Sisulu accuses presidency of ‘deliberate mischief’

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has issued another statement in her public row with President Cyril Ramaphosa, this time accusing his media team of deliberately misrepresenting the outcome of a meeting between the two.

“Minister Sisulu wishes to clarify what is, in her estimation, a deliberate misrepresentation by the president’s media team regarding her meeting with the president,” the statement read.

It was the fourth missive in a to and fro that began late on Thursday with the presidency publishing an apology on Sisulu’s behalf for her extraordinary attack on the judiciary in an article widely published in the past two weeks.

Sisulu confirmed a meeting took place but said there was no agreement that she would retract her remarks or apologise, and it was mischief on the part of the presidency to say she did. 

Instead, she said, it was agreed at the meeting that one sentence of the article which Ramaphosa found offensive would be redrafted with the help of an intermediary.

“After their engagement, in which the president took issue with the minister’s expression relating to the judiciary, the president proposed that a third person or intermediary assist [with] the particular and solitary line the president had found an ‘offensive’ expression,” she said.

She described the meeting as “mature and sensible” and said it concluded on good terms.

“In fact yesterday [Thursday], the president called me and read the specific sentence as redesigned that he had found offensive.”

Her statement continued: “As is accepted and lifelong practice, the minister respects the office of the presidency and the president, however she wishes to record that she is troubled that the president’s media team was deliberately mischievous issued as the minister at no point in the conversation was firstly admonished or secondly expressed regrets resulting in agreeing to withdrew [sic] or apologise for her article, but agreed to consider the particular line relating to the judiciary which the president raised issue with and was to share with her.”

Late on Thursday the presidency reiterated that Ramaphosa stood by his initial statement, in which he said he admonished her and she had agreed to retract and apologise.

His statement had quoted three lines from her article which said African judges lacked agency and betrayed their own because they had internalised colonialism.

Sisulu had written: “Today, in the high echelons of our judicial system are those mentally colonised Africans, who have settled with the worldview and mindset of those who have dispossessed their ancestors.

“The lack of confidence that permeates their rulings against their own speaks very loudly, while others, secure in their agenda, clap behind closed doors.”

Her remarks drew a sharp response from Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who said they went beyond criticism or an attack and constituted the worst insult hurled at the institution in memory. He urged her to reflect and withdraw.

Ramamphosa’s meeting with Sisulu came a week after Zondo’s intervention.

It is reliably understood that her tenure in the cabinet hangs in the balance. Sisulu is seen as one of Ramaphosa’s likely challengers when he seeks a second term as ANC leader at the party’s elective conference in December.

Her outburst against the judiciary and the Constitution, which she claims has proven nothing but empty promises for the poor, was seen as her declaration of intent to be a candidate of the “radical economic transformation” faction of the ruling party opposing Ramaphosa.

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