Lindiwe Sisulu on Ramaphosa, women leaders and Mantashe's comments

(David Harrison/M&G)

(David Harrison/M&G)

You have been crisscrossing the country in the past few months talking to ordinary ANC members. What are your chances of winning the contest to become the next ANC president?
You know, the thing about elections is that they are not over until they are over. The beliefs I hold on to are very fundamental and I will hold on to [them] until the very end.

I’ve indicated that it took me a while to consider this request.
But with time I realised that two of the horses had been allowed. I kept on saying I thought it was unprocedural and should have been stopped. Normally what happens is we get to a policy conference and we discuss at length how we are going to approach the upcoming elections because there are possibilities of being disruptive to the normal calls of ANC work.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema says although no one can dispute your struggle credentials, you don’t have exclusive ideas.

The very fact that I have a manifesto says a lot. None of the others [presidential candidates] do. I sat down to say what are the ills that we are seeking to cure and I repeat that message. Nobody else has a manifesto. I do have a manifesto and there isn’t a cogent system of thought that is not based on some document. I do have a cogent system of thought and it is based on the document which I delivered in Kliptown [a few months ago]. That cogent system of thought is based on our Constitution. Very often we get carried away with concepts along the way. We have a Constitution.

We talk about democracy, every day we are told the Constitution is the ultimate. We in the ANC have a constitution. We need to make sure we promote the values of that constitution on a regular basis. We wouldn’t today be sitting with branches that are bought. So I am not going to be swayed by any populist rhetoric about whatever it is when Malema says he has not seen new thoughts. If he wants new thoughts, he will find them in the manifesto. It covers everything because I systematically sat down.

I don’t have the privilege of having huge think tanks that support them. I read myself. I’ve lived through this myself. I am probably the longest serving member of the ANC because I had all my life in the ANC. I have read and written about all the pitfalls.

If you were to be elected ANC leader, what would be the first thing you change, particularly in relation to economic policy to create more jobs and reduce poverty in the country?

I think you’ve got it wrong. One of the first things that I would do is to make sure that there is political stability. You can’t tamper with the economy until you’ve created political stability and the people who are investing in your economy have full confidence that there is political stability. In that way, you will be able to put out a plan of what we in the ANC call radical economic transformation. Radical economic transformation is not something that hangs out in the clouds. The economy is about what each one of us does and how we are empowered to do what needs to be done to be able to grow the economy — not about a layer of people out there who are benefiting from the economy. It’s about addressing the poorest of the poor. I stand for representing the poorest of the poor. 

When we talk about the economy, my stronghold or my concentration is on how we get our people out of poverty. If poverty in this country grows to 30-million people, people who [will] need jobs, people who [will] need to be empowered to participate in the economy and to be given the implements and the support by government to participate in the economy, people who [will] need to be given a necessary education to participate in that economy, people who [will] need to be given the space to participate in that economy. Half the time when people talk about the economy it is always about monopoly capital. I am more interested in how we get the poorest out of the poverty trap [and into an economy] where we grow the economy and we grow it from the bottom where everybody participates and [is] given the space to participate.

Some of Cyril Ramaphosa’s supporters have suggested that you join his slate as deputy president. Are you considering?

I have no problem, because on my slate, he is number two as well. He is the deputy. The people in my campaign welcome the idea and we welcome the deputy president to be the deputy president of our slate. So you can ask him that. I think he will do well as a deputy. 

For me, that response is almost like certain people we are looking for on the list who will enhance our campaign. We need a woman as president. Let’s stick [up] for a woman who will have a chance. Let’s go hunting. My team has gone hunting too and — surprise surprise — they came out with the deputy president [Ramaphosa]. The ANC has nurtured and created enough space for women to now take the lead in society and I think South Africa is ready for that and I believe in women.

President Jacob Zuma prefers ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor. Do you think she will make a good president?

I think it’s an unfair question to answer. My only regret is that I would like people who are in particular positions to keep their preferences to themselves because it distorts the picture. But I can’t make a judgement on a fellow candidate. It’s completely unethical.

But the fact that you have many presidential candidates shows the maturity of the ANC. I believe all the contenders who are there are there in their own right and it gives society a greater possibility of choosing and it showcases the nature of leadership that we have achieved. Imagine if we were looking around and could not find anybody. What will you say about that? I am not discouraged by that. I am encouraged. We [the ANC] are really maturing.

You became very angry when ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe suggested that Ramaphosa take over from Zuma. Why?

The context of what I was saying is, the secretary general of the ANC would need to be an impartial institution because they are responsible for the running of the conference. Once they express themselves in such a strong way, then I worry about the independence of the process running through the conference. We should all worry about that. And number two, I was concerned [that] he goes on to say that the period running up to the end of the year is going to be such a rough time that no woman would be able to cope. 

This is such a deeply patriarchal, patronising statement. I don’t think any woman should keep quiet about that. What he is saying is that women are inherently too weak to handle a tough situation. That’s not true. It’s not true of the women of this country. If you look at the women of this country, to mention a few, Lillian Ngoyi, Charlotte Maxeke, Ruth Mompati, Winnie Mandela, Mma Sisulu, those are really strong women that stand far above some of the men that were with them and actually took a struggle through when most of us were either in exile or in prison or underground. These were the women who were the rallying call of the ANC. I did not understand what it was that he was talking about.

Every member of the ANC has a right to cast their vote. This top-down approach is very wrong.

The ANC secretary general also dismissed “your royal tendencies” after you questioned his struggle credentials.

Between Gwede and I, we are very good friends. I am able to say anything I want to say to him and he is able to say anything he wants to say to me. I think in that particular instance he must have been in a situation where he had to give an answer. I don’t believe deep down he believes I am royalty. There isn’t anybody in the ANC who doesn’t know it’s an easy put down which is cheap. The history of that family [Sisulu] is so well known. It would mean that Gwede doesn’t understand the ANC. That would be unfortunate.

What do you think of President Zuma’s decision to reshuffle his Cabinet?

I think it’s unfortunate. I don’t regret a situation where everybody is mobilising ANC branches — keeping them alive because it prepares the ground for us going back to our people for elections in 2019, which is absolutely crucial for us right now.

But at the same time, glitches of stop-start, stop-start in government have enormous impact. I have been minister of public administration. I have seen the impact that this has on a changed ministry. It’s almost like starting all over because by the time that you get to the mid-term, you have re-prioritised in relation to how you can solve the problems that you have identified. Any new minister who comes in would need to understand the logic of how the department has been functioning. It’s going to take that particular minister between now and December to understand what’s happening. Most ministers, when they get into a ministry, they take a lot of time to understand the ministry, how it functions and its policies.

Too much change is not conducive to a settled political environment.

There needs to be certainty within the political environment for us to be able to generate the kind of transformation that we want in the economy. We have to bring the confidence of the people who are investing. It doesn’t matter how much we think of radical economic transformation. We have to make sure that those investors in the economy are convinced of the arguments and are part and parcel of the solution.

There are rumours that Cyril Ramaphosa might be the next to be removed from Cabinet and be charged with treason. Do you see this happening?

I take it as a rumour. It will be very difficult. I don’t speculate on rumours. Right now, until I have a concrete evidence, I will treat it as rumour.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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