Sisulu launches ANC president bid, but ‘radical economic transformation’ faction not convinced yet

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has launched her campaign for the ANC presidency with an onslaught on the judiciary and the Constitution aimed at positioning herself as the “radical economic transformation” (RET) faction’s number one candidate for the post.

But little support in the party’s structures and the presence of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the RET presidential candidate in December 2017, mean that Sisulu will have her work cut out for her if she is to secure the faction’s nomination for president ahead of the December elective conference.

The growing lobby behind disgraced former health minister Zweli Mkhize as a potential president in KwaZulu-Natal — the RET faction’s strongest base that wants one of its own in the ANC top six — will also create further difficulties for Sisulu and may force her to again collapse her campaign and accept a lesser position on the RET slate.

In 2017, Mkhize and Sisulu made bids for the ANC presidency, but both pulled out ahead of the vote at Nasrec. Although Mkhize was left out in the cold by both factions, Sisulu stood against David Mabuza as deputy president on the RET slate and lost.

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s backers in the party have indicated that he has their support for a second term, but the RET faction has not yet named its candidate, despite Sisulu very clearly putting her hand up. 

One ANC provincial leader and an ally of former president Jacob Zuma said that although Sisulu would be an ideal candidate for the RET faction, they were still weighing their options for the best possible candidates. 

Some of those who supported Dlamini-Zuma still believe that she would be the best possible candidate to take on Ramaphosa and Sisulu is said to be an ideal number two to contest the deputy presidency again. 

The provincial leader — who has a strong pull in the Eastern Cape — added that although Sisulu was the “complete package”, having been in the armed struggle and later in the cabinet and the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), her lobbyists would still need to convince ANC provincial leaders to back her. 

Hopeful: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma looks on during the 54th national conference of the African National Congress party (ANC) in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It is understood that Sisulu has been in talks with Mkhize, the ANC’s former treasurer general, who is attempting to consolidate the KwaZulu-Natal province behind him. 

“If we build her on the ground and have a strong campaign around her and others, I think she will make it in the top six. I also think a combination of Dlamini-Zuma, Sisulu and Mkhize would be a winning ticket,” the provincial leader said. 

A member of the NEC said Sisulu was gaining traction, but her recent article that criticised the judiciary and the Constitution would not be the selling point. 

The NEC member added that those in the RET faction who still believed Dlamini-Zuma was the best alternative needed to reassess this. 

“We will be shooting ourselves in the foot. She [Dlamini-Zuma] has the characteristics we need but she is tired. Provinces like Limpopo will be difficult to convince. It’s no longer 2017. I’m not saying it’s impossible,” the NEC member said. 

The source said it was a myth that ANC leaders needed to have a constituency to become a strong contender, arguing that Dlamini-Zuma “piggybacked” off of Zuma’s popularity when she contested the 2017 election. 

This, the NEC leader said, could also be done by Sisulu — if she could convince suspended secretary general Ace Magashule and Mkhize to support her. 

“KZN is funny because it’s very tribal. The fact that one of theirs has been thrown out of cabinet, they can close ranks. If he [Mkhize] and Zuma were to talk, it would be easier. Sisulu must also convince SG [suspended secretary general Magashule] not to stand for president. Remember that standing aside does not prevent him from standing and some of us want to see him in that formation in some way or another. Whoever deputises who, these are the faces brave enough to challenge the establishment,” the NEC member said. 

Another NEC leader and provincial heavyweight said people in the RET faction had adopted the view that its members were persecuted for having a dissenting voice. 

The NEC leader said they believed Sisulu should not be called to account for her article criticising the judiciary and the Constitution and that the party’s members had been sold a “myth” that Ramaphosa was more appealing to big business. 

“We must understand that this Constitution was a transitional and a caretaker constitution; 25 years later we can review it. When we challenge it, it does not mean we don’t respect it,” the NEC member said.

“If we look at the last five years under President Ramaphosa, business promised that if he can come in, they will put trillions into the economy, three million jobs, bullet trains, smart cities, improved infrastructure — that has not happened. Instead we have been lagging in implementing transformative policies.

“The idea that someone rich like our current president can relate to the poor is preposterous. How does someone with R20-billion and can buy one [buffalo] cow for millions relate to someone who does not have shoes from the villages. Lindiwe is anti-establishment and I like that. I think anybody outside of the status quo can be an alternative … Anybody who can drive the status quo can be an alternative and I have no issues with her,” the NEC member said.

A senior source in the RET lobby in KwaZulu-Natal said that although Sisulu was “positioning herself” to become their candidate by writing the open letter, they did not have a clear cut choice of candidate as yet. 

Sisulu had previously been told by the province that she would have to “work harder” to prove that she should be the candidate of choice for their branches when they nominated.

“We still don’t have a candidate for December,” the source said. “Yes, Lindiwe is pushing hard but she is not the only one. There is still support for Mama [Dlamini-Zuma]. She has the seniority. There is also Zweli [Mkhize]. Sisulu is hopeful but with no support from structures. She will have to align with someone.”

KwaZulu-Natal would also be guided by its desire to have a representative in the top six of the ANC, whether in the presidency or elsewhere in the party’s national officials.

“Whatever way it goes the province wants a person back in the top six. That is what is of most importance,” the source said.

Despite the apparent lack of a constituency at branch level, Sisulu’s campaign already has a functioning social media component, which is punting her as president on a #LS22 ticket.

Fate: Former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Much of the social media traffic has been focused on defending Sisulu’s stance on the Constitution and the judiciary, punting her as the next ANC president and documenting her attendance of ANC programmes, along with RET figures including Magashule.

Sisulu’s government media team has been at pains for the past two years to challenge claims in the media that she had been appointing political allies — including ANC Women’s League leader Bathabile Dlamini — to water and sanitation and housing entities to build a base for her 2022 campaign.

They have also been forced to put out fires over allegations that some of the appointees, including the National Rapid Response Task Team, had been employed at departmental cost to further her political ambitions.A number of the boards Sisulu appointed — including Umgeni Water — have been dissolved and replaced by the ministers who took over after she was moved from the human settlements, water and sanitation ministry to the tourism department last year.

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.
Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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