Johannesburg- With her attack on the judiciary and the country’s constitution, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu “is daring the president to fire her”, according to ANC insiders close to both ANC factions.
However, sources close to President Cyril Ramaphosa said he is not going to dismiss her for fear of tearing the party asunder and will instead wait for her to simmer “until she can no longer handle it”.
It is also understood that Sisulu, the daughter of struggle icons Walter and Albertina Sisulu, is preparing to meet with suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma as part of efforts to become the face of the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction’s campaign to topple Ramaphosa as president at the party’s elective conference in December.
This is part of a ferocious battle for the soul of the ANC that is raging behind the scenes as the party’s veterans warn that early campaigning for the organization’s top positions will lead to chaos and derail the government’s service delivery programmes.
Sunday World has established that Sisulu has been in talks with leaders in the so-called RET faction of the party as part of yet another campaign to become ANC president.
Sisulu has come under fire since she wrote an opinion article in which she attacked the judiciary and the constitution, calling judges “house negros”.
It has since emerged that the daring move was a launch of her presidential campaign to take on Ramaphosa.
Lobbyists for the former minister of defense and military veterans have been crisscrossing the country negotiating with the RET forces to support her bid to lead the ANC.
Those behind her campaign say she does not intend to apologize for her article and is planning to challenge Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who slammed the piece as insulting to the judiciary and stopped short of calling on Ramaphosa to rein her in.
“We have fired the first salvo [with the opinion article]. We are waiting for the president to fire her. We told Lindiwe to get her hands dirty. The RET has a leadership vacuum and Lindiwe is filling it now,” a source close to her said.
“She is daring the president,” he added.
Zondo has also piled the pressure on Ramaphosa to act against Sisulu.
“That such a senior member who serves in two of the arms of the state – parliament and the executive – to see fit to insult the justices of the Constitutional Court, the judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal and judges of the high courts, particularly black judges, because she focuses on them, is most regrettable,” said Zondo at a press conference during the week.
Sisulu was hoping to ride on the support of Zuma and those who backed the failed presidential campaign of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the ANC’s elective conference in 2017.
Her campaigners want Magashule to be chairperson on her slate and KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala the party’s secretary-general, among others.
In 2017, Sisulu withdrew her candidacy for election of ANC president a day before the conference after she could not muster enough support from branches, choosing to contest to be deputy, a position that was dramatically won by David Mabuza.
While Ramaphosa’s supporters were hard at work campaigning for his second term, the RET faction has not had a clear candidate to challenge the president. Several backers of Magashule are pushing for him to run for president.
Party insiders in KZN, the party’s biggest province, say although Sisulu’s chief lobbyists are canvassing different regions for support, several structures are supporting former health minister Zweli Mkhize.
“RET comrades are toying with the idea because they admire her [Sisulu] bravery on deciding to take CR [Ramaphosa] head-on. But there’s also another view among comrades that Lindiwe is not strong enough, and that comrade Zweli stands a good chance of emerging,” a party leader said. “There is consensus that we should avoid the Nasrec situation whereas KZN we couldn’t get a seat in the top six,” the insider added.
Another senior leader said Sisulu lobbyists were focusing on KZN’s biggest regions such as eThekwini, Harry Gwala, and Moses Mabhida.
“Things might be clearer once all regions have convened their elective conferences. If eThekwini supports comrade Lindiwe, other regions are likely to follow suit. But as things stand, Zweli is leading and most regions are supporting him.”
A source close to Magashule heaped praise on Sisulu, saying she was brave to take on the judiciary.
He said although the Magashule camp has not yet agreed on a “programme” with Sisulu, the minister’s move and attacks on her had garnered her sympathy among the RET forces.
On Saturday, Magashule used the funeral of long-time ANC senior staffer Pule Mlambo to rachet up the campaign against Ramaphosa, saying the ANC had lost power during the recent local elections that saw the party losing Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane. ANC officials have maintained that the party remains in the majority in most councils in the country.
“We are in trouble comrades; we are no longer a mass-based organization. I was looking at a report of the ANC in terms of branches, there is no organization,” said Magashule.
“Don’t be fooled by these people who say the ANC has not lost elections. If you’re not in charge of the government, it means you have lost power.”
Last week, Magashule, Sisulu, and ANC Women’s League president and known RET forces backer Bathabile Dlamini were seated together at the
funeral of Emalahleni mayor Linah Malatjie and her husband Esau. Also present was Magashule’s supporters include Mpumalanga acting provincial secretary Lindiwe Ntshalintshali.
Ramaphosa’s backers say the president has been careful not to throw Sisulu out of the cabinet, thereby turning her into a victim the same way former president Thabo Mbeki did when he fired Zuma from his government in 2005.
Zuma would go on to defeat Mbeki at the party’s 2007 elective conference in Polokwane.
“It is already free for all. Lindiwe writes an opinion piece and publishes it around about the same time as the January 8 statement. What they have learned from the CR17 campaign is that you must have infrastructure [to campaign] after January 8,” said a source close to Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa’s removal of Sisulu as minister of human settlements, water, and sanitation is believed by some to have been a move to neutralize Sisulu and starve her campaign of resources.
Ramaphosa’s ally, Water and Sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu has since moved to disband the water boards that were led by Sisulu’s allies, including Umgeni in KZN.
The succession battle officially started last week when ANC Limpopo chairman Stan Mathabatha used the occasion of the party’s 110th birthday to endorse Ramaphosa’s second term. ANC Veterans League president Snuki Zikalala warned against early campaigning for ANC leadership, saying “the focus should be on rebuilding the ANC”.