South Africa: 10 things about Lindiwe Sisulu, presidential hopeful

By Carien du Plessis

Posted on Monday, 24 January 2022 09:32
Lindiwe Sisulu and President Cyril Ramaphosa during the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) Agreement during the 10th Extraordinary Session of the African Union (AU) in Kigali, Rwanda Tuesday March 21, 2018. (AP Photo)

Tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu has recently stoked controversy when an article appeared under her name in which, amongst others, she denigrates black judges. She appears to be making a move to challenge President Ramaphosa ahead of the ANC's party elective conference in December.

Here are ten things you should know about her:

1. Bid for power

It appears that Lindiwe Sisulu is making a bid for the ANC’s presidency ahead of the party’s elective conference in December. After a failed bid in 2017, Sisulu started 2022 by having a diatribe published under her name against the Constitution and black judges. Open campaigning in the ANC is not allowed, but publishing this opinion, she has positioned herself as a challenger to incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The president has been pressured by his lobbyists to fire her as minister after she accused him last week of “misrepresenting” her subsequent apology to him.

Sisulu has previously campaigned for Jacob Zuma – in 2007 and 2012 – and she has again positioned herself firmly in his camp. Her article appeared in the first week of this year, a couple of days after Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo handed over part one of the report of the state capture inquiry to President Cyril Ramaphosa. A number of political leaders are mentioned in that report, but Zuma’s allies claim that the inquiry and criminal prosecutions have been used to neutralise them politically.

2. Mbeki’s spy boss

Sisulu was first appointed to cabinet in 2001 by Thabo Mbeki as minister of intelligence. She also served in the cabinets of Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa in the defence, public service and administration, human settlements, water and sanitation, and international relations portfolios. Before that, she worked closely with Nelson Mandela, who appointed her deputy minister of housing in 1996.

3. Unhappy with tourism

Ramaphosa reshuffled her from the human settlements to the tourism portfolio in August last year, a move she is believed to have considered a demotion. Tourism has a smaller budget than most of her previous portfolios and the industry came to a virtual standstill in 2020 due to lockdowns and travel bans related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

4. ANC military intelligence background

She first became a member of Parliament in 1994 aged 39. She used to belong to the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and received military training specialising in intelligence. She holds a Masters in History from the University of York and a BA and BA Honours degrees from the University of Swaziland. She has worked as a teacher, lecturer, newspaper sub-editor, and, after returning from exile in 1990, as personal assistant to Zuma as head of the ANC’s intelligence department.

5. Previous presidential bid

It is not the first time she is running for president. She made a bid in 2017 with the slogan: “It’s a must”, based on fighting corruption and steering the ANC back to the party that the stalwarts had struggled for.

She launched her presidential campaign in Kliptown, Soweto, where the precursor to South Africa’s Constitution, the Freedom Charter, was drafted in 1955.

6. Pipped to Deputy Presidency by Mabuza

When it became clear at the 2017 elective conference that her attempt to pit herself as an alternative female candidate to Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (who was also challenging Ramaphosa, but who is now minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs) would fail, she instead elected to run as deputy on Ramaphosa’s slate, capitalising on the strength of his support.

This, too, failed after David Mabuza, who was also running for deputy president, managed to broker a deal through which he would bring his considerable provincial support base in Mpumalanga to vote for Ramaphosa. In return, some of Ramaphosa’s votes went to Mabuza and he became deputy president instead, getting 300 votes more than Sisulu’s 2159.

7. ANC Women’s League in her corner

After her 2017 presidential campaign to become the party’s first female president brought her in direct confrontation with the ANC Women’s League, which had endorsed Dlamini Zuma, Sisulu has since gone back to woo the support of the grouping by appearing on the stage at their events.

Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini did not criticise Sisulu for her piece on the judiciary, instead telling Newzroom Afrika that the issues should be debated – an indication that Sisulu has Dlamini in her corner.

8. Not controversy-free

While Sisulu has not been implicated in any of the large-scale Zuma-era corruption known as state capture, there have, among others, been questions over the people she surrounds herself with. She has, for example, been accused of employing large numbers of advisors and officials in her ministry who then get involved in running her presidential campaign – using public money.

For example, there have been allegations that a close confidante and adviser, Mphumzi Mdekazi, tried to fix tenders involving two regional water boards – Amatole Water and Lepelle Northern Water – at a time when he needed money to repay debts incurred for her 2017 presidential campaign. In 2021 she was accused of irregularly meddling by overturning a decision by the water tribunal to grant a licence to a development in Cape Town that will house Amazon’s headquarters in a multi-billion rand development.

9. Questionable associates

One of Sisulu’s greatest hurdles to overcome in her presidential campaign is the lack of a sizeable support base. Thus far she is known to enjoy the support of some ANC branches in the Eastern Cape, where her family hails from and which, in South African politics, would be considered her home province, and the Western Cape.

One of her biggest allies in the ANC’s national executive committee is Tony Yengeni, while investigative outfit amaBhungane reported in 2020 that others in her network include Menzi Simelane (Zuma appointed him director of public prosecutions in 2009 but this was nullified after he was found to have lied under oath), Jürgen Kögl (a broker, analyst and investor hailing from Namibia, who has been close to ANC leaders since the struggle days, and who was a major Zuma benefactor), Moe Shaik (a former spy chief and diplomat), and Gugile Nkwinti (former minister, amongst others of water and sanitation).

Her spokesperson, Steve Motale, is a former newspaper editor who famously in 2015 wrote an apology letter to Zuma for the way the media reported on his corruption trial.

10. Struggle heritage

Perhaps the most well-known aspect about the 67-year-old Sisulu is that she comes from a family of struggle stalwarts. Her parents, Albertina and Walter Sisulu, were involved with the ANC for most of their lives, and their children were also political activists. Max, the eldest, was the Speaker of the National Assembly from 2009 to 2014.

The late Zwelake was a journalist and published the New Nation, which was placed under restrictions several times. Albertina was given the privilege of nominating Nelson Mandela for president in the first democratic parliament, in which she served alongside her children, Max and Lindiwe.

However, the latter isn’t fond of being classified as “struggle royalty” – a term sometimes used in a denigrating manner to detract from her own achievements.

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