Why I decided to work for Lindiwe Sisulu




My friendship with Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu goes back a long way. When I was spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, a job that was stressful and dangerous, the biggest supporter I had outside of my family was Sisulu.

She would call or text late at night to check how I was doing. She would tell me when she thought I had done well after seeing me on TV. She would also say in forthright terms if she thought I had said or done something stupid.

It is perhaps timely to say that one meeting with her that stands out in my mind took place when I was head of communication at one of the country’s largest banks. She had requested that I influence my employer to set up a fund for a former employee who had been in an accident that left him with a disability. I was not able to help poet and writer Sandile Dikeni, who died more than a week ago, reportedly after an on-off battle with tuberculosis.

I would later take a matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration against the same employer.

Sitting at home and doing nothing was driving me crazy. I was entertaining suicidal thoughts. Sisulu called one day to find out how I was doing. After I told her about my bleak situation she asked for a name and number of someone at the bank she could talk to. She made one phone call and a few days later the employer made a settlement offer.

Two years ago I was part of her unsuccessful campaign for ANC president. The campaign was cash-strapped. At the time she was minister for a department with a big budget. One of the main pillars of her campaign was the fight against corruption and maladministration, and she didn’t want state resources being used for her presidential run.

I had numerous disagreements with Sisulu during the campaign. We had a few tense moments, none of which were personal or borne out of disrespect or insubordination. They were always tactical differences between two individuals who were passionate about the task at hand.

Despite that history, a few months ago I was privileged to receive an invitation from Sisulu to join her in her new ministry. The message was clear: she had a mammoth task of turning around the water and sanitation department and securing the supply of water for all citizens. She identified the communications and public relations function in her ministry as one of the potential drivers for improved service delivery.

I also have my own reasons for joining the ministry. After the former president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated in 2001 I was sent by the SABC to cover the transition of power and the state funeral. At the hotel where we stayed we were warned never to drink water from the taps. We were in Kinshasa, the country’s capital and economic hub.

The rich were buying clean water. The bad water from the taps was being consumed by the poor — the lucky ones to have tap water. I could never pass up an opportunity to help avoid the same situation repeating itself in my country.

My acceptance of the offer was also informed by an appreciation that water is now a geopolitical commodity. South Africa will remain at peace with her neighbours in part if the country has sufficient water for the needs of its growing population, and if our immediate neighbours are equally privileged.

In a few days Sisulu will launch her water and sanitation master plan. Working with departmental officials and her panel of advisers she has been seeking ways of ensuring that our country averts a water crisis. Her plan seeks to “disaster-proof” our country from the devastating effects of the droughts that we so often experience and of climate change.

The Mail & Guardian (Sisulu ‘plotting’ to oust Mabuza, November 15 to 21 2019) “claims that she is loading her ministry with loyalists in a campaign for the deputy presidency”.

Sisulu is a stickler for the ANC’s rules and regulations. For example, she launched her campaign for party president only after the process was formally opened, long after some of her opponents had started.

To suggest that she is “plotting” to replace the ANC deputy president at the party’s national general council next year is bizarre. Only a national conference can elect or remove an ANC office bearer. The narrative by her political opponents was obviously meant to make her look naïve and be the subject of ridicule and scorn.

The headline was unfair and it wasn’t supported by the story. The gratuitous use of the words “plot” and “oust” could place Sisulu’s life in danger. The words may well have come from the sources of the story but placing them in the headline decidedly prejudiced her.

Some of the people who work for Sisulu have been with her for decades, even though she is a tough taskmaster and not easy to work for. They stick with her because she is a caring employer. She also has an unwavering commitment to serve her country and do what is best for it. Some people appreciate that in a leader.

Makhosini Mgitywa is head of communications and spokesperson for the ministry of human settlements, water and sanitation

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