South Africa

OP-ED

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

Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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

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All Comments 62

  • The lady is clearly trying to form a support base for a challenge for the presidency. I wonder if she’ll admit to the wealth acquired by her own family members by being in leading positions in the ANC.

    • Shutter to think what will happen if she becomes president…she is simply frightening bad, bad, news. Opens her mouth, a pure rubbish comes out of it.

    • You must be joking Charles. As long as it’s the black political elite stealing & further impoverishing poor black people then it’s OK.

      You would expect the president to dial in any member of his cabinet who steps out of line, but of course he wont, that would be against ANC unity…..

    • There is her recent comment that she is actually senior to CR. Given that some person will be there to challenge CR, and given the quality apparent from this article, I reckon she should be given a chance!

  • Indeed, good article of a totally bizarre op-ed in the M&G.
    LS has thrown the basic law of the land under a bus, and for good measure, severely insults the justices too.
    It’s 2022, and ANC crunch year, again.
    Her Motives are clear, and I’m quite sure, that SAs will rebuke her despicable attempt to blame the constitution and the justices for the ANCs devastation of the country.

    • They have, and continue to, blamed Apartheid so that is no longer effective! Now Ms Sisulu chooses a new target. It is all designed to boost her position and deflect attention from her appalling performance to date across the whole panoply of ministerial appointments?

  • LS is clearly trying to justify State Capture on the grounds that it is black people stealing back, but what she fails to clearly understand is that the R1.5 trillion hit to our economy, brought about by the totality of State Capture and it’s ripple effects, bears disproportionately on the poor. Further, the directly gaining thieves are certainly not the African masses, but the elite within the ANC of which she, and her family, are a significant part.

    This is just her pathetic attempt at self-justification for her role in State Capture; let us hope that she is not excluded when the villains of the piece are finally rounded up and face justice.

  • Not sure writing such an article in the same week the first three volumes of the Zondo report were released was good timing. Not sure anyone in the ANC can criticise the constitution, they should try following it first.

    All the other stuff does not need to make sense, she is targeting the RET faction where logic, facts and law have no place.

    Remove the constitution and nothing will change, remove the ANC and everything changes, wonder what the problem is.

  • Has she read the first volume of the Zondo report? That will provide some indication of where some of the wealth lies. The economy has mismanaged and current policies are exacerbating the situation she observes. The really wealthy are are no longer South African residents. The employment they once created and their tax rands are now contributing to other economies. At what point will the ANC realize that investment improves the lives of the poor. Investment can only be done by wealthy people, and targeting their wealth, simply drives them away. This is simple stuff.

  • Sisulu, and others of her ilk, do not want to take responsibility for the consequences of their own blind adherence to failed policy. By using sweeping racist statements and constant reference to neo liberal colonial agendas etc etc, she simply confirms her inability to grasp how a country competes in a global economy in order to improve the lot of the poor. Perhaps power and more money is her simple agenda ?

    • You’ve summed it up perfectly – Sisulu and every single member of the ruling elite in the ANC has no clue as how to manage this country so it can operate in the global economy, attract investment and compete. It’s so depressing that our collective future is in the hands of these fools.

  • Weird statement from LS. Is she implying that African society has no law? Is she calling for an apartheid-style constitution that gives “Africans” many rights, and “others” no rights at all? Had she been drinking too much expensive imported whisky with Julius Malema before she made the statement? The only two possible explanations I can come up with are (1) she is trying to rally support for a run for president or (2) she has had a sneak look at Zondo reports 2 and 3 and seen her name in heavy print so this is her play to discredit the whole Zondo commission.

    • I think you’re right on all counts: a few whiskies with Julius plus motives 1 and 2 are both completely plausible. And, ironically, this fact-free, totally misguided nonsense is straight out of Trump’s playbook.

  • Sorry, remind me – is this the same Ms Sisulu who stole R500-million from the Dept of Water and Sanitation to fund her stab at the vice presidency?

  • There is a incorrect statement “ 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.” this may be the result but the cause is not properly articulated. It is productive people who are wealth creators who focus their efforts in creating value for others, be it facilitating the creation of products or services that others are willing to pay for of their own volition, who are generally at the top of the wealth ladder the only exception here would be those who corruptly amassed there wealth. As such the statement should read “ Recent Statistics South Africa reports show that productive people, as a group, are perched at the top of the wealth ladder, while the rest of the populace — unproductive members of society in progressive nomenclature — remain pegged on the lower rungs, albeit at different levels.”

  • I wonder what percentage of her monthly salary and all benefits she and her extended family received to date in her and some of their high positions (also derived directly from “colonial” principles), is given to the poor “Africans” she pities so dearly. Maybe DM should ask her so that she can inspire all the rest of us colonized Africans to live sacrificially.

  • What an eloquent and thoughtful article! Mr Msimang is an accomplished linguist who presents his readers with thought provoking questions.
    Well done!

  • In advertising there are key words which cover cultural memes. In washing powder one would talk of whiteness in soap of soft skin etc. Ms Sisulu is producing the key advertising words to appeal to an electorate. Like other advertising slogans putting them all together defies logic. I would not question her memes as that is pointless. The combination does make me think she is a dangerous politician.

  • A wealthy African person who uses skin lighteners, expensive make-up and manicures, drinks bottled fizzy water out of wine glasses, has expensive western style hair-do’s, wears pure imported wool jerseys, and communicates with the very latest shade of pink iPhone, and who then decries western ideology as neo-colonialist and the cause of poverty among her “people” is somehow not credible.

  • The amount of money ol’ Lindi spends on her very borrowed look, emulating western attire, nails & hairdo, could keep a good few African families fed & clothed for a couple of years. the fact that she has taken up positions of entitlement -certainly not earned through merit – does not mean that she is accomplished or has added value to the country via efficient, effective service delivery, or that she is experienced. Experienced in what for goodness’ sakes? She has not covered herself in glory at all in any of these portfolios that she has been given – not earned through merit. When I watched her screeching shrilly & full of unwarranted, wholly inappropriate emotional defence of Jacob Zuma in one of the No Confidence “debates” in Parliament, I was appalled that this woman could even be paid out of my hard-earned taxes! She seems to live in a delusional world of pampered luxury, paid for by the sweat of hard-working, honest, law-abiding tax-payers, spending most of her time, it seems, on shopping for her expensive, designer name, western inspired glad rags & in hair salons & nail-bars. Every so often, when power seems to be in play, she awakes from her pampered slumber to append her name to this kind of garbled nonsense. Thank God Almighty I cancelled all TV from 28 February 2021. I would go bonkers watching & listening to the drivel that our `”leaders”, wholly undeserving of that title, spew with such impunity on the long-suffering tax-paying public.

  • We should ask LS and others who supposedly care about enabling our masses of desperately poor South Africans, what exactly they personally have done to improve the travesty of poverty in SA – “you will know a man by his fruit” Talk is cheap!

  • These are signs of a bitter politician that has lost the purpose of her vocation as a representative of all the people of SA. She is now useless to the country as she has lost her moral fiber, any constructive democratic vision and her integrity. She will only cause damage and dissention and should for her sake, the ANC and the country, be put out to pasture.

  • She has served without distinction in 11 departments. Only spreading hate and incompetence to detract from what she and her cadres have wrought on the country. She cannot understand that she does not have the ability to lead.

  • Zuma said, “What did I do wrong?”
    Sisulu says that “colonial” law is not working for the Africans. We all have a blind spot but one has to be very blind not to see the truth of the situation. Perhaps some don’t want to see reality?

  • Balanced and good article. One of the few ANC with any spine and moral fibre. If western values and colonisation are so abhorrent to LS………..maybe she should rethink her fashion attire which seems to emulate everything that she apparently abhors and donate all the money she will save and give it to the poor she so cares about (not) that she has cynically emasculated. Absolute hypocrite!

  • Mr. Msimang, thank you for your thoughtful deliberations on the desperate ramblings of LS, food for thought.
    Regarding her long career in many different ministerial portfolios, I have never thought her particularly effective but rather like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, never staying long enough to cause much damage, always moving on to sip from the next flower….

  • I am a subscriber and consider the DM to be a credible online publication. However, in this instance you have failed your readership with respect to the true and proper representation of the article you criticize.
    Case in point: With respect to Sisulu’s call for a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission focusing on economic justice you write, “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.”
    Actually, Sisulu does not imply anything. To the contrary: she is very specific where the call for an economic justice TRC comes from. In her article, she writes: “There are excellent reasons why the late Sampie Terreblanche, renowned economist and fighter for justice, kept insisting on a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission focusing on economic justice.”
    There is no justification in the DM speculating that ANC conference resolutions in support of such calls may exist, other than discrediting Sisulu for being part of the people failing to give effect to these calls.
    To be clear: I am not defending Sisulu’s article. I am commenting here to hold the DM accountable for responsible journalism. I want to be able to continue trusting in your publication.

    • In any event, be it there may be valid grounds for another truth and reconciliation (though I would disagree) it in no way invalidates the findings of the Zondo Commission and has no bearing on the credibility, stature and abilities of the black members of the legal profession.

      In seeking to raise this straw man, Ms Sisulu is seeking to re-frame the debate and use it to somehow justify that her ANC stole, squandered and laid waste upwards of R1.5 trillion that could have done so much to uplift our country and it’s people – particularly the poor – that Ms Sisulu is now crying crocodile tears for.

      The time for this, Ms Sisulu is any and all the time, over particularly the last decade when you, your cabinet colleagues, and YOU, and seemingly vast swathes of the ANC were destroying and stealing.

      I suppose your response would be, Ms Sisulu, that “we were only stealing from the whites”? – but you know this is not correct and the greatest pain bears most egregiously on the poor.

  • She’s “talking the populist talk”. Given her background and illustrious parentage, I would have thought better of her. If I could address myself directly to her, I would say: “you can find a better bet than RET , Lindiwe” !

    • I think you mean … to refer her to one ? Stranger things have happened around the globe … like the election of Trump (and his tart) to the white house !

  • How Walter must be squirming with embarrassment in his grave … at having provided the genes for this intellectual dilettante ! BUT then .. one has to be mindful of not tarring the father with the crimes of the offspring ! Of all the portfolios she has held … thankfully the military was not one of them … because currently in various parts of the globe, military coups have become the order of the day !

    • M&G 8th January, Lindiwe Sisulu: Whose law is it anyway? another similar in city press 9 Jan Lindiwe Sisulu | How we will win the future. apparently there was another in IOL some days ago – clearly on a mission is the faux royalty..

  • Ms Sisulu has now publicly nailed her colors to the mast of radical economic transformation. She is, I understand, the Minister of Tourism. The speed with which she is ejected from the Cabinet will be a good test of Ramaphosa’s current clout within the ANC. If nothing happens, be very afraid.

  • Did she explain what should replace the present system (one that she has served under and helped create in a quarter century as executive)?

    Maybe two systems of punishment. One for the previously disadvantaged and another for the capitalist pigs. Maybe we need a law that suspends SARS persecution of the Zondo fingered, because well, because it was inevitable that they would steal in order to claw back the Range Rovers and Rolex watches their parents never enjoyed.

    End of the day, if she is the best opponent that the RET / Zupta faction can come up with, the same part of the ANC can sleep peacefully.

  • The “sea of African poverty” in South Africa is brought about by the ANC and its corrupt and incompetent cadres – supported by the likes of Sisulu and her ilk in parliament.

  • Her ramblings equal Zuma’s grasp of numbers. If there were any personal accountability in the ANC perhaps the lady should be accepting her contribution for driving the whole of this nation into the depths of poverty, depression, lawlessness and despair.

  • Insulting the most highly regarded and respected Constitution in the world must lead to a reprimand. This is a constitution that is referenced by major Law Schools in Africa and globally – why now?

  • Obviously its another RET shot across the presidents bow! yhe RET are all self serving thieves. They have nothing to say that makes any sense so they riot and speak absolute drivel hoping that the masses will vote for them based on that. Anyone with a half a brain knows that! Now we can see why Zuma cared less for education! feed them the populist politics they want to hear. Malema is also on this train. Hopefully the people will see the light and vote them out! Not holding my breath though!

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