Lindiwe Sisulu’s extraordinary attack on South Africa’s Constitution
On the eve of the 110th anniversary of the African National Congress, a puzzling article appeared in the media, attributed to Lindiwe Sisulu, the tourism minister.
This is a person with an impressive track record that dates back to her training as an Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) cadre who specialised in security. She has been a member of Parliament since 1994. A longstanding member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, Sisulu started in government as deputy minister of Home Affairs, following which she successively served as minister of Intelligence; Defence; Public Service and Administration; Human Settlements; International Relations and Cooperation; Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation; and now, Tourism.
Quizzically, in the article under reference, Sisulu questions the import of the rule of law, since apartheid and Nazism were also underpinned by the “rule of law”. She deplores the “sea of African poverty” that persists despite the existence of the Constitution of South Africa, which she dismisses as a palliative. One tries to discern what exactly makes the Constitution the agency for addressing issues of “African poverty”. And what in that incarnation causes it to be effete: maybe a failure in its provisions to address uniquely “African poverty”?
Sisulu asks sarcastically: “What has this beautiful constitution done for the victims [of colonialism] except as a palliative (Panadol)? [sic]”
The logic of blaming the government’s failure to effectively address the plight of the poor on the country’s Constitution is a trifle obscure. As is known, it is the executive arm, and not the legislature or judiciary, that carries the mandate and responsibility for poverty alleviation. Regardless of whether one is functioning in a democratic, autocratic or fascist state, the remit of the rule of law is all-encompassing. It transcends concerns for the poor. It affects all persons, institutions and entities in the state, all of which entities are accountable to publicly promulgated laws.
Sisulu expresses feelings of righteous indignation at the well-known evils of colonialism. She says: “Many years down the line, Africans manage poverty while others manage wealth.”
This articulation with respect to wealth and poverty invites a couple of observations. For starters, it is the government, of which Sisulu has been an integral part for more than two decades, that has caused not only continuing, but escalating poverty during the democratic era.
Among factors that, sadly, account for this state of affairs, are first and foremost a lacklustre commitment to the resolution of the scourge, and also inadequate budget allocations, poor planning and management and the sheer scale of corruption.
Sisulu categorises the impact of poverty in terms of “Africans” and “others”, and not, curiously, of “blacks” and “whites”. There can be no gainsaying the fact that Africans suffered the worst ravages of apartheid oppression, and as a consequence, substantial numbers within this group continue to need support.
It is nevertheless a truism also that apartheid laws dehumanised and discriminated against people the apartheid laws classified as black and therefore second-class citizens. Recent Statistics South Africa reports show that whites, as a group, are perched at the top of the wealth ladder, while the rest of the populace — blacks in progressive nomenclature — remain pegged on the lower rungs, albeit at different levels.
Sisulu would thus not have been wrong if, in her classification, she cited the black group as a whole, rather than only Africans, among those said to be still “managing poverty”. But then, she may very well be serving notice in terms of batting exclusively for the African poor.
Sisulu says there have been calls for “a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission focusing on economic justice”. But they have “been consistently ignored by those with the power to actually give effect to these calls”.
It’s not clear whether the minister is implying that there may exist ANC conference resolutions in support of such calls which were ignored by the National Executive Committee, or Cabinet. Since she is a member of those committees, she would hardly be in a position to blame others for “failing to give effect to these calls”.
On the other hand, it is possible that Sisulu tried, to no avail, to convince her colleagues about the desperate straits of the “African poor”, and is now petitioning the public for help.
But it gets worse.
Sisulu also bewails “the co-option and invitation of political power brokers to the dinner table, whose job is to keep the masses quiet in their sufferance while they dine [on] caviar with colonized capital”.
Only desperation would drive a person of Sisulu’s stature to breach protocol and expose such malfeasances to the public. A justification would probably be that her message is of national importance, but is being ignored in relevant councils. Short of that, the breach would be inexcusable and deserving of a sanction.
On the persistent subject of the relevance of the rule of law to democracy, Sisulu points to the situation in the US where “almost half the country voted for a man [former president Donald Trump] who seemed to care nothing about democracy and the rule of law”.
She adds: “At the deepest level, it is not very different from South Africa.”
“What’s this about?” I ask myself as I continue reading. Is the reader being told that South Africans who voted for the ANC (we don’t have a presidential system of elections, so we vote for parties) may have voted for a party that “seems to care nothing about democracy and the rule of law”? Or, is it President Cyril Ramaphosa, perhaps, who is being compared to Trump?
Scary stuff this, but either way, this is a serious indictment on both party and president. Might there be other reasons behind these fulminations?
On the judiciary, Sisulu shoots straight from the shoulder, and takes no prisoners: she tells the reader that, “Today, in the high echelons of our judicial system are these mentally colonized Africans, who have settled with the worldview and mindset of those who have dispossessed their ancestors.”
And then: “Rulings against their own speaks [sic] very loudly, while others, secure in their agenda, clap behind closed doors.” Sisulu is saying, without substantiation, what an ANC faction that calls itself the RET, whatever that means, has also been saying since former president Jacob Zuma got hopelessly entangled with the law. Like these notables, she feels, “There is a need for an overhaul of a justice system that does not work for Africa and Africans.”
Sisulu has also come to a determination that “we have a neo-liberal constitution, with foreign inspiration…”
She asks, “And where is the African value system of this constitution and the rule of law? If the law does not work for Africans in Africa, then what is the use of the rule of law?”
With this kind of gibberish coming from on high, leadership beware! I am sure St Matthew would not disapprove of this paraphrase: Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to Organisational Renewal. It is often fraught with thorns and thickets. DM