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Ramaphosa hung me out to dry over SA Embassy issue, claims Lindiwe Sisulu

Ramaphosa hung me out to dry over SA Embassy issue, claims Lindiwe Sisulu
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

Presidential contender blames her downgrade of the SA embassy in Israel for her demotion.

Tourism Minister – and would-be president – Lindiwe Sisulu suggested this week that President Cyril Ramaphosa had fired her as Minister of International Relations in 2019 because she implemented an ANC decision he didn’t like – to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel to a mere ­“liaison office”.

But did he perhaps deliberately let her do the dirty work while personally standing aloof from it to preserve his good relations with the Jewish community and avoid alienating Israeli investors? 

Or maybe a bit of both?

That’s the sort of question quite often raised by the sometimes ambiguous foreign policy of a wily strategist. Think 2022 and Ramaphosa’s supposed – but never formally confirmed – unhappiness with current International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor because of her department’s statement of 24 February, calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

Ramaphosa blamed Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Nato because of its expansion up to Russia’s borders. Nevertheless, his minister’s statement still stands. 

Now return to 2019, when Sisulu was Pandor’s predecessor at the Department of International Relations. This week Sisulu suggested Ramaphosa had moved her to the lesser portfolio of tourism shortly after she implemented the controversial Israel decision of the 2017 ANC policy conference – where Ramaphosa was also elected as president of the party. 

Provoked by former US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the ANC conference “unanimously resolved to direct the South African government to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office”.

Read on Daily Maverick: ANC to ‘review’ South Africa’s Israel policy in what is set to be a contentious issue

Some commentators believed it was a ­poisoned chalice handed to Ramaphosa by the RET faction, whose candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, had lost the presidential contest to Ramaphosa. 

It took until April 2019 before Sisulu implemented the downgrade decision. The Jewish community reacted vociferously. A few months later, Ramaphosa shuffled his Cabinet and moved Sisulu to tourism. 

“I felt very punished by the government standing back when the Jewish community was complaining,” Sisulu told the SABC this week. “My own government did not come up to support me.”

Asked by SABC political editor Mzwandile Mbeje if she had ever raised the issue with Ramaphosa, Sisulu said she had not, but added that it must have been obvious to Ramaphosa she was being “punished” merely for implementing ANC policy.

“I expected him to come to my rescue. [But] I was left dangling alone.”

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Mbeje asked if she was saying Ramaphosa removed her from her international relations portfolio because she had stood firm on the ANC resolution? 

“It happened very soon thereafter and I don’t know any other reason why it would have happened that way,” she replied. 

Sisulu said she had never asked Ramaphosa why he had shuffled her to tourism as he had the right to choose his own Cabinet.  

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said: “I won’t respond. Ministers have a direct line to the President wherein they can address whatever concerns they may have. It would be grossly unprofessional for the Presidency to engage in such a discussion in the public domain.”

The Jewish community was unimpressed this week by Sisulu’s complaint. Professor Karen Milner, national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said Sisulu’s remarks “refer to events that happened more than three years ago”. 

“Her reason for dragging up old history would appear to be more about internal ANC issues than anything she has to say concerning the Jewish community,” she added, in an apparent reference to Sisulu’s presidential ambitions. 

Milner also pointed out that although Sisulu and the ANC now refer to the South African government’s diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv as a mere “liaison office” it is still described as the “South African embassy” on the website of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.

“The South African mission in Israel continues to have full embassy status,” she said. “In order for any downgrade to be officially implemented, the matter must first go through a specific process of parliamentary consultation, followed by ratification at Cabinet level, and to date such a process has never been followed. 

“However, while officially there is a South African embassy in Tel Aviv, in practice, based merely on an ANC resolution, it has been so stripped of resources that it is un­­able even to look after its own citizens in Israel, let alone perform the normal range of diplomatic functions.” 

Sanusha Naidu, a foreign policy analyst at the Institute for Global Dialogue, said she also saw Sisulu’s complaint in the light of her expected bid for the ANC presidency next month. 

Ironically, the ANC’s 2022 policy discussion document, Umrabulo, proposed that the party should review its 2017 decision to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel, “given the aggressive expansion of Israel on the African continent and the necessity to engage Israel on the intensification of the brutal occupation of Palestine, and given what we know about the implications of this resolution on our diplomatic capital”.

In other words, the paper seemed to suggest that it would be – and would have been – better for South Africa to maintain full diplomatic relations with Israel to be better able to engage it about its occupation of Palestine rather than to isolate it. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Maybe the move was based on previous performance and obvious antipathy which exists?

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    The tragedy is that Sisulu is no better or worse than any other member of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet of Horrors. She should be thankful that she was shuffled sideways. She should have been fired even before she was given that portfolio, but her family name prevents such action.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    The yoyo effect of ANC’s in today out tomorrow, regardless of Sisulu’s diplomatic demise, is that SA looks like the dysfunctional nitwit it is. How can “the brutal occupation of Palestine” be maintained while Ukrain suffers even more and sustained brutality? Why the ANC can’t see the inconsistency of its position says more about its foreign policy and attitude toward human rights at home and abroad. Viva, ANC, Viva – Clowns.

  • Bile filled incompetent individual who needs to blame someone else for her inabilities? At least these individuals are clearly highlighting what they are to the greater world community – those left wing fund raisers must be proud?

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    So Lindiwe Sisulu is speculating like a gossip and is setting that up as cogent references of why she is a great presidential candidate? Hopefully she’s paying her current paramour and capmaign adviser by the inch… you know the column inch.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear – Ms Sisulu look at the three fingers pointing at you to find where the real blame lies. you have brought shame and disgrace on your family name with your incompetence and ignorance in any portfolio you have had the misfortune to hold. almost equal to the transport minister!

  • Marilyn Keegan says:

    If any of the RET politicians are elevated to power in RSA, we are finished. When are the “new lions of Africa” going to rise up and get rid of these clapped-out, addled and corrupt politicians (just look at the faces) who have so tarnished the legacy of the ANC elders? The SA Embassy is denuded not because of any political principle (with this bunch its always just about the money) but because that is just how the ANC rolls: never fix anything, neglect maintenance, buy trinkets, chase the shiny objects and ignore the pot holes. Heaven help South Africa.

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    Eish, the poor woman. Thank goodness she does not, on top of this, have to use state hospitals, state schools, police stations, pack her own lunch, buy, maintain and drive her own transport, live outside of a security village make use of public schools, do her own shopping, pay for flights, pay for water and electricity, suffer outages on those. Also a damn shame that she has to make do with the pittance she earns from the government.

  • nickha says:

    Lindiwe Sisulu is still minister of Tourism. It boggles the mind that she still occupies this position taking into account the breach of trust between her and the President. She should resign her position as the trust relationship has been damaged (beyond repair?) or the President should fire her from cabinet. Maybe she has too much influence in the ANC?

  • mdengos7 says:

    She was reshuffled to water and sanitation ministry from International relation ministry. then again to tourism. the article is misleading on facts.

  • Paul Kirk says:

    She deserves to be and looks as if she has been hung out to dry. Pity it’s merely an idiom and not actual.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    In government there are portfolios that are the responsibility of the President and despite line Ministers, the President is ultimately responsible, and these departments include Foreign Affairs, Defence, Intelligence and the Police as the buck stops with the President. This is the reason that ambassadors are appointed by the President, and they represent the President in the countries that they are assigned too and on certain matters directly report to the President.
    This is part of what the President is, a Commander – in – Chief. It seems that Lindiwe Sisulu is illiterate on the configuration of the foreign policy department and that she was completely disorderly to act in the manner she did without having cleared the matter with the President. It was for this reason that Foreign Affairs was at Union Buildings for a long time because it is an important function of the President executed through a Minister of State who is very senior because he or she exercises Presidential powers of relations with other states. The delinquency of Lindiwe Sisulu is even to have the temerity to accuse the President the way she does. Government policy has its own processes and is very different from ANC processes and that she wants to be President being ignorant of that is very dangers or she is simply disrespectful of the President. She ought to have been fired royalty or not!

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