If Lindiwe Sisulu was demoted because she implemented ANC policy then ANC branches may want to take another view on her future role in the organisation. If the Mail and Guardian report is correct that she was moved from the international relations and cooperation ministry because she downgraded the South African representation in Tel Aviv then that makes her a martyr.
Forces in the ANC which opposed the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa have been left without a candidate to oppose him and even worse still they have been painted as the ‘state capture’ grouping. Their attempts at unity have been met with hostility from the other side still glorying in their shallow victory. While the CR17 forces may have claimed the presidency they were not able to claim conference resolutions. Think what you may of the NDZ lot, their fingers were on the international and national pulse: the people want radical economic transformation.
However, RET has been dismissed as the state capture fight back campaign by the other side. CR people have been successful in warding off any attempts to implement Nasrec resolutions, especially in the economic cluster, precisely because they have been able to convince large sections of the media, the Black middle class as well as a large contingent of civil society that to do so would be to roll back on the advances made against state capture. State capture has been used as the scarecrow against bringing about real change and even more so it has been used to delay the implementation of conference resolutions.
As a result, all on the side of RET have been vilified as being indulgers of state capture. Like the Bush Jnr administration used terrorism to introduce sweeping assaults on civil liberties, so too conservatives within the ANC have used state capture to remain steadfast in maintaining the status quo. You are either for state capture or against it. If you are against it, then you must be against RET, the thinking and narrative goes.
The reports on Lindiwe Sisulu’s campaign activities are therefore refreshing. Whether she is actively pursuing a campaign or not, the news does shed some hope especially to those who do not agree with this binary thinking on state capture. Sisulu after all comes from the CR side and was their supposed deputy-president candidate. She threw in her weight with CR forces but soon discovered that she would be betrayed just as the other side felt betrayed by DD Mabuza. It is therefore impossible for CR forces to paint Sisulu with the state capture brush.
At the same time, neither side of the faction divide is clear on the current incumbent of the deputy presidency. Sisulu is therefore strategic when she says that is exactly the position she is aiming for. She, like all of us, knows that the only thing between now and a DD Mabuza presidency in 2027 is the ANC’s national conference in 2022. With conference resolutions in her hand and with a RET side which has no candidate, she has the opportunity to test the waters.
Never mind struggle royalty, Lindiwe Sisulu has the government pedigree to make a fine president. She may well be able to strike a deal with CR forces: make me DP in 2022 and I’ll run for president in 2027 or I’ll challenge your man come 2022. Yet she will have to tread very carefully in a deeply divided ANC. Yet notice how the report says she will be apparently contesting the DP position but makes her out be to opposing the president.
Let us be clear. A national general council in the ANC has no power to replace anybody but may simply fill vacancies. However, what the occasion has taught us, those of us studying ANC history, is that the council is an opportune moment to test the waters for the national conference to happen just under three years later. The news of Lindwe Sisulu’s contesting the position of the deputy-presidency of the ANC therefore comes as the genesis of testing this idea in the run-up to the NGC. Need we remind ourselves of what Mbeki was confronted with at the 2005 NGC in Tshwane for his dismissal of Zuma as DP of the Republic.
Half-way through the term of office of a sitting NEC, by the time of the NGC, a coalition of the wounded would have started to emerge. Those left out, from both the CR17 and NDZ sides. In a deeply fractious ANC, the next NGC will not be easy for the person in the presidency.
One thing is for sure though that when NEC members report back on what ANC resolutions they have implemented at the NGC, Sisulu would be among the very few to point out exactly what resolution she implemented and how she has paid dearly for it. If anything, a Sisulu candidacy gives hope that the ANC does have leaders who can be trusted, are loyal and are willing to do what the branches command. After all, at least in theory, it is the branches who decide and they would have waited for their woman leader; for that is exactly the meaning of “lindiwe”.
Wesley Seale taught South African politics at UWC and Rhodes. He is currently a PhD student in Beijing.