Lindiwe Sisulu, South African Tourism Minister and struggle veteran, penned a thought-provoking think piece that questioned the importance of the rule of law. She expressed dissatisfaction with the state of poverty that black people were experiencing in South Africa.
Sisulu condemned the “sea of African poverty” that continued despite the existence of the Constitution of South Africa, which she dismisses as a palliative. She went on to further observe that “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 went on to express 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.” Sisulu adds there have been calls for “a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission focusing on economic justice”. Sisulu further states that these calls have “been consistently ignored by those with the power to actually give effect to these calls”.
Her article concerning wealth and poverty invites a couple of observations. For one, the government that she criticizes is the same one in which she has been an integral part for more than two decades. Her position as a senior member grants her enough power to influence administrative policies and decisions.
Some of the hard-hitting claims she made on the thought-provoking piece were that “There is a need for an overhaul of a justice system that does not work for Africa and Africans. It seems today we have legitimized wrongdoing under the umbrella of the rule of law”.
Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo held a press briefing to rebuttal the statements made by the minister. The acting Chief Justice claimed that Minister Sisulu’s opinion article insulted the judiciary, according to the acting Chief Justice, and she gave no facts to back up her assertions. Zondo asserted that Sisulu had “crossed the line.” He argued that “Miss Sisulu has launched a completely unwarranted attack on the judiciary and has heaped insults on the judiciary. But I want to say I find this conduct on the part of a senior member of the ruling party, a Senior Member of Parliament, a senior member of the executive completely unacceptable and it would be a pity if it was allowed to stand, just like that.”
Sisulu issued a statement saying that she had noted Acting Chief Justice Zondo’s remarks and was engaging with her legal team on the matter. She also added that she would respond to Zondo’s remarks about her at “the appropriate time and on the appropriate platform.”
The South African government has since distanced itself from the opinion piece written by Sisulu, describing it as reckless utterances.
The Office of the President released a statement to the media, according to that statement – the minister had apparently withdrawn her criticism of the judiciary and African judges, in particular, admitting that her annotations were “inappropriate, unsubstantiated, gratuitous and deeply hurtful”
Following that, Sisulu issued her own statement on the matter. Insisting that the president’s media team misrepresented her meeting with President Ramaphosa. In the statement, Sisulu said she respected the Office of the Presidency and the president but was concerned about how the media team was intentionally mischievous in their actions. “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.” she further added.
The spat between the two senior officials is anticipated to intensify tensions within the ruling party. In the prologue to the ANC electoral conference sometime this year, Minister Sisulu is seen as a possible presidential candidate to oppose President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Political analyst Professor Sipho Seepe said that while he appreciated Ramaphosa’s attempt at damage control, he underestimated Sisulu’s tenacity. Seepe said this squabble between the minister and the president is evidence of a party that lost touch with its people. “They are no longer concerned or dealing with service delivery, but rather about personal issues,” he claimed. Seepe said that following the back-and-forth public argument on who said what, Ramaphosa was in checkmate.