Thanks, but I’ll eat my own food


Pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Lindiwe Sisulu turned down a dinner in­vi­ta­tion from Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa.

Not be­cause they are arch-ri­vals, now that they are both com­pet­ing for the cov­eted po­si­tion of pres­i­dent of the ANC, but sim­ply be­cause she much prefers her own food.

“I sit next to Com­rade Cyril in cab­i­net and he says: ‘You know, why don’t you come for sup­per?’ I said: ‘No. Your sup­per is lousy. Why don’t you come to my house for sup­per?” Sisulu quipped in an in­ter­view with the Sun­day Times on Thurs­day.

It was not some­thing un­usual for the feisty and head­strong min­is­ter to say. She is known in ANC cir­cles for her sting­ing jibes and witty come­backs.

Sisulu was try­ing to make a point by re­fer­ring to that in­ci­dent: ANC po­lit­i­cal con­tenders were not arch-en­e­mies, and she would much rather have a one-in-seven chance of be­com­ing the next ANC pres­i­dent than see an­other two-horse race tear­ing the ANC apart.

“I was born in a fam­ily where I am one of seven [chil­dren], so what’s new?” she joked.

“In fact, I am hap­pier with seven than two. Polok­wane had two [can­di­dates] and that’s why we ended up with that cri­sis,” she con­tin­ued.

Harm the party

The ANC’s 2007 Polok­wane con­fer­ence tore the party apart over which of the two can­di­dates — Ja­cob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki — to sup­port.

While oth­ers be­lieve hav­ing too many can­di­dates run­ning for the ANC’s top job may harm the party, Sisulu be­lieves it is democ­racy in ac­tion.

“Those peo­ple who the ANC branches feel will best rep­re­sent them have been put for­ward. And here they are, and fi­nally at the end of the process, peo­ple will feel they have been given am­ple op­por­tu­nity to se­lect a can­di­date of their choice. Not be­tween one or two,” she ex­plained.

By her cam­paign team’s own ad­mis­sion, Sisulu is not the fron­trun­ner in the suc­ces­sion race.

She had a late start, only of­fi­cially an­nounc­ing her can­di­dacy af­ter the party’s na­tional pol­icy con­fer­ence in June.

The two other women con­tenders in the race, ANC chair Baleka Mbete and na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, have long started their cam­paigns. Sisulu is now play­ing catch-up, in­ten­si­fy­ing her cam­paign in the final stretch be­fore the much-an­tic­i­pated De­cem­ber con­fer­ence.

My in­ter­view with her had to take place in her car as her busy sched­ule meant that she had to squeeze us in be­tween two cam­paign events on Thurs­day. Mostly up­beat

With Com­rade Cyril, we dis­cuss any­thing but the elec­tion. Zweli [Mkhize] is a friend of mine. I say to him: ‘Zweli, this is un­fair. I don’t have money. You have all the money.’ . . . I have not seen Com­rade Nkosazana in a very long time

The women’s league does not have the mo­nop­oly over ev­ery woman. The women’s league has ex­pressed them­selves and they have the right to do so. And there is no com­pul­sion on any woman, my­self in­cluded, to fol­low that

She had just got the en­dorse­ment of a few ANC Women’s League branches at a church event in Khayelit­sha, in the West­ern Cape, and was due to speak to stu­dents at the Cape Penin­sula Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

While Sisulu is mostly up­beat about her prospects, she is an­noyed by the fact that play­ing by the book has left her lag­ging be­hind in the race.

“What I re­gret most is that the cam­paign of some of the can­di­dates started long be­fore it should, and I think it should have been stopped,” she said.

While Sisulu waited for Luthuli House to of­fi­cially de­clare the start of the cam­paign sea­son, Dlamini-Zuma was out of the start­ing blocks al­ready — get­ting the of­fi­cial en­dorse­ment of the in­flu­en­tial women’s league in Jan­uary.

“The women’s league does not have the mo­nop­oly over ev­ery woman. The women’s league has ex­pressed them­selves and they have the right to do so. And there is no com­pul­sion on any woman, my­self in­cluded, to fol­low that. They have just in­di­cated their pref­er­ence,” said Sisulu.

While a num­ber of ANC branches have come out to say they back the bid by the daugh­ter of strug­gle icons Wal­ter and Al­bertina Sisulu to be­come the next ANC pres­i­dent, she is yet to have any of the higher party struc­tures ex­press the same view.

Per­haps this is why she is so unhappy about regional and pro­vin­cial ANC ex­ec­u­tives who are try­ing to in­flu­ence branches by mak­ing pub­lic state­ments about their own pref­er­ences.

“What is re­gret­table, too, is a process of a top-down ap­proach. Top struc­tures declar­ing their can­di­date is wrong. In the Eye of the Nee­dle [a pol­icy doc­u­ment of the ANC on lead­er­ship], in par­tic­u­lar the branch is the base unit of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. The branch is that unit that can nom­i­nate a per­son.”

As De­cem­ber draws near, the po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns are be­com­ing more and more des­per­ate — horse-trad­ing talks have be­gun in earnest, and so have smear cam­paigns. Sisulu has had her fair share of bad press over the years — huge ho­tel bills and pri­vate jets at the state’s ex­pense — and that is most def­i­nitely go­ing to be used as am­mu­ni­tion against her by her de­trac­tors.

She was not scared of smear cam­paigns, she said: “Stu­pid­ity is not made richer by re­spond­ing.”

Hav­ing not been linked to the no­to­ri­ous Gupta fam­ily has given Sisulu the po­lit­i­cal cur­rency to speak out against state cap­ture.

She has of­ten re­peated that the pres­i­dent should have been dis­ci­plined for all the al­le­ga­tions against him.

Sisulu’s cam­paign ap­pears well re­sourced and or­gan­ised, but of the seven hope­fuls, two can­di­dates have proved to be the fron­trun­ners: Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.

Some of Sisulu’s sup­port­ers have played with the idea that her cam­paign would even­tu­ally fold and she would be up to ne­go­ti­at­ing with the win­ning con­tender.

The long­time min­is­ter said she re­mained above the fray in po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions and chess-play­ing.

“It is the peo­ple who nom­i­nate you that

Deal­ing with cor­rup­tion Hurl­ing in­sults

Although the race to suc­ceed Zuma has of­ten been ac­ri­mo­nious — with var­i­ous camps hurl­ing in­sults at each other — Sisulu in­sists that they don’t con­sider each other en­e­mies.

“With Com­rade Cyril, we dis­cuss any­thing but the elec­tion,” she said, adding that they sit next to each other in cab­i­net meet­ings. It was no dif­fer­ent with min­is­ter Jeff Radebe, who she sits next to in par­lia­ment. They dis­cussed “every­thing un­der the sun be­sides the elec­tions”, she said.

“Zweli [Mkhize] is a friend of mine. I say to him: ‘Zweli, this is un­fair. I don’t have money. You have all the money.’ ” Dlamini-Zuma? “I have not seen Com­rade Nkosazana in a very long time. She came and spent a very long time af­ter I lost my hus­band,” Sisulu said about their re­la­tion­ship.

Her rap­port with other lead­ers could make her the ideal peace­maker to bring to­gether war­ring fac­tions in the ANC, but for now she is still hell­bent on mak­ing it on her own.

She said if the ANC could sur­vive its Polok­wane con­fer­ence, it was more than likely to sur­vive the cur­rent con­test.

“If it didn’t col­lapse in 2007, it won’t col­lapse now.” would say we would be open to talk. I don’t think it’s for the can­di­date to say: ‘I am dump­ing you and go­ing to that group,’ ” she said.

But what does she hope to bring to the ta­ble if she were to be­come ANC leader and there­fore the party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 2019?

Her cam­paign theme seems to be change, but she rarely spells out what this means.

I asked her what needed to be changed in the ANC and her re­sponse was: “Many things.”

She then re­ferred me to a doc­u­ment compiled by ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe af­ter the lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions, for de­tails of the kind of change needed.

Among the sug­ges­tions con­tained in that doc­u­ment was that Zuma be re­moved from of­fice. Is that what she is plan­ning to do if she wins in De­cem­ber: fire Zuma from the Union Build­ings?

She re­sponded by say­ing she does not want to ven­ture into “spec­u­la­tion”.

It was the same when I asked about what she prom­ises to do should she be elected pres­i­dent. This time she re­ferred me to her elec­tion man­i­festo. I at­tended her “man­i­festo launch” in Klip­town, Soweto, in July and found she was as vague there as she was in this in­ter­view.

The man­i­festo talks about deal­ing with cor­rup­tion, with­out say­ing how. It talks about ad­dress­ing bulk-buy­ing of ANC mem­ber­ship by politi­cians and re­turn­ing to the val­ues of the Free­dom Char­ter.

“I would work so that the sa­cred foun­da­tions of the new South Africa will never be crushed by per­sonal am­bi­tion, by cor­rup­tion, by mean­ness or ar­range­ments made be­hind the backs of peo­ple for the ne­far­i­ous and treach­er­ous pur­poses of a few,” she said when de­scrib­ing her plan in Klip­town.

In the in­ter­view, she only went as far as say­ing that she is guided by the Free­dom Char­ter, a doc­u­ment first adopted by the anti-apartheid move­ment in 1955.

She said she was mo­ti­vated to pen down what South Africa ought to look like af­ter a jour­nal­ist asked her what she stood for and she re­alised that “it was a long list of things”.

Her mes­sage is not ar­tic­u­lated well and her cam­paign varies be­tween be­ing premised on an anti-cor­rup­tion and anti-Zuma stance, and be­com­ing the first woman pres­i­dent of the ANC.

Pic­ture: David Harrison

Hu­man Set­tle­ments Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu at a Khayelit­sha church meet­ing on Thurs­day.

Pic­ture: Ih­saan Haf­fe­jee

Lindiwe Sisulu de­liv­ers the Nel­son Man­dela me­mo­rial lec­ture at Wal­ter Sisulu Square in Klip­town, Soweto, in July. The event marked the start of her cam­paign for party lead­er­ship.

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