TIMELINE | From slamming the judiciary to outrage, Zondo & 'bullies': Aftermath of Sisulu's opinion piece

13 January 2022 - 13:57
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Minister Lindiwe Sisulu landed in hot water over her opinion piece in which she slammed the judiciary as 'colonised Africans'.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu landed in hot water over her opinion piece in which she slammed the judiciary as 'colonised Africans'.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The controversy surrounding tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu's opinion piece doesn't look like dying down any time soon, as she consults with her legal team after a rebuke by acting chief justice Raymond Zondo.

In her piece, titled “Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?”, Sisulu claimed the constitution did not work for masses of Africans who languished in poverty and accused politicians of engaging in “politics of the stomach” at the expense of the poor.

Here's a timeline of events so far:

January 7: 'Mentally-colonised Africans are worse than oppressors'

In a lengthy opinion piece, the minister seemingly described the judiciary as mentally-colonised Africans who had the power to oppress those under their leadership if given positions or power to interpret the law.

She said this was evident in the failure to address the land issue

When it comes to crucial economic issues and property matters, the same African cosies up with their elitist colleagues to sing from the same hymn book, spouting the Roman-Dutch law of property. But where is the indigenous law? It has been reduced to a footnote in your law schools. Where are the African value systems and customs of land, wealth, and property?” she wrote.

January 11: Condemnation by the presidency

Minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said the government distanced itself from Sisulu's comments. He told TimesLIVE Sisulu “grossly misrepresented the constitution”.  

“It has the potential to undermine the credibility and the weight of the rule of law in this country, especially when it is done by an individual who took an oath of office to protect the law, because once you take an oath, you accept being a champion of that law,” said the minister.

January 12: Calls for Ramaphosa to take action against Sisulu

The DA called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to take Sisulu to task for her comments.

Party leader John Steenhuisen said they undermined and cast aspersions on the judiciary and Ramaphosa should order Sisulu to retract her comments and apologise.

“Even if no formal finding of wrongdoing has been made on Sisulu’s remarks, President Ramaphosa has an obligation to protect public trust in the constitutional integrity of other arms of government,” said Steenhuisen.

The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, Corruption Watch, Defend our Democracy Campaign, Freedom Under Law, Helen Suzman Foundation and Judges Matter released a joint statement lambasting Sisulu. 

January 12: 'An insult to the judiciary'  

Zondo condemned Sisulu's comments as an insult to the judiciary. He said Sisulu had no facts to back up her claims and called for action against her.

“That such a senior member who serves in the two arms of the state, namely parliament and the executive, should see fit to insult the justices of the Constitutional Court, the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal and judges of the high courts is most regrettable,” said Zondo.

January 12: Consulting lawyers

Sisulu noted Zondo's response and said she was consulting her lawyers and would respond “at an appropriate time and in an appropriate platform”.

January 12: Plagiarism?

In another article, published on African News Global, Sisulu responded to ANC veteran Mavuso Msimang who had accused her of an “extraordinary attack on SA's constitution”.

She accused Msimang of “proceeding from his factionalist position and viewing every analysis of the rule of law and criticism that does not accord with his myopic and jaundiced perspective as an attack on the constitution”.

TimesLIVE noted that part of her response contained similarities to a speech delivered by former UK attorney-general Dominic Grieve in September 2013.

Her spokesperson Steven Motale denied that any parts of the piece were plagiarised.

“Minister Sisulu cited the author, the source, the specific piece and date of publication or court ruling instance. This is the exact opposite of plagiarism,” he said.

January 12: EFF defends Sisulu

The red berets lashed out at Zondo in defence of Sisulu, saying his comments criticising the tourism minister were unnecessary and lacked substance and purpose.

The party, which likened Zondo to Barry White, said he was no different to Sisulu, as they were both campaigning for ANC president and chief justice respectively. 

“In our view, there is no difference to what Sisulu and Barry White are doing. Sisulu is campaigning to become the president of the ANC and Barry White is campaigning to be the chief justice of the Constitutional Court,” said the party. 

EFF leader Julius Malema told Sisulu not to be bullied by “anyone on the payroll of CR17", and said Zondo should not “tell us what to think and say”.

The party's deputy president Floyd Shivambu also criticised Zondo, saying his nomination as chief justice should be withdrawn after his comments.

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