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