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Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture:Freddy Mavunda/Business Day
Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture:Freddy Mavunda/Business Day

It’s hard to divine what to make of Lindiwe Sisulu’s tortuously argued sort-of rant against SA’s constitution and judges. Some pundits believe her op-ed, published in Independent Media last week, marked the unofficial launch of Sisulu’s putative campaign to take on President Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president at its elective conference at the end of the year.

If so, it’s clear which faction she’s aligned with. Sisulu takes pot shots at the constitution, describing it as "neoliberal", with "foreign inspiration". She argues: "If the law does not work for Africans in Africa, then what is the use of the rule of law?"

ANC national executive committee member Mavuso Msimang described her argument as "gibberish" in the Daily Maverick.

The way Msimang sees it, Sisulu parrots the line of those close to Jacob Zuma, the so-called radical economic transformation (RET) faction, when she argues that "today, in the high echelons of our judicial system are these mentally colonised Africans, who have settled with the world view and mindset of those who have dispossessed their ancestors".

She says these judges have made "rulings against their own", without clarifying who she means by "their own". If she’s referring to the court rulings against the ethically unmoored Ace Magashule or the constitutional delinquent Zuma, you’d hope there aren’t many judges who’d claim these two as "their own". If, however, she is arguing that ANC comrades ought to be immune from the rule of law, it’s a rationale that deserves to die right there.

Perhaps Sisulu’s most awe-inspiring moment of chutzpah is her lament that economic justice has remained elusive in SA since apartheid.

Which isn’t to say she’s wrong: with an unemployment rate of 46.6% and a situation where nearly 30% of households cite social grants as their biggest source of income, it’s clear there’s been a wholesale failure to uplift the majority of South Africans.

Sisulu says: "The politicians take care of themselves and their families while those who put them there go to bed hungry, waiting for crumbs."

Yet it is Sisulu’s government, elected 27 years ago, that has had the power to alter this picture. And if there is one professional politician who has been there from the start, it is Sisulu herself.

In 1994, she was made an MP, and two years later became deputy minister of home affairs. For more than two decades, since 2001, she has served as a minister of housing, intelligence, defence, human settlements, public service & administration, water & sanitation, and now tourism.

So if a better life for all remains elusive after 27 years, it might behove her to look in the mirror.

As Msimang says, Sisulu’s indignation at African poverty is notable, as "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".

But then, confronted by failure, it’s easier to blame everyone else: judges, the constitution, whatever.

A far more honest assessment might consider the role that cadre deployment has played in the institutional collapse of SA’s public sector. Here, the records prised out of the ruling party by the opposition DA two weeks ago make for alarming reading.

Between 2018 and 2021, the DA claims the ANC’s cadre deployment committee interfered in the appointment of public servants to at least 96 government departments and entities.

For example, at an ANC deployment committee meeting in August 2018, chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza, appointments to the board of the National Research Foundation were discussed. The minutes record: "The meeting noted that no-one can be appointed who holds a political office. Nevertheless, there seems to be a good team with a number of people associated with the ANC movement."

Politics is all about priorities. If your priority is loyalty to the party over competence, is it any surprise that your institutions will crumble? Similarly, if you believe the rule of law shouldn’t apply to "your own", can it be any surprise when corruption expands to fill the space you’ve afforded it?

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