South Africa


Lindiwe Sisulu’s F-you to Ramaphosa should surprise no one — here’s why

Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lerato Maduna)

In a stunning about-turn on Thursday night, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said President Cyril Ramaphosa was lying when he announced that she had agreed to apologise for her insulting comments about South African judges. This is a show of unprecedented defiance from a Cabinet minister to their own president — but anyone familiar with Sisulu’s history shouldn’t be remotely surprised.

You can count the number of times Lindiwe Sisulu has publicly apologised for just about anything on one hand.

While intelligence minister in 2002, she had to apologise for “unsavoury” questioning on her watch by the National Intelligence Agency, when journalists hoping to join the new presidential press corps had to answer questions on their sexual activity, including listing all sexual partners and disclosing whether they had ever had homosexual sex.

While human settlements minister in 2017, she reportedly apologised to members of the Liliesleaf Farm ANC branch for the outcome of the 2007 ANC electoral conference in Polokwane at which Jacob Zuma triumphed over Thabo Mbeki, saying: “We didn’t know what we were doing; we were caught up in factions.”   

While Dirco minister in 2018, she apologised to King Letsie III of Lesotho after he was reportedly mistreated at a border crossing.

In 2020, while minister of human settlements, water and sanitation, Sisulu apologised to the community of Sekhukhune in Limpopo for the fact that they hadn’t had water for a decade. (She also promised to rectify the situation; as of two months ago, Sekhukhune still didn’t have water.)

There must surely have been a few other times over the course of her 21 years as a Cabinet minister when Sisulu has publicly said sorry for something, but you’d be foolish to bet on many more.

So it should have come as little surprise when, less than an hour after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an apology from Sisulu on Thursday night for her vitriolic public attack on the country’s judiciary and its Constitution, Sisulu said she had no intention of apologising at all.

Her statement read:

To all Media Houses

I have just been informed of a media alert issued by the Presidency that apparently claims that I Lindiwe N. Sisulu retracted my original expression.

I wish to categorically disown this statement in its entirety as a misrepresentation of the said meeting I had with the president. The president and  I met on Wednesday at 9 pm at his house. In such a meeting, he shared his challenge with one aspect of the article on the judges. The president proposed an intermediary that would focus on the one line about the judges to resolve that. I awaited such to be communicated which would do nothing to the entire article.

Under no circumstances did I commit to any retraction or apology since I stand by what I penned.

The content of the president’s statement in its current form is unfortunate as it is not what we agreed on. In this regard, I wish to distance myself from such.

I will in the next 24 hours issue a full statement.

Lindiwe N. Sisulu  

In fact, in comparison with Sisulu’s track record, her statement is relatively mild — were it not for the point that it amounts to a staggering show of contempt for her own president.

In the past, when Sisulu has been confronted with evidence of her own dereliction of duty, her standard response has been to turn the accusation back on the person making it — in a manner that would almost be comical in its childishness, if it were not so breathtakingly inappropriate from a Cabinet minister.

Exhibit A: In February 2008, Delft backyarders standing in the way of Sisulu’s disastrous N2 Gateway housing project are forcibly removed, following escalating threats from Sisulu herself, and a violent confrontation with police ensues. Children and elderly people are among those hit by rubber bullets and trampled.

UWC history professor and anti-apartheid activist Martin Legassick writes an open letter to Sisulu accusing her of having “blood on her hands”.

Sisulu replies with a letter to Legassick asking: “If you were present at the N2 Gateway and did nothing to stop what was clearly an explosive situation, who has blood on their hands?”

Exhibit B: In May 2020, residents of Ikemeleng in West Rand are given temporary accommodation after living in tents for four years. Journalists ask Sisulu why it has taken the Department of Human Settlements four years to intervene.

Sisulu’s response: “Why did it take you four years to discover? You are the media, your job is to bring to the attention of officials of society some of the hazards of the way people are living.”

Exhibit C: In January 2021, Sisulu is conducting an informal settlement visit in Cape Town when housing activist Nkosikhona Swartbooi reminds Sisulu she has not yet provided residents of eMpolweni with building materials Sisulu had personally promised the community at a meeting the previous year.

In a video widely circulated at the time, Sisulu accused Swartbooi of “lying”, ordered him to stop filming her, and snapped: “I said to you I will buy that material.” 

“Did you buy it?” asked Swartbooi.

“Did you bring it to me?” Sisulu replied.

The pattern is clear: to borrow a dictum attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, “Never explain; never apologise.” Sisulu is, after all, ANC royalty — and being a royal means almost never having to say you’re sorry.

The list of things for which Sisulu should have apologised in the past, and did not, is long.

There was the time in 2008, while minister of housing, that she oversaw the expenditure of more than R22-million on a mysterious “communications programme”, the centrepiece of which was a Sarafina-type play titled A re Ageng Mzansi (Let’s build South Africa). In response to criticism, Sisulu described it as “an extremely useful tool”. Her successor immediately scrapped the play on the grounds that it had “nothing to do with housing”.

There was the time in 2009, while minister of defence, that Sisulu tried to ban soldiers from unionising — which was a violation of their constitutional rights.

There was the time in 2010 — still minister of defence — when Sisulu refused to release to Parliament an urgent report on “subhuman” conditions in the military produced by a commission she herself had appointed. This was after Parliament’s own legal adviser confirmed MPs had the right to the reports and her refusal was unconstitutional, and even after defence committee chair, ANC MP Nyami Booi, had ordered her to produce the documents. (Sisulu saw to it that Booi was sacked as a result.)  

When she was minister of human settlements in 2014, there was the time she announced, addressing South Africans under 40: “None of you are ever going to get a house free from me while I live”. Analyst Eusebius McKaiser later wrote: “It is a viewpoint I’d expect from AfriForum”, premised on the idea that apartheid didn’t negatively affect anyone younger than 40.

Still as minister of human settlements, in 2017, there was the time she lied to Parliament that the government had built 1,200 houses a day since democracy. When Africa Check asked for the source of this claim, her adviser Vusi Tshose said Sisulu was “referring to a study which was done by someone else”. He never elaborated.

Africa Check concluded that the real figure was closer to 377 houses a day.

As minister of human settlements, water and sanitation in 2021, there was the time Sisulu announced the roll-out of “transitional residential units” to ease overcrowding during the pandemic, which turned out to be tin shacks built at a cost of R64,000 per unit.

It subsequently emerged that the shacks were beset with structural issues and vulnerable to flooding, with some residents declaring them “worse” than the shacks they previously lived in.

One more for 2021: the time when the founder of social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, the remarkable S’bu Zikode, won a Swedish government prize for human rights activism and Sisulu attempted to share credit, congratulating him in a statement which referred to her as a “patron” of Abahlali.

Abahlali’s response speaks for itself:

“Our movement does not have a patron. Moreover, all our efforts to engage the Minister [Sisulu] on violent and unlawful evictions in eThekwini have failed. Even during the Covid lockdown when all evictions were stopped by law by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and the UN had announced a world-wide ban on all evictions she did not bother to stop the eThekwini Municipality from evicting Abahlali.”  

Never explain, never apologise.

Ramaphosa can perhaps console himself with the reminder that he is by no means the only member of ANC leadership who Sisulu has publicly disrespected — although he is certainly the most senior.

In October 2017, Sisulu launched a breathtaking attack on then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, asking “Where was he when we were fighting for this freedom in exile and in jail?”

To quote politics professor Anthony Butler: “This claim that exiles were superior to mineworker organisers such as Mantashe confirmed to many that [Sisulu] was out of touch and arrogant.”

There seems to be no public record of an apology from Sisulu to Mantashe — or evidence of a rebuke from the ANC.

On this occasion, however, Sisulu has overplayed her hand. She may indeed be ANC royalty — but Sisulu would do well to remember that the long sweep of history suggests it often ends badly for miscreant royals. DM


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All Comments 56

    • Uncle Gweezy will get very upset, he’d probably consider it theft of what could be a princely commission. However, it may be a most opportune time to start really getting to grips with the much vaunted performance appraising – the fairest time to evaluate a Tourism Minister’s performance would be post-high-season after all.

      • It’s quite good to see the politics of the ANC. The house negroes stuff is exactly how the NP worked on race to hold themselves together. And that permeated into society, pernicious but as in apartheid it doesn’t endure but it must have been going on inside the ANC for some time to come out in public. It’s almost fascinating to watch how it all works and actually how the psychology of apartheid worked. These guys have got that on the go and deep corruption can’t see how they will survive it

  • Have read both articles of Rebecca Davis and Greg Nicolson a couple of times, I cannot help but to find the whole issue very amusing. To me it is like two clowns entering a boxing ring, except neither have ever learned the skill of boxing. As a result, and as a spectator, I simply have to laugh at the antics of these two clowns. What neither realise of course, is that the broader public, including ANC voters, will not be amused. CR indecisive action will at the end cost him, and more so the ANC as a party. But Sisulu, from being a clown, will now be labelled as a complete fool by the majority. Her incredible inflated opinion of herself is going to end up in tears. Ever if she becomes the preferred candidate of the RET faction, her whole attitude will end up in tears, for her and for this faction. I doubt if the RET has as much public, and ANC Branch, support as they might believe. In fact, due to the link with Zuma and Ace, both whose support has just dwindled, they are going to get a massive hiding in December. Apart from a few thousand supporters in KZN and to a lesser degree in Gauteng, this faction is unlikely to survive the bigger battle. However, the two clowns will just remain where they are, being clowns!

  • Given her statement, it appears that Cyril has not exactly taken a firm stance on her outrageous behaviour. A request to modify a portion of her statement, if that is the case, is unacceptable given the seriousness of her undermining of the Constitution and the judiciary.
    Party politics trumping national interest – the source of SA’s demise. A civil society action is required.

  • She is clearly a narcissist completely incapable of understanding anything from anyone else’s point of view. Stokes me as a very dangerous spoilt brat. If she became president all who could would have to emigrate. The tax base would collapse and she would “rule” a failed state.

  • Her strategy is clear. She is taunting CR to fire her. She can then claim martyrdom. It worked for JZ. With the maturity of our voters it may as well work again.

  • Her head MUST roll, it should have rolled a long time ago. Her arrogance and total lack of concern for the poor and homeless is beyond contempt. Cyril must act now.

  • Sisulu is not dissimilar to her colleagues in the anc. They take the oath of office but do not take careful note thereof. To them the oath remains a footnote.

  • “ miscreant royals “ love it, that’s got to sting. No doubt Sisulu will look back at all this someday with regret. Don’t fire her, demote her again and again and again.

  • Ramaphosa has an easy solution! He can fire her for not doing her job as Minister of Tourism. There is adequate evidence that she has not gone to bat for the Industry or tried to ease their pain and loss of jobs there.
    Despite having these responsibilities she has chosen to get involved in things that are outside her duties and responsibilities in a most unsavoury way. Her postings should NOT be the reason for her firing, a simple lack of action in a time of need is her real failure! Rebecca has simply listed the other times where she has failed to do her duty to the country and the ANC.
    He can rub it in by apologising to the rest of the Sisulu Family for having been forced to take this action. Then everyone can move on from this sillyness.

    • In an obtuse way, Lindiwe is about to expose once again the inability of CR to make a decision…any decision! Talking about “two clowns in a boxing ring” merely elevates the status of these two incompetents to a level way beyond their actual intellect.

  • Perhaps some Sun Tzu maxims explain the approach?

    To keep friends close & enemies closer (better inside the tent…)?

    Appear weak when strong, and strong when weak…and that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting…! 😉

    Will a retraction/apology somehow be extracted…?

  • Perhaps it is time for the erstwhile minister (of all kinds of things) to retire on her ministerial pension, for health reasons… After her response to what she termed Ronald Lamola’s unprecedented open letter (sic), I, at least, have to wonder if Mme Sisulu is suffering from Alzheimers or some other medical condition that causes memory loss. Even as a political dilletante I can recall well-documented instances of senior ANC leaders calling each other out in open letters in the press, even if the Tourism minister’s memory fails.

  • Another humiliating factional spat in the ANC. This one however, puts the President on the spot. How is he going to handle this one? With kid gloves , a mild and therefore useless reprimand, or full scale retaliation( demotion , suspension , or expulsion from his beleaguered ANC? )We will have to see, but whichever way it goes, it will be a test for him.

  • Pop quiz everyone: what do you think a cabinet minister has to do to get Squirrel to do something presidential about it and demonstrate actual leadership:
    1. Loudly advance incoherent, undemocratic, unhinged and plagiarised ideologies that undermine the Constitution, the rule of law and contradict the ANC’s core values and principles?
    2. Achieve a ministerial job performance score of less than zero?
    3. Foment or orchestrate a violent, murderous insurrection against the state?
    4. Call the President a liar in a press release?
    4. Headbutt the President in the face?

  • I wish we could “distance ourselves from such” a complete nightmare of a cabinet minister. I wish we could “categorically disown” her from any sort of leadership position in anything ever again.

  • What has Lindiwe Sisulu ever contributed in the way of real value in building a capable state? All she’s done in every positions she’s been gifted, contrary to merit deserving of such a position in Government, is take a salary, perks & a potential, wholly undeserving pension & other benefits for life even after retiring (long, long overdue). In addition she has made a laughing stock of an already seriously hobbled ANC when it comes to intellectual capital, moral rectitude & service to the long-suffering SA citizen. Those of us – the small minority – who pay our taxes honestly & on time, year after year, our entire working lives, must now be insulted by this dreadful, narcissistic person who behaves like a spoilt rich kid, demanding to be given whatever she wants. Really, it’s past time that all persons in public office be subjected to MRI of the brain & a comprehensive barrage of cognitive tests to ascertain mental functionality. Lastly, is it not a compulsory requirement that ALL meetings the President has, in his official capacity as President, are recorded for the official purposes? CR should just release that recording or written minutes. Pussy-footing around the perimeter massaging overblown egos is not governance – it is recklesss indulgence of unwarranted, undeserved, illusory expectation. Steve Biko must be turning in his grave! Fire Lindiwe – without the benefits of the usual retirement perks. The ANC Titanic is sinking fast – excess baggage must go!

  • This is like Trump in America or Johnson in the UK or Modhi in India …but at least they were elected ! And all along … I thought this disease only afflicted the males of the species ! Transgender possibly ?

  • A call to Prayer:
    We the House and Field Negroes hereby call on all mentally colonised people of the Mother Continent and in the Diaspora to join in a week of prayer led by the very Honourable Reverend Professor Dr AB. Confessions will be taken Her Royal Highnesses Princess LS. See you all at the Royal Kraal in Nkaaaandlaaa.

  • She is an absolute disaster and should be removed from her post and prevented from filling any other post. She has no clue of what her role is.

  • It’s quite good to see the politics of the ANC. The house negroes stuff is exactly how the NP worked on race to hold themselves together. And that permeated into society, pernicious but as in apartheid it doesn’t endure but it must have been going on inside the ANC for some time to come out in public. It’s almost fascinating to watch how it all works and actually how the psychology of apartheid worked. These guys have got that on the go and deep corruption can’t see how they will survive it

  • “Sisulu would do well to remember that the long sweep of history suggests it often ends badly for miscreant royals. ”

    Off with her head, then.

  • 1. On 17 December 2020 a massive fire swept through the informally settled parts of Masiphumelele in the south peninsula area of Cape Town.
    2. Then Minister of Human Settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, visited the scene of the blaze and assured those rendered homeless that they would be permanently housed in suitable structures by April 2021. eNCA has, on its YouTube channel recorded what was promised by the minister. See also the Daily Maverick coverage:
    3. Pending that, those rendered destitute and homeless by the blaze were temporarily accommodated in wood and iron structures that are 6X4 metres in extent and are obviously not intended for extended or long term human habitation as they are without water, sanitation or electricity and have not been insulated at all.
    4. None of the promised permanent housing has materialized, either timeously or at all, and the displaced people continue to occupy the temporary structures that are cold in winter, prone to flooding, hot in summer as well as a health and a fire risk.
    When is this Minister going to meet her promises?

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