South Africa


Judge Zondo hauls Lindiwe Sisulu over the coals for ‘unwarranted attack’ on African judiciary

Judge Zondo hauls Lindiwe Sisulu over the coals for ‘unwarranted attack’ on African judiciary
Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Photo: Gallo Images / Financial Mail / Freddy Mavunda) | Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s comments, rich in insult but poor in substantiation and any analyses, are ‘an insult to the justices of the Constitutional Court, the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the judge presidents of the High Court, and all African judges who serve this country with distinction’.

An uncharacteristically ruffled acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said on Wednesday that opinions vented in a recent column penned by senior Cabinet minister and veteran ANC member Lindiwe Sisulu were “probably the worst insult that has been levelled against the judiciary” in democratic South Africa. 

It would be “a pity” if Sisulu’s comments went unchallenged within the executive, Zondo added. He said he would decide “at some stage” if a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa was needed regarding the utterances, but he hoped that Sisulu would withdraw her statements.  

“We as the judiciary have never said that we should not be criticised, we do not say even now that we should not be criticised. We accept we may be criticised, but we say it should be fair and have a proper factual basis,” said Zondo during a virtual media briefing called specifically to address Sisulu’s opinion piece.   

“[What Sisulu wrote] is not criticism, it is an insult to the justices of the Constitutional Court, the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the judge presidents of the High Court, and all African judges who serve this country with distinction and determination to uphold the Constitution.” 

In her column, titled “Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?”, Tourism Minister Sisulu attempts an argument for the overhaul of South Africa’s judicial system, which she says does not favour the oppressed masses.  

Of the judiciary, she says: “The most dangerous African today is the mentally colonised African. And when you put them in leadership positions or as interpreters of the law, they are worse than your oppressor. They have no African- or pan-African-inspired ideological grounding. Some are confused by foreign belief systems. 

“When it comes to crucial economic issues and property matters, the same African cosies up with their elitist colleagues to sing from the same hymn book, spouting the Roman-Dutch law of property. But where is the indigenous law? It has been reduced to a footnote in your law schools. Where are the African value systems and customs of land, wealth, and property? 

“Today, in the high echelons of our judicial system are these mentally colonised Africans, who have settled with the worldview and mindset of those who have dispossessed their ancestors. They are only too happy to lick the spittle of those who falsely claim superiority. The lack of confidence that permeates their rulings against their own speaks very loudly, while others, secure in their agenda, clap behind closed doors.” 

The minister’s comments come at a time when the country is still coming to terms with the “attacks” on the judiciary that emanated during various criminal cases – and the Zondo Commission – from former president Jacob Zuma and his supporters. 

They also come as South Africans are still waiting for the alleged “real” instigators of July’s devastating riots and looting to be brought to justice. Those riots, branded as an attempted insurrection by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration, started as protests at the jailing of Zuma on contempt charges. Sisulu is a supporter of the former president.  

Too, the devastating fire at Parliament this month has set many South Africans on edge, while last week, a man (since arrested) used a hammer to smash the glass windows and door entrances to the Constitutional Court building in Braamfontein. This was just a day after Zondo had released part one of his eponymous commission’s report into State Capture. 

That report was a scathing indictment of several of Zuma’s close acquaintances and political allies, who are aligned with the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction of the governing party and business.  

There has been speculation that Sisulu – who poorly contested the ANC presidential race in 2017 – has aligned herself with the RET faction to fulfil her ambition of steering the governing party when the ANC has its elective conference in December this year. 

Continued Zondo: “A very important aspect that arises when you read Ms Sisulu’s article… which attacks and insults African judges, is that it is rich in insult but poor in substantiation and any analyses. 

“It does not refer to any judgments that the Constitutional Court, SCA or High Courts have given, which have been analysed to produce the conclusions she produces. There are no facts that are put up to support what she is saying. There is no analysis of anything, it’s just accusations, insults to the judiciary. 

“This is most regrettable because it isn’t something that comes from an inexperienced young person, it comes from a senior member of the ruling party, a senior member of Parliament, a senior member of the executive.  

“As far as I am aware, Ms Sisulu has been in Parliament since ’94 or some time during the ’90s.  That such a senior member says Parliament and the executive should think it [appropriate] to insult judges, the justice system, courts and African judges, is most regrettable.  

“I would have expected that at least if she held the views that she holds here, she would have some facts to back up what she is saying. I don’t think she has those facts, because if she did, she would have put them forward; at least then her allegations and opinions would be based on something.  

“It should not be acceptable in a constitutional democracy such as ours that a member of Parliament and the executive should wake up one morning without any facts and write an article that insults African judges.” 

Lindiwe Sisulu’s extraordinary attack on South Africa’s Constitution

Zondo said that a line had to be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable conduct. The judiciary had done its job and judges took the oath that guided their work seriously.  

“On Judiciary Day, one of the things I said was I expect that, as we move on, there will be more attacks on the judiciary, and the judiciary should be ready for these attacks. And we must be ready. It seems that hardly a month after Judiciary Day, Ms Sisulu has launched a completely unwarranted attack on the judiciary and has heaped insults on the judiciary.” 

Zondo encouraged his colleagues, “particularly African judges”, to work in accordance with their oath of office, “no matter what”.  

“The people of South Africa will judge us. Our judgments will speak for us and other people in South Africa who appreciate the role of the judiciary and Constitution, and the rule of law, will play their role to protect the judiciary.”  

Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele has told News24 and TimesLIVE that Sisulu’s comments were “reckless”.  

On Wednesday, prior to Zondo’s press briefing, several prominent civil society groups – among them Casac, Freedom Under Law, the Helen Suzman Foundation and Judges Matter – issued a statement condemning Sisulu’s “extraordinary attack” on the justice system.   

“Ms Sisulu’s attempt to sully the legitimacy of our constitutional order, and by extension the idea of the rule of law on which it is based, is a shameful exploitation of the genuine plight of so many in our country. 

“As a prominent member of government for a quarter of a century, Ms Sisulu would have had a uniquely clear view, during the years of State Capture, of the deliberate restructuring of the South African state to serve the interests of a subset of our political class at the expense of ordinary South Africans, especially the poor and vulnerable who daily suffer economic deprivation,” said the organisations.  

“She knows, or should know, that it is not the judiciary which legislates and implements government policy, but Parliament and the executive: to attempt to blame the judiciary for their failures is but the most cynical exercise in blame-shifting. 

“It also bears noting that Ms Sisulu’s recent article registers against a sinister cacophony of unwarranted attacks on the judiciary by political actors. These appear intended only to foreclose on the prospect of accountability for crimes, malfeasance and other wrongdoing associated with public office.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    And Cyril hides his head in the sand!

  • Joe Soap says:

    Why are people questioning RZ press conference? I feel he has just as much right to express his opinions publically on any forum he likes as LS has to have her LS2022 campaign launch speech printed on IOL.

    I wish LS the best of luck with the LS2022 campaign, but it is so sad to see how poor your thinking has to be to able you to put your hand up as an ANC RET faction presidential candidate. I think the ANC should consider splitting, it cannot have two parties in one behaving the way they do.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Where is the President???????????

    • Louis Potgieter says:

      The president’s approach is to allow people rope to hang themselves.

      • John Strydom says:

        Watching Cyril’s paralysis in the face of every crisis we’ve been through since he became president, I used to grasp at that straw too, but that rope is growing pretty long and slack don’t you think?

  • Coen Gous says:

    Justice Zondo certainly takes no prisoners. And rightly so. For a long standing minister to make the comments Sisulu did was thoughtless and utterly foolish. She even makes shower head Zuma look intelligent. If she ever becomes president, which is highly unlikely, I can visualise opposition parties in parliament making a real clown out of her.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Wake up Sisulu – your father would be turning in his grave. We are living in the 21st century where antiquated ideas have no place. Your comments have just secured more poverty, as people with the skills to actually create jobs, go elsewhere. Shame on you.

    • Tebogo Phakwe Phakwe says:

      She is fully awake. Princess didn’t just wake up one morning and decided to write this piece of crap. There is more at play here. Mistress Ginger (Lindiwe Zulu) tried to come up with a white paper on something, that failed. “Shower head” defied the constitution and failed, July 2021 happened and many other things that I won’t have space to write about. Forgive me for being conspirational but I can’t help it. All these events are interlinked, with the sole purpose of discrediting the judiciary in order to to block any prosecutions that are coming the way of the ANC.

      What really pees me off is that the key denominator here is ‘Cup cakes’, with his inaction. He allowed and continues to allow his cabinet ministers to act as they please without any consequence, all in the name of unity in the ANC. We will always have rogues in our midst, but the real travesty is when those with powers to do something stand by and be ‘shocked’ like the rest of us.

  • Peter Doble says:

    Hardly unexpected from the mouthpiece of Zuma looters but another red letter day in the terminal decline of a country. South Africa has now sunk so deep in the cesspit that it can’t even shake off the stench.

  • Hoffman Wentzel says:

    Sisulu should be made to step down from her position, her utterances are unacceptable…

  • David Bristow says:

    Hahaha – “Where are the African value systems and customs of land, wealth, and property?” You stole them Ms Sisulu, and now you are scared the post-colonial legal system is hot on your faeces-splattered tail.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    This attack on the judiciary from the spokesperson for the RET brigade is not surprising, as the judiciary is the single competent organisation that has prevented the total capture of the state by their cronies. They want the looting to continue and law & order don’t suit this agenda. It’s time for Cyril to drop the tainted members of his executive, and let them form a new RET Plunder Party.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    It is untenable for a minister to attack the judiciary that she is supposed to defend
    Have the courage of your convictions, leave a join other ragtags with similar beliefs, but that would mean giving up the perks and money.
    Not going to happen
    Fire her Cyril

  • Philip Mirkin says:

    Neither Justice Zondo nor the civil society groups quoted have addressed LS’s point, of having a different worldview about property and land rights. If folk are serious about giving issues legitimate critique, I suggest this issue be thoroughly explored. Otherwise the debate will simply polarise the factions and not enlighten the way forward.
    Personally, I’d love to see a good debate of what LS means by indigenous law and African values etc. Those who feel that their worldview is marginalised need to know that their thinking is valued and not dismissed just because some folk abuse it for personal gain.

    • Peter Atkins says:

      A good point, although, as I understand it, it is not the Judiciary’s job to make the law – that is our government’s job. So the debate about African law versus Roman-Dutch law should take place in parliament.

      • Philip Mirkin says:

        Everyone in parliament is just trying to score personal and party points, and no reasoned debate can be expected from there. It’s the media’s job because in SA, nobody else is going to do it. And DM is brilliantly positioned for the job. I think it’s exactly worldview issues like this that some folk exploit for personal gain and that need to be brought out into the light… Come on DM.

      • Johan Buys says:

        What is this “African Law” you speak of? The one that a king can subject his subjects to any of his wishes and is the owner of all land? Sounds wonderful, we need more tribalism like a hole in the head.

      • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

        Surely this ‘debate’ took place before SA was given to the anc?

    • Bruce MacDonald says:

      I agree: let us have some examination of exactly what a legal framework incorporating ‘indigenous law and African values etc’ would look like – and how it would operate in an unavoidably globalised modern world.

      • Uma Kabanye says:

        I think we know. Zuma was a traditional Inkosi appropriating state resources as his own, giving government appointments out as favours to friends, and expecting subservience and loyalty in return. He really couldn’t see he’d done anything wrong.

        • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

          A quote from News24 in 2014 – Referring to jz – “He is uneducated (in formal terms) and a medieval boor. On one hand he follows the ways of his ancestors, believing in polygamy and the sanctity of his kraal, and opposing homosexuality. On the other, he smaaks his presidential jet, X5 and astroturf sports fields.” and also remember the famous quote “I didn’t join the struggle to be poor.”
          Maybe the writing is on the wall, from the judiciary side, for the (in)famous lindiwe and the anc?

      • Charles Parr says:

        Traditional African law is already recognised and included in the constitution and our law. It seems to me that there needs to be widespread communication on what is contained in the constitution, how it impacts on each individual and what personal protection it contains for each and every one of us.

    • Jens von Delft says:

      Agreed, but the point is that LS insulted and denigrated the constitution and judiciary without any substantive counter argument as to exactly what “African value systems and customs of land, wealth, and property” are and how they would enhance or improve what we currently have to eradicate African poverty.

      Same goes for the land debate: there are compelling arguments why land restitution should happen. But very little is said about exactly how this would be implemented, exactly whose land should be expropriated and to whom exactly it should be given and how that will improve our collective future or even only the poor Africans’ lot.

      Meanwhile all that the sloganeering is doing is not only impeding investment, but actually causing flight of monetary and intellectual capital, merely increasing inequality and poverty of the majority (including a substantial part of the “previously privileged” population).

      And then we haven’t even started speaking about the endemic corruption which I suspect a lot of the sloganeering is meant to distract from…

      South Africa really does need to decide what future we want for ourselves beyond broad sloganeering and pragmatically start implementing appropriate policies to attain that.

    • Louis Potgieter says:

      My layman’s understanding of our legal system is that it is continuously being developed under liberal conceptions of fairness, and within the framework of a constitution. I am not aware of any such process regarding indigenous laws. Please fill me in.
      If our laws come into conflict with traditional laws, which must therefore yield?

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      Until we get a proper definition of these African laws and values in proper context of our country and where it is today, we need to assume that LS means more of what we have been served by the ANC for 25 years, which is huge corruption, theft and zero accountability. If she means something else, she would have to be a bit more detailed what she means, rather than just accuse anything from the west as being evil and stealing parts of their speeches. There is so much bigotry and hypocrisy in her statements, it is very likely any proper debate with her would just be more baseless accusations and fallacies.

  • Jane Foster says:

    I absolutely agree with Zondo’s outrage. Lindsey Sisulu is ambitious for power and her track record is far from exemplary. Her personal indifference to the plight of the poor speaks volumes. I hope her inflammatory opinion is dealt a severe reprimand.

  • Stephanie Brown says:

    I think most South Africans know that it is not the judiciary or the Constitution keeping much of this country poor… Sisulu has been part of the governing party since the dawn of our democracy.

  • Rainer Thiel says:

    A resounding snotklap! And she is utterly deserving of it. Her insults are beyond outrageous. There is no place for someone like this in the cabinet of any worthy constitutional democracy… but yaah, this is South Africa and we have Cyril… I can only hope that she has overstepped the mark and destroyed her sinister ambitions. May she crash and burn, screeching bewigged harridan that she is.

  • John Traas says:

    And this is coming from a “Senior member of the Executive” of a government which the late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu accused of treating its people worse than even the Apartheid government did!

  • Dellarose Bassa says:

    Is Paul Ngobeni still advising Lindiwe Sisilu? A google search of Ngobeni is revealing. Go figure.

  • David Bertram says:

    At there is one person who has the nuts to stand up and say it like it is. Bravo RZ you are bright star within an extremely dark sky.

  • Ann Bown says:

    It was an incoherent rant!
    No substance from JZs former iMbokodo personal assistant, the ANC intelligence wing of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), it was nothing but B*ll!

  • Johan Marais says:

    Minister of Tourism ??? Please keep her away from any tourism activities. She is South Africa’s worst brand ambassador.
    I do not think she is capable of producing such an article. Probably written with help from Carl Niehaus.

  • Memphis Belle says:

    Well said deputy Chief Justice. Let all the truth come out.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    We shouldn’t get so hot undertone collar. Indigenous property law is wonderful – if you happen to be a feudal overlord Nkosi. Under “indigenous” property law, Sisulu would be dispossessed as a woman. Under other parts of “indigenous” law, she would probably have been flogged publicly for her misdemeanours such as criticising her elders, and not tending the cattle, goats, children and plantations, never mind not being a keen child bearer.
    Seems strange and unlikely that she really wants that again.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Suddenly Malema and Shivambu also pipe up in defence of LS, and criticising Judge Zondo. Laughing stock of any sane person. Lackeys of Zuma, and RET. Their absurd comments make you want to RETCH, puke, whatever. Waiting for other RET Lackeys to surface!!!

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    By responding, the president affords this drivel importance it simply does not warrant.
    The most appropriate action he could take would involve a shuffle with her being shuffled down the drain?
    However, never forget to “keep your friends close but your enemies closer”

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options