Former defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu broke down in tears soon after she was told by President Jacob Zuma about his decision to move her to the department of public service and administration.
Senior government and ANC sources told the Mail & Guardian that Zuma only informed Sisulu and others about his decision a few hours before he made a public announcement.
“When the president informed her, she cried. She was shocked. It [the decision] caught her off guard. She did not anticipate it. She can’t imagine that she is moving from such a key department to a lowly department like the Public Service & Administration,” said a senior ANC and government official.
“For her, the defence department was a prestige,” he said. “You know, she is a flamboyant woman. It can’t be easy to move from uniform to personal management system. Now she will go back to commercial flights, whereas at the defence department, she used to fly in military aircraft.”
He added: “What angered her even more was that she was only told about the decision to remove her only this morning [Tuesday], hours before the announcement. They were called one by one to the phone while they were attending Parliament proceedings in Cape Town. Zuma was in the union building. For her, this is a demotion.
Approached for comment, Sisulu’s spokesperson, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, said the minister had not made any comment about the reshuffle.
“Whenever she wants to comment, she will comment,” said Mabaya, who refused to confirm whether or not the minister had wept.
The M&G understands that Zuma was unhappy with Sisulu because she was not loyal to him.
“She made him feel distanced from that key security institution, the defence force,” said a senior government official who did not want to be named. “The president felt he was not in total control of the military with Sisulu there.”
“She is a tough and independent woman,” the official added. “She is also senior in the ANC in her own right, and Zuma could not do as he pleased. The president also did not feel comfortable having someone he did not fully trust within the justice cluster, which dealt with sensitive security measures.”
It is also believed that Zuma was also unhappy about Sisulu’s decision to appoint ANC national executive member Tony Yengeni as a member of the defence review committee, established to come up with a long term defence planning.
The other reason sources cite for her “demotion”, is the fact that Sisulu was seen as someone who was close to expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, who had made it clear that he wanted Zuma replaced by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung. After Malema was suspended, Sisulu was one of the first senior ANC to come to his defence, saying: “The ANC is not a pig,” a reference to an earlier quote by Malema himself: “The ANC is not a pig; it does not eat its children.”
However, another senior government official, who is also an ANC national executive committee member welcomed Sisulu’s appointment, saying she was the right person to restore confidence to the department of public service and administration.
“Sisulu brings a wealth of experience from the intelligence services. I think she will bring back the department to its former glory under Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.”
“On the face of it, I hope it [the Cabinet reshuffle], is going to work,” the official said. Public service and administration needs a workaholic. It’s huge. People who are appointed need to make sure they are working. We need people like her who will wield the whip. Former minister Richard Baloyi could not tell people where to get off.”
“In terms of seniority and clout, is Sisulu is a good appointment, but she will have to prove herself. We had two ministers who have not been effective. Sita [State Information Technology Agency], which provides IT and telecommunication services to the government, needs someone with balls. The truth is that the current administration has downgraded public service by appointing people who are not senior enough in the ministry. It is the most important government department after the presidency.”
Democratic Alliance spokesperson on defence David Maynier said Sisulu had become too powerful for her own good, and her demotion to the public service and administration ministry was welcome news.
“The minister was fired because for the past two years she turned the [defence] department into a state within a state and acted as if she was beyond scrutiny and oversight by Parliament. She became an embarrassment to the commander-in-chief, and he fired her.”