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Lindiwe Sisulu furore a microcosm of the battle lines being drawn in a fractured ANC


Rebone Tau is a political commentator and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL. She is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Pan-African Thought & Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.

The ANC needs to accept that its project for renewal and unity is a failed project and did not even take off. The biggest problem of the ANC is the factionalism that is so deeply entrenched and rooted.

The internal divisions of the ANC continue to be a South African problem. The state of affairs in South Africa is indeed a reflection of what is happening in the ANC. Over the years, the ANC has failed to deal with its own internal challenges and some would argue that the ANC is a democratic organisation. While that may be the case, the ill-discipline in the party is on another level. There is nothing democratic about the ANC these days — everyone does as they please in the party.

When former president Jacob Zuma was arrested in July 2021, the nation was divided on his arrest and continues to be divided to this day when it comes to Zuma. This is because the same ANC that Zuma is a member of is highly divided when it comes to how his matters are handled by the state and by the ANC itself. The divisions in the ANC continue to deepen and we can go back to 2005 when Zuma started going to court. This shows how long the party has been divided when it comes to the Zuma saga.

The ANC needs to accept that its project for renewal and unity is a failed project and did not even take off. The biggest problem of the ANC is factionalism that is so deeply entrenched and rooted, and every leader is leading through factionalism that has no principles when you look at how things are done in the faction. You do not feel that there is any renewal process at all within the party.

The recent developments around Minister Lindiwe Sisulu show how the divisions of the ANC are a South African problem. (By the way, this is not the first time the judiciary has been attacked by a senior politician. In 2015 Minister Gwede Mantashe, when he was the secretary-general of the ANC, said the following “People cannot tell the ANC that it is not allowed to criticise the judiciary because that would be suppression of the party.”)

Therefore, what Sisulu wrote should not divide the party if five years ago you had Mantashe making such remarks. Are politicians not allowed to make comments or have views on the judiciary system? How far can they go when it comes to the judiciary?

In 2005, former president Thabo Mbeki said: “The issue of the role of the judiciary in a constitutional state with a history such as ours also continues to pose a challenge. The debate about the role of the judiciary in South Africa should never be portrayed as an intention or desire to interfere in any manner with its independence.”

When the Constitution speaks about the need to create a democratic, non-racist and non-sexist South Africa, we must also ask how far is the judiciary itself moving towards this vision as part of its transformation and that of South Africa?

What is the new dawn that President Cyril Ramaphosa talks about because one does not even know or understand what the new dawn stands for and represents when the country continues to be dragged into ANC factional battles.

Some things that are happening under the so-called new dawn are shocking to see, like Chrispin Phiri, the spokesperson for Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola, responding to Sisulu who is a Cabinet minister, in his personal capacity. It is unheard of for a junior official to respond to a minister, more especially when the Department of Justice is central when it comes to the issue of judges in South Africa. One thought that after the era of Zuma we would see government being professional on how it does its business — there is nothing that Phiri did that shows we are moving in the right direction towards building the state. 

Some people have argued that Sisulu is correct as she raises some of the shortfalls of the negotiation process in the 90s and that the judiciary needs to be transformed. The question should be why now only is this happening? Is it because of the ANC elective conference? Is Sisulu building momentum around her presidential campaign? We all know that she has always had ambitions to be the president of the ANC and building up to the 2017 ANC National Conference she was one of the candidates for the position of president, although her name did not even go to the ballot as she did not have enough support.

Is she trying to get the backing of the so-called radical economic transformation (RET) faction as they seem not to have a presidential candidate who will contest Ramaphosa going to this conference in December?

Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo on the afternoon of Wednesday 12 January 2022 called a press briefing to respond to Sisulu’s opinion piece. We must also not forget that in 2015 the now-retired Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng also called a press briefing after the remarks by Mantashe. He said then that “the rule of law is the cornerstone of our constitutional democracy. In simple terms, everybody is subject to and bound by the Constitution and the law.”

Indeed 2022 is an interesting year, not only for the ANC as they prepare for their national conference, but also for the judiciary as the new Chief Justice will be appointed soon and Acting Chief Justice Zondo’s name is among those who have been shortlisted for the position.

Political parties are also highly divided on the issue of Sisulu and we have seen what they have been saying on Twitter starting with John Steenhuisen who wrote “#LindiweSisulu is not fit for Cabinet. In a functional democracy, a member of the Executive who launches a calculated and damaging attack on the integrity of the Judiciary would be summarily fired by the Head of the Executive. President @CyrilRamaphosa, let’s see accountability!”

Will we see Sisulu being fired by President Cyril Ramaphosa before the national conference? Ramaphosa in 2018 appointed Sisulu as the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and later in 2019 as the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. In 2020, Ramaphosa moved her to the Department of Tourism which some say is a demotion.

Julius Malema wrote, “Lindiwe Sisulu must never allow anyone on the payroll of CR17 to bully her. If she has taken a political position, she must stand by it. Zondo might have taken Zuma to jail but will never tell us what to think & say… we are not scared of him & he must know that.” 

What does this mean? Should Zondo be appointed as the next Chief Justice? Will the EFF be attacking the Constitutional Court moving forward should this appointment happen?

What is worrying is that every five years there is a circus in South Africa called the ANC National Conference, and things just get too hectic during its conference years. Members of the ANC need to undergo introspection because there is no unity or renewal of the ANC. Again when you look at the majority of the membership of the ANC, it does not have the capacity to do introspection on the state of the organisation.

The ANC is not led by level-headed people, it is led by people who are obsessed with power and blue lights more than anything. This is why Zuma could not be held accountable for anything because his fellow comrades were protecting their jobs and interests. The battle for the soul of the ANC is about resources now and it has nothing to do with the people of South Africa. The build-up to the national conference is going to be an interesting one as the battle lines are drawn.

Is the presidential position in the ANC now used as a soft landing for politicians because when the president and deputy president retire they get benefits for life, with one of the perks being blue lights? DM

Rebone Tau is a political analyst and author of The Rise and Fall of the ANCYL.


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  • Heinrich Holt says:

    I can’t help not to think of Chris de Burgh’s song, The Spanish Train. Is the ANC god, the devil or the train itself? I don’t know. But what I know is that they are gambling with the souls of the people of our country.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    What is most worrying is the silence of the rest of the cabinet.

  • Hoffman Wentzel says:

    It falls to you, Mr President, to take a stand here; make manifest your talk of the ANC renewal, the new dawn. Here you have a clear cut instance of a cabinet minister who trashes the principle of our constitution to which all of you were signatories to… are you going to do something here? Will the ANC ever learn?

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    The most significant thing now is the silence of the President- judge Zondo called for the executive to act- well , it seems we are looking at a vanishing act!

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The author mentions the aspirations of many for blue lights … wouldn’t it be a good idea to send all those to a red light district instead ? At least there they could get their jollies for a fraction of the cost !

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