Lindiwe Sisulu: A woman for all seasons

Lindiwe Sisulu’s rapport with other ANC leaders may make her the peacemaker in presidential race

03 September 2017 - 00:02 By QAANITAH HUNTER

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.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
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.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.
Dealing with corruption
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.

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