Af­ter a good start, Lindiwe Sisulu’s cam­paign to be­come the ANC’s first fe­male leader is now on the de­fen­sive

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‘The Sisulu name was not a great name when we were grow­ing up. It was a very per­se­cuted name,” Lindiwe Sisulu says. “When his­tory is rewrit­ten, you will find that the youngest po­lit­i­cal pris­oner came from my fam­ily. We were ar­rested; my broth­ers and I at the ages of about six, seven with no par­ents. It in­stilled in us a de­ter­mi­na­tion that we are go­ing to fight back. It wasn’t a bur­den, it was a de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“Now, sud­denly, this name that brought us so much harm has been twisted to mean some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, as though we are find­ing our­selves with this great name ei­ther to live up to it or to seek en­ti­tle­ment,” a com­bat­ive Sisulu told City Press.

She be­gan her cam­paign to lead the ANC as a fire­brand, tak­ing on Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, de­fend­ing the stal­warts and de­mand­ing that state in­tel­li­gence look into the Gupta leaks. Fol­low­ing sev­eral mis­steps, Sisulu’s cam­paign has been re­duced to a de­fen­sive play.

Pre­vi­ously, Sisulu took on na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC) mem­bers who at­tacked party stal­warts for speak­ing out against Zuma and call­ing on him to re­sign.

“Let the per­son who picks up the stone and throws it be quite cer­tain that they have con­trib­uted to this coun­try more than our vet­er­ans. None of them would.”

While some NEC mem­bers might feel the vet­er­ans have ul­te­rior mo­tives in crit­i­cis­ing Zuma, she said they should be given the space to speak out.

“We had a dis­cus­sion with the Bo­ers who killed us. Why would we not give space to our own?”

She’s now hav­ing to re­spond to claims that she is ar­ro­gant and en­ti­tled.

“I’ve grown up in an era where black peo­ple who talk their minds were cheeky k’s, be­cause their space was just to lis­ten. Now, if ar­ro­gant is the new nor­mal for some­body who is able to think for them­selves and is able to do that which they set out to do, then I wouldn’t even bother re­spond­ing to that.

“I have been in the ANC all my life. I have been in gov­ern­ment since 1996. If they are sud­denly dis­cov­er­ing that I am ar­ro­gant, they must have been out of the coun­try in Aus­tralia or very far away. I ac­tu­ally re­gard my­self as an ex­tremely ap­proach­able per­son. But I don’t take too much wrong,” she says firmly.

The set­ting is her cam­paign’s of­fice in Sand­ton. The in­ter­view was sup­posed to take place in the gar­den but with the sprin­klers hiss­ing and the in­sects chirp­ing, her team opts for the board­room.

I’m told by two ex­cited men that the of­fices have 17 full-time staff. They han­dle the call cen­tre, do fundrais­ing and re­search, cam­paign on so­cial me­dia and or­gan­ise events.

“This is not a Mickey Mouse cam­paign,” one of the gentle­men an­nounces proudly.

They say they are work­ing on a shoe­string bud­get, but the posh of­fice space tells a dif­fer­ent story.

Sisulu is dif­fer­ent com­pared with how she was at the start of her cam­paign – hard­ened. She speaks faster, ap­pears to an­tic­i­pate neg­a­tiv­ity and smiles less.

When asked about her late hus­band, she lets down her guard.

“I am the kind of per­son who runs away from pain,” she says slowly, as if count­ing her words.

“This [the cam­paign] has taken up a great deal of my time and in a way it has al­lowed me to cope, to man­age my inner pain. I could be sit­ting at home think­ing what would my hus­band be do­ing now, what would he be say­ing now? I think if there is a life here­after, he would be pleased I took this step.

“He was a kind of Che Gue­vara, a con­tin­u­ous revo­lu­tion­ary. We were kin­dred spir­its in that way, just com­pletely mar­ried to the rev­o­lu­tion. So I think wher­ever he is, he would be glad I went this way. He would be wor­ried that he isn’t here to pro­tect me be­cause this isn’t a pleas­ant space to be in when you are a wo­man. I am not com­par­ing my­self to Nkosazana [Dlamini-Zuma].

“I am say­ing that I don’t have a nat­u­ral fall­back po­si­tion, which he would have pro­vided if he was alive.”

Her hus­band, Kenyan-born aca­demic Pro­fes­sor Rok Ajulu, died in late De­cem­ber last year, af­ter an ill­ness. Then ANC stal­wart Ahmed Kathrada died in March. Sisulu con­sid­ered him a father fig­ure.

“I came in when the doc­tors had told us he was dy­ing, I took a flight from Cape Town, I was one of the last peo­ple they were wait­ing for. I got there and he was gasp­ing and I thought: What a life! What have we given back to this man? His whole life was a strug­gle,” she says of her beloved Un­cle Kathy.

“My hus­band was not aware he was go­ing to die so he was not in any pain, emo­tional pain; but Kathy was and he was an­gry and it is a sad in­dict­ment on us.

“Maybe when I stop run­ning and I start think­ing, I might just de­scend into a great de­pres­sion, but right now I’m car­ried by all of these great peo­ple who bought us here. It is a great re­source for me.”

In re­cent weeks, Sisulu has been plagued by a se­ries of blun­ders, lead­ing to her fall from grace and her ex­clu­sion from Cyril Ramaphosa’s slate, where she had been touted for the po­si­tion of deputy pres­i­dent.

Sisulu re­ceived a se­ri­ous back­lash when she ap­peared to question sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe’s strug­gle cre­den­tials.

Days af­ter that, when asked dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view about Zuma’s rape ac­cuser, Fezek­ile Kuzwayo, she said: “I be­lieve she be­lieves she was raped.”

Shortly af­ter her in­ter­view with City Press on Thurs­day, she is­sued a tweet stat­ing that she joined the strug­gle at age six. Fol­low­ing a twit­ter­storm, she tweeted that she had made a typo and had in fact been 16.

Ramaphosa pub­licly an­nounced, in an un­prece­dented move, his pre­ferred slate this week. He re­placed Sisulu with Naledi Pan­dor.

“I don’t want to speak for Cyril nor do I want to get into that fray. I don’t feel any loss at be­ing left out. When Cyril and I meet and we talk, he talks about my cam­paign and I talk about his cam­paign. We tease each other. I say: ‘Even with­out my per­mis­sion you put me as a deputy. Why didn’t you put your­self as my deputy?’ and he laughs. I say to him: ‘I’m go­ing to sort you out and put you as my deputy.’

“So it is al­ways al­most in a joc­u­lar way, but they did go ahead and put my name there and they hadn’t done the nec­es­sary con­sul­ta­tion.

“I feel so sorry for him be­cause I know what it’s like to be in that kind of po­si­tion and it doesn’t mat­ter what ex­pla­na­tion he gives. He is re­ally in a very un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion.

“I don’t know if poor Naledi was even con­sulted, so I don’t want to com­ment on that. All I can say is I feel very sorry for him and I hope it blows over,” she adds with a coy laugh.

Left off the Ramaphosa slate, Sisulu’s chances at emerg­ing vic­to­ri­ous are slim. Her sav­ing grace could be that Ramaphosa’s about-turn came af­ter the ANC branch gen­eral meet­ings, which had fol­lowed the di­rec­tive to nom­i­nate Sisulu as his deputy ini­tially. With that horse hav­ing bolted, an­other op­por­tu­nity to re­deem her­self could come at the con­fer­ence it­self, with a nom­i­na­tion from the floor.

Should she emerge as one of the ANC’s se­nior lead­ers, Sisulu will have to take a firm stance on Zuma’s fu­ture. She pre­vi­ously in­di­cated that amnesty would be on the cards, should he be will­ing to dis­close all.

“I’m not re­li­gious. I am re­li­gious in the sense of be­ing thor­oughly ANC, but I be­lieve there is a scrip­ture part that goes to how many times you would for­give some­one. And the an­swer is for as long as it is pos­si­ble. He will be for­given for as long as he in­di­cates to us, tells the truth and is able to com­mit to work­ing with ev­ery­body and com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that we can re­verse some of the prob­lems that we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and en­sure that those peo­ple who are so strongly at­tached to him are back in the fold,” she said at the time.

This week, she was non­com­mit­tal about whether she would ad­vo­cate him to va­cate his po­si­tion as state pres­i­dent af­ter De­cem­ber.

“The is­sue of the pres­i­dent for me is not the most im­por­tant thing. I strongly be­lieve that when the time comes, those peo­ple who are at the helm of the or­gan­i­sa­tion need to have a dis­cus­sion with Zuma, which we didn’t do with com­rade Thabo [Mbeki].

“Thabo is a ra­tio­nal man. He would have made the right de­ci­sion, but the en­vi­ron­ment was very heated then. Why should we con­tin­u­ously re­peat the same mis­take? I don’t know.

“I am cer­tain that if we han­dle this in such a way that he is part of that de­ci­sion, he [Zuma] will be bound by that de­ci­sion.”


NO LOSS Hu­man Set­tle­ments Min­is­ter and ANC NEC mem­ber Lindiwe Sisulu says she was not con­sulted about be­ing on Cyril Ramaphosa’s slate as ANC deputy pres­i­dent. She feels no loss at hav­ing been re­moved from it and says they are still on good terms

54th Na­tional Con­fer­ence 16 - 20 De­cem­ber 2017

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