Lindiwe Sisulu Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/ANA
Lindiwe Sisulu, one of eight in a mixed bag of contenders and pretenders for ANC high office in its 54th Elective Conference, recently unleashed an attack on the ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. It came littered with blame, accusations, questioning of credentials and exaggerated claims of personal superior liberation roles draped in glorified exile experience.

In the aftermath of the utterances accredited to her, a variety of politicians including Mantashe, Jackson Mthembu and the EFF’s Julius Malema, publicly rebuked Sisulu for her utterances. In a twist of events Sisulu disowned the Daily Dispatch article for the words attributed to her. Her subsequent Twitter interactions confirm these were her statements.

Let us hope our collective intelligence was not insulted when Sisulu realised the actual damage to her own campaign. With Sisulu in the number two spot for the presidency of the ANC, her behaviour is of grave concern. Her utterances reopened old wounds of claims of roles in the liberation Struggle.

Ultimately it can be read as a frivolous attempt at rewriting our liberation history, all to ensure her candidacy reaches the summit. With this outburst, Sisulu perhaps unwittingly confirmed growing claims of an arrogated liberation aristocracy entitlement levelled against her and others of similar mind. Sisulu is vocal - we heard her before complaining that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa have an unfair advantage to lead the ANC presidential contest as a proverbial two-horse race. While no other candidate raised the issue as unfair, Sisulu did so. Sisulu also launched a blistering attack on the ANCWL for having pronounced on its preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

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Let us hear Sisulu in her own words, to make sense of our claim that she suffers from gross self-induced political aristocratic entitlement. On Mantashe: “He must hand over an ANC that is intact. Under him as an SG (secretary-general) we gave birth to Cope and EFF and fractured Cosatu - something we never imagined. How can we forget that 2019 is around the corner? While we are sitting out on a yellow card from losing crucial municipalities, what is the obsession about positions”? With these words she lays the blame for the formation of Cope and the EFF as well as a weakened tripartite alliance on Mantashe. 

Needless to say, the statement is dovetailed with the usual opposition-led fear rhetoric of an expected 2019 elections result. Sisulu resorts to what she does best: blaming and attacking others when she exonerates herself. To blame Mantashe as an individual for the weakened state of the tripartite alliance is to misunderstand, misread and misidentify the challenges the tripartite alliance is beset with. 

This idea of blaming individuals in the ANC for what the party faces is becoming common among a certain group which comfortably assumes the role of players, referee and judge of others while they never shoulder any blame. 

This group includes those first in line to receive cabinet positions and last in line to own up to the wrongs of the administrations they serve. It is that same group that blames the woes of the ANC on its president. It is that same narrative that denies collective responsibility. The ANC, unfortunately, has given birth to a group of self-righteous beneficiaries of political and economic power who never own up to their individual roles while they point fingers at others.

Sisulu struggles to counter the claims that her attack is not equally anchored in the ever-pervasive same personal interest of which she accuses Mantashe. Is it possible that Sisulu finally is realising she is not in the race for number one as some of us long ago attempted to help her see? Is she wrestling with herself because neither ANC leagues nor tripartite alliance partners endorsed her candidacy for the number one spot? Is she attempting to fish in the SACP and Cosatu ponds that already have pronounced on their preferred candidate for the number one spot? 

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It also confirms a psyche that thrives on blaming others when she has served as NEC, cabinet minister and social transformation committee chairwoman for all this time. If the ANC has failed to renew itself, how is she exempted from that blame? 

She went further to question Mantashe for endorsing Ramaphosa for the number one spot: “Gwede has (disqualified) himself from running the conference because he lacks the objectivity and credibility to run a democratic conference”

This claim, too, may be a conflation of convenient mistruths. Sisulu’s assertion of Mantashe as lacking the objectivity and credibility to run a democratic conference, when the SG as part of a collective successfully delivered the 53rd Conference at Mangaung, where she among others was elected to the NEC, is woefully deceiving.

Denying Mantashe his personal right to have a preferred candidate is not democratic, since all in the top six and NEC have their own preferred candidates for ANC leadership. Granted, while Mantashe is entitled to his right to have a preferred candidate, as secretary-general he, however, must guard against being perceived as lobbying for a certain candidate or using his office to that end.

Perhaps the biggest error Sisulu made was to question the Struggle credentials of Mantashe and, by extension, all those who did not go into exile or jail, with the following words: “The question is where was he (Mantashe) when we were fighting for this freedom in exile and in jail, which he today is abusing for (his) personal interests.” With this Sisulu seeks to validate her own credentials as superior to that of Mantashe.

It must be told to Sisulu and those of like mind, questioning the credentials of others is not the task of a candidate. They should rather be telling ANC branches why they must be trusted to lead beyond December 2019. The invoking of a false superiority draped in proverbial kaftans of exile and jail experiences cannot be allowed to stand.

Mandela is on record for cautioning those who attempted to make his 27 years in jail the yardstick for true liberation Struggle contribution. On another score, the objective was never to be arrested or to go into exile, to make a contribution; hence we cannot celebrate being arrested or going to exile as an achievement. 

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To therefore question where Mantashe was when she was attending school in Swaziland and later York University “fighting” for this freedom is to misunderstand the liberation Struggle.

It is also important to draw a distinction between the claims of what exile means. The blanket notion of an exilic status is often misconstrued if not overstated. While some were facing the brunt of frontline states' engagements, others were afforded the luxury of European living advancing their personal academic pursuits.

Sisulu, in hot pursuit of distinguishing herself, ventures to define the liberation Struggle in identities of ‘exiles’ and ‘inziles’ in which the latter are mere beneficiaries of the hard work of the aforementioned. She must be reminded that among those who never went to exile are Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, and many ANC supporters, who continued to face apartheid’s tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and brutal assaults. With this tirade, Sisulu, in the hope of reaching the summit of Mount ANC, deemed it correct to spit on the efforts of those who remained behind and lived through the tyranny of apartheid.

Perhaps we must remind Sisulu again that the Struggle had four overarching pillars: 1. Internal mass mobilisation aimed at making apartheid unworkable and SA ungovernable. 2. The armed struggle. 3. The international Solidarity Movement to isolate apartheid through sanctions and divestment initiatives. 4. Armed propaganda to work on the psychology of the white identity of apartheid.

Are we observing the undeniable evidence of a psyche of someone grossly entitled to claim the ANC’s highest office when she has scant regard to respect her fellow contenders' choices? She remains ever ready to blame others while exonerating herself. She quickly calls things unfair that do not work for her favour. The ANC branches must engage, how a mind saturated in such entitlement arrogates a right to divide the Struggle in cheap exile and jail identities is fit to lead the organisation.

* Ramalaine is a political commentator

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent