What started as an anti-WMC [White Monopoly Capital] brigade morphed into RET [Radical Economic Transformation] just before the 2017 Nasrec conference – encompassing land expropriation without compensation – and today pretty much defines the divide within the ANC. As RET forces have been so fatefully, and self-destructively, associated with July looting, it is striking how a BIG can become this faction’s next rallying cry. It is popular with the masses and Zulu’s decision to publish could be a shape-shifting spark that creates a new battlefield in a country that’s already scarred by so many needless fights. – Ed)

Ramaphosa is now likely to see Zulu as someone whom he cannot trust.

Whether he feels that he must take action against her, or whether he feels that he can take action against her is an entirely different question. DM

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All Comments 44

  • The ANC political shift appears to be free everything at every turn. Free electricity, free water, free land, free education, free condoms, free looting free Zuma and now free money. We could rename the country Freedom.

      • Hard to believe she could do this without foreknowledge of the top 6.

        On the other hand, if she acted alone she should be fired. Will she be fired? Hell no.

        So it’s governments position, one way or another. The ANC needs new sources of cash to fund the party and patronage

    • Slowly but surely the country is moving towards total socialism. The love affair of our government with countries like Russia, China and Cuba is a clear indication of the long term objectives of the ANC

      • And we know how that works historically. Use the proletariat to overthrow the government and create a fresh bourgeoise of ‘insiders’. The ANC is incapable of any form of responsible management, owing to those mentors.
        In 1987 Van Zyl Slabbert arranged the Dakar conference between a group of Afrikaners and the ANC, who sent Mbeki as their representative. Its purpose was to begin a dialogue to plan the way forward to “democracy”. It’s great piece of histoty (pages 166-185 of Albert Grundlingh’s biography “Slabbert – Man on a Mission”). Get the book. By the time of the 2nd anniversary in 2007, Mbeki was notable by his absence (they had a get-together every 10 years). By this time it was self-evident that the purpose of Dakar was no longer of any interest.
        To quote Chris Louw, one of the original delegates, “The ANC needed us then. Now it is no longer the case. We are the useful idiots … More cynical: liberation was the ANC’s main aim, not democracy. More correctly: the African majority wanted power. Democracy was an unavoidable by-product, never the aim.”
        And we have seen that from Mandela down to Ramaphosa. Parliament is an irritation to them.
        The reason why the corruption and theft is so rife is simple. The ANC is not at all immoral; on the contrary it is amoral, blissfully unaware that a concept such as right and wrong exists, other than for PR purposes – all talk and no walk.
        George Orwell was so right with Animal Farm. The ‘more equal pigs’ have been firmly at the helm’.

  • See how easy it is for the ANC to pass responsibilities onto the weary taxpayer….and we continue to take this abuse? We would all feel a lot happier if we knew this was a genuine proposal not just another manipulation to feed at the trough or to garner support for personal power and enrichment! Socialism can only really work in rich countries with honest politicians where everyone contributes to the system and the fruits are shared equally. South Africa can never become a Denmark, Sweden or Norway, no matter how much we would like it too!

  • It’s always been obvious that Lindiwe Zulu is a Zuma faction member. Ramaphosa is surrounded by them, and it would appear that they are hard at work challenging him to counter their decisions.
    He is between a rock and a hard place and how he handles these ministers will determine whether he serves a second term.

      • No, Joe is right. It is about keeping hold on power in a divided, damaged, bankrupt ANC. Ramaphosa sadly does not have sufficient unconditional support for his reforms to get by without help from those who support him because his leadership of the ANC benefits them. This leads to compromises and demonstrates the tenuousness of his hold on power. He continues to walk the tightrope. I hope his balance is good enough.

  • Whatever else she lacks, she certainly lacks forethought? Was she not returned hastily from Zimbabwe after telling Mugabe to “Thula” because he was now an old man?

  • All comments and analyses off the ANC means nothing. The ANC is out of control even by its own glorious standards. It will devour itself and we will not be unscathed. We should rather focus on what we should do in each scenario. It is now a matter of social and economic survival of the last of the tax payers.

    • I agree. Time to unite against the inGlorious ANC. Those small parties are useless in the short run. The next elections, Municipal as well as National are close. They cannot grow at the pace required to smash the ANC. DA is the only realistic option.

  • The mathematically challenged RET group ignores some of the realities of such a beast. For such a scheme to succeed the country needs 90% plus employment rate.
    Much can be gleaned from the development of the national retirement industry in Nigeria where a similar scheme was dismal failure. The Nigerian progression took many years of failure of a few attempts before settling on a more agreeable system.
    Imagine the impact of paying another 12% in “tax” – this would sink most households and businesses.

    • If there was 90% employment, there’d be no need for a Basic Income Grant. But instead of working towards this goal, for the past 27 years the ANC has spent that time overseeing the looting of treasury funds by cadre (thieving w*?kers) deployment.

      Dear Mr President, Please sack all the incompetents, self-servers and dead wood in your cabinet. And reverse the decision to extradite Manual Chang to Mozambique. Please make sure he is extradited to the USA, where he will face proper justice for his despicable crime of stealing the very poor of that country blind.

      If you don’t have the power to make executive decisions in South Africa’s best interest, then what do you think you’re doing as president of this country.

  • Unemployment, poverty has to be prioritised but this is reminiscent of “free education “ antics…vote catching tactics followed by empty promises with millions of voters left heartbroken!

  • Maybe Bob was right in this extract from Politics Web (2013) . . .

    Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has described President Jacob Zuma’s international relations advisor Lindiwe Zulu as a “stupid idiotic woman” and a “little streetwalker” in his address at the launch of Zanu-PF’s election manifesto on Friday.

    SA’s own “blonde bombshell” about to cause another explosion that others will have to fix 😖

  • The problem with our current clutch of leaders is that they like to play at being politicians but without the gravitas and seriousness needed to pull it of. Attracted by the trappings and advantages, the pomp and deference that they enjoy, they have completely disregarded the needs of a nation in despair. Zulu is a prime example of the complete tone-deafness and disregard that the entire Cadre Clan has for the people they swore to serve when taking their oaths of office. None of these leeches are fit for purpose, from Denier-in-chief Ramaposeur down. Vote them out.

    • If only it were just our local politicians without the gravitas and seriousness needed. One has too look only at Britain with the Mickley Mouse Boris Johnston and his useless cabinet. Biden has yet to prove himself, but it seems he’s made a grave mistake in pulling out of Afghanistan in such a hurry. And Morrisson in Australia, Duterte in the Philippines, Bolsanaro in Brazil and Modi in India, to name but a few are either useless, bad eggs or both.

      Indeed our planet is suffering from too many appalling leaders and immensely greedy businessmen.

  • cr will do nothing, as usual. He does not have the b..ls. He is not concerned about SA, he only wants to remain as ruler of the anc and by default the country. Idiodaat spells it out perfectly – free everything …

  • “Ramaphosa is now likely to see Zulu as someone whom he cannot trust.” There were no legitimate reasons to ever trust her in the first place.

  • Lindiwe Zulu does not have the interests of South Africans at heart – she is a self-serving member of the Cabinet. Ramaphosa needs to grow a “backbone”! He needs to start behaving like a President of the South African people.

    “The country’s middle classes have just finished binging on the climax of the Zondo Commission, a TV series which demonstrated almost to the last decimal point how much money had been stolen by people in government and linked to those in government. Even the president, the politician with probably the highest approval ratings in the country, did not manage to escape unscathed.

    And here was a government department suggesting that it be made mandatory for people to pay more of their money to the very same government.”

    Please!!!! How much more of our hard earned money must we be “donating”?

  • The DDG said “the pandemic had revealed the deep inequality and poverty in South Africa, how so many people had become exposed to a lack of income and a lack of food”. Pardon?? It took the pandemic for the department to realise the deep inequality in our society? The horror.

    • The only thing exposed by the pandemic was the utter inability of government to do its job and that is a direct result of the quality, or lack thereof, of people appointed at all senior levels.

  • Interesting that she gets the math and impact wrong.

    By making this something we pay only up to first R276k means it is a tax on almost all workers at the same rate. Remember our average government employee earns R500k.

    This will have a counter-redistributive effect. The impact is devastating on the disposable income of a worker earning R30k per month and impact is merely irritating on the disposable income of a R300k per month manager.

  • I shows the “thinking” of some of our Beloved ANC. A Labour MP in Britain summed it up ” People will tell you there is unlimited wealth out there , which you will collect if you can only find the key, are leading you on a false path. The truth is that the only wealth is the wealth we produce, and unless we keep that in mind,we are going headlong into disaster” Instead of further taxation on an every dwindling tax base. How about the “revolutionary” idea of attracting investment without all the current impediments and actually GROW the economy?

  • Just as ECD centres have been & are being incorporated into the DBE, the Social Welfare Dept should have its remaining tasks/ responsibilities incorporated into another department or split up among different departments – that way Lindiwe will be strategically made redundant in the position she currently occupies but has not earned. She will then be liberated from the mundane chores of actually doing constructive, productive work in the Cabinet & will have more time to co-ordinate her outfits with her freshly dyed hair.

  • “Waarom BIG ‘n groot fout is” (Why BIG is a huge mistake) Vryeweekblad website 6 August, is worth a read. Google will translate it to English. but some of that translation is rather quaint!

  • If ever Pres Ramaphosa had, needed, or wanted a reason to shuffle Min Lindiwe Zulu out of his cabinet, that time has arrived.

    Perhaps the honourable minister would be better serving under the Deputy Minister of toilets.

  • Always amazes me how the corrupt thieves in government have stolen so much, yet always raise the issue of inequality and poverty.

  • I think this shows how weak the president actually is and remains.
    Your sentence that she’s afraid of losing her job is the crux of her impetuous action. That’s not part of her career path.
    She had this little bomb in her back pocket for a long time: had she played this move before the cabinet reshuffle, Cyril might have fired her.
    Instead she came out with it just a few weeks after the reshuffle. Why?
    She feels emboldened by not being axed (she’s 100% Zuma and CR knows that) and shows the Pres is actually still not in control of the ANC. She has strong backing in the top six or the NEC.
    This little escaped is free publicity for her and will burnish her credentials in certain ANC constituencies.
    I’m afraid we might be exposed to much more retro-revolution bling-camouflage fashions for a long time.

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