The big story: Sit down, Lindiwe Sisulu

Most of us were still jotting down our new year’s resolutions when Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu decided to dust off an old chestnut – that the Constitution is to blame for the government’s failings – in a fiery initial op-ed and subsequent responses. These had less to do with the “sea of African poverty” she bemoans and more to do with Sisulu clearly launching her campaign to challenge Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president by aligning herself with the “radical economic transformation” faction under former president Jacob Zuma. 🥲

In the original article, published on Iqbal Survé’s largely discredited Independent Online, Sisulu accused black judges of being determined to deny poor South Africans economic justice, adding that many were worse than apartheid-era judges. The same judiciary, mind you, have often gone to bat to hold the government to account for its treatment of the poor.

Thankfully some of SA’s strongest minds – including acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang and Sisulu’s sister-in-law and activist, Elinor Sisulu – issued robust rebuttals. Msimang noted quite rightly that the executive arm of government – Sisulu’s cabinet – rather than the judiciary is responsible for poverty alleviation. The consensus was that Sisulu shouldn’t moan about economic justice considering she has been a high-ranking politician in government for nearly 30 years.

Ramaphosa responded in his usual annoyingly subtle manner, using his weekly newsletter to defend the Constitution and judiciary. 

One of Sisulu’s complaints is that the judiciary, using the Constitution and its much-debated property clause, has stalled land reform. But, as we’ve previously noted, land experts say that’s simply not the case. And no less than Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola agrees; as he put it in a Business Day op-ed following Sisulu’s comments (and quoting a report by former President Kgalema Motlanthe): “The failure was due to poor implementation of policy [and] budget allocation for land reform being woefully inadequate to bring about structural change.” 

If we want to talk about economic empowerment for poor Africans, let’s talk about the infamous  R342 million Vrede Dairy farm project, meant to empower black farmers. Instead, as the Public Protector found, the Guptas and their political partners benefitted unduly. Sisulu laments the legacy of colonialism and apartheid but says nothing of the daylight robbery of the state capture project. 

Thankfully there was positive news about Estina this week: it took the government nearly ten years, but this week it handed the project over to more than 65 community members who were the intended beneficiaries. This is how change happens – through hard work and good governance. Sisulu should take note. 🙄

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 20 January 2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.