Fat cats fall out: Sisulu vs Kasrils

The more pessimistic among our fellow South Africans have often muttered about the dire ramifications if, and possibly when, the ANC feels that its allegedly god-given right to rule is threatened. These doomsday democrats dream fretfully of the coming of an oppressive regime, one that combines political intolerance, crude fascism and a propensity for bad haircuts. It’s not a scenario that I subscribe to, but one can see how such paranoia could be fed by Public Service Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s bullying comment piece carried in the Star of May 7.

The piece is an attack on Ronnie Kasrils and “Sidikiwe! Vukani! Vote No”, his naive campaign that called for South Africans to vote for a smaller party or spoil their votes. According to Sisulu (and this was published on elections day, remember), Kasrils is “urging ordinary South Africans to commit a criminal offence”, and voting officers “have the right to question and have arrested people foolish enough to obey Kasrils’ amateurish advice to deliberately spoil their ballot papers”.

This, then, is the ANC’s response to dissension from within their ranks, and to South African citizens showing their displeasure with the ruling party: if you do this, you will go to jail. It feels breathtakingly fascist. Sisulu’s threat is based on a reading of the Electoral Act, which elides a prohibition on damaging or destroying any voting or election material, with spoiling your vote. There might very well be a legal case to be made here, although on face value I would bet against it. But that is not the point. The fact is Sisulu is willing to make that case in order to intimidate and threaten South Africans.

Reading Sisulu’s diatribe, I’m slightly startled (okay, not very) to find that she claims that the ANC, in the person of its then intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, used the ANC’s policy of “democratic centralism” to “expel people from the ANC and SACP [South African Communist Party] and to destroy the careers of very intelligent and patriotic South Africans … without a care”. And that, Kasrils was happy to bow to the ANC majority and do this. I have to ask: exactly how rotten is this party?

Sisulu’s comment piece is peppered with invective: Kasrils is “amateurish”, “ignorant”, “juvenile”, criminal and a hypocrite. When a writer abandons reason for anger, the astute reader will see revealed the true engine of her purpose. In her last paragraph, Sisulu inadvertently allows us insight into the truth of her insider knowledge of what it means to be an ANC politician, and reveals exactly what her threats are intended to protect. I’ll quote it in full: “[Kasrils] has chosen the path of cheap populism and criminality as his way of getting back at the ANC for denying him access to the fat-cat perquisites he so fondly longs for.”

Sisulu appears to be unaware that she has just told the world that the ANC buys the complicity of its politicians, that aspiring to be an ANC minister is about getting access to fat-cat privileges, and that anyone who criticises the ANC is only doing so because they’re not getting their fair share of the gravy. 

The fact that she reveals this while also threatening us with state retribution, makes it less absurd and more sinister. One can’t help seeing this, forebodingly, as a preview of what could happen when the ANC is faced with more effective opposition – like the seemingly inevitable Workers Party, perhaps – come the next two elections. Granted, I’m extrapolating from one minister’s unfortunate hissy fit, but this is a minister who has been mentioned as a possible contender for president of this country one day. We really, really don’t want to wake up one morning and think, hmm, I miss that Zuma guy. At least he had a sense of humour.

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Chris Roper
Chris Roper

Chris Roper was editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian from July 2013 - July 2015.

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