Knives are out for Lindiwe Sisulu, the human settlements, water and sanitation minister, with claims emerging that she is loading her ministry with loyalists in a bid to build a campaign for her to replace David Mabuza as ANC deputy president.
An anonymous complaint made to the public protector and the Public Service Commission (PSC) this week claims that Sisulu has employed staff from her unsuccessful 2017 ANC presidential campaign in her department. These same staffers are to lobby for her ahead of a bid to replace Mabuza at the party’s national general council meeting next year.
The complaint was lodged with the two bodies a week before Sisulu is set to unveil her master plan for dealing with South Africa’s water crisis. It comes after her comments on the need to clean up the ANC’s internal processes during a visit to Angola at the weekend, a visit that is seen as part of her move to attain higher office in the party and in government.
Sisulu is, according to the complaints, preparing to make her move based on the belief that Mabuza, the former premier of Mpumalanga, is likely to be “compromised” by corruption charges by the time the ANC’s national general council sits.
The move on the deputy presidency is seen to be a precursor for another run for the ANC presidency in 2022 by Sisulu, who collapsed her 2017 presidential campaign before the elective conference at Nasrec.
The complaint, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, asks for an investigation into the appointment of 15 people who worked on her 2017 campaign, including her current chief director, Mphumzi Mdekazi, on five-year contracts with the department.
These appointments, it says, were not advertised and made by Mdekazi, who “hand-picked” the appointees to the department of water and sanitation’s ministerial national rapid response task team.
The team was created in September and has a life span linked to Sisulu’s term as minister. It has an annual salary bill of R13.9-million, is funded from the ministry’s goods and services budget and is, according to departmental sources, aimed at driving the implementation of key projects to ease the water crisis.
The complaint also asks public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to investigate the dissolution of the boards of the entities under Sisulu’s control, on her instruction. Sisulu had done so on the grounds that the boards of the entities, including the Housing Development Agency and the Social Housing Regulatory Authority, had been appointed without Cabinet approval.
According to the complaint, the interim boards being appointed by Sisulu are being loaded with her campaign staff by Mdekazi in preparation for her 2022 campaign.
Among the appointments is Bathabile Dlamini, the former social development minister and sitting ANC Women’s League president, who has been appointed as interim board chairperson of the regulatory authority.In 2017 Dlamini and the women’s league opposed Sisulu and backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for president.
Appointing Dlamini to the post is, according to the complaint’s authors, aimed at ensuring the league backs Sisulu’s presidential bid.
Public protector spokesperson Oupa Segalwe confirmed they had received an anonymous complaint.
“It is being assessed and a decision on whether to investigate or not will be taken shortly after the assessment,” he said.
Likewise, PSC spokesperson Humphrey Ramafoko said a complaint relating to appointments made by Sisulu had been lodged with the National Anti-Corruption Hotline.
“The PSC is assessing the matter and will attend to it accordingly,” he said.
Sisulu’s spokesperson, Makhosini Mgitywa, said she rejected allegations that the appointments “constitute retainers for any elections in the governing party”.
“There is no vacancy in the presidency of the ANC and Minister Sisulu is not running for any position.”
Sisulu had stood openly in 2017 and was elected to the national executive committee (NEC) in line with ANC procedures.
“She is pleased to serve in that capacity, in Parliament and in Cabinet,” Mgitywa said. “She is working very hard to provide leadership as we avert a possible water crisis occasioned by the current drought and other factors. She looks forward to launching the department’s master plan later this month and she will not be distracted from the task at hand.”
Mgitywa said that, although Sisulu had received no notice from either the public protector or the PSC of any investigation, she welcomed and would co-operate with any probe into the department and its work.
“All appointments that we make are above board and all officials which we appoint meet the requirements for the posts they get appointed to. We will not entertain speculation about future appointments to any of the vacancies in the departments she oversees or entities under them,” Mgitywa said.