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‘Zondo fell into a political trap’

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu speaking at the SACP’s Red October campaign last year. She questions the power relations between the powerful and the powerless in post-apartheid South Africa, including the psychology of the elite in strategic positions (state machinery), says the writer. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu speaking at the SACP’s Red October campaign last year. She questions the power relations between the powerful and the powerless in post-apartheid South Africa, including the psychology of the elite in strategic positions (state machinery), says the writer. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Jan 22, 2022

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By Ntsikelelo Breakfast

South Africans need to appreciate the complexities and nuances of the article penned by Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and not be simplistic.

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An omission of complexity in this regard is not a mere blind spot. The minister in question wrote an article titled “Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?”.

On the whole, the piece is about the subversion of the dominant paradigm (Western political thought), namely liberalism, class exploitation, accumulation of wealth by the elite and political conformity, assimilation and co-option.

These are some of the political, economic and cultural realities in South Africa. For instance, South Africa has a liberal Western democracy, which is the brainchild of the US, initiated after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Francis Fukuyama, in his seminal 1992 work, The End of History and the Last Man, refers to this historical milestone as market triumphalism. The arguments by the minister are raised within this context of neo-liberalism.

She questions the power relations between the powerful and the powerless in post-apartheid South Africa, including the psychology of the elite in strategic positions (state machinery). Her main line of argument is that this is a relationship of unevenness and has a binary between the haves and the have-nots.

Among other things, she attributes the state of affairs in South Africa to the impact of colonialism and apartheid. More specifically, she asserts that “what we have instead witnessed under (the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996) … has been the co-option and invitation of political power brokers to the dinner table, whose job is to keep the masses quiet in their sufferance while they dine on caviar with colonised capital (CC)”.

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One should not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Firstly, I am inclined to support the thesis that the so-called new South Africa has produced a tiny minority of black elite (in the main aligned to the ruling party) as the main beneficiaries of the fruits of democracy, while the majority are on the margins of the economy.

This needs to be part of the ongoing debate in South Africa to avoid social conflict and tensions. Secondly, the ruling party has not tampered with the workings of the capitalist mode of production by creating a new social order that will benefit the majority of South Africans.

On the contrary, by and large, the black elite, via social networks and political connections, have benefited from broad-based black economic empowerment’s (BBBEE) lucrative deals at the expense of the poorest of the poor.

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Moreover, the BBBEE policy was also an initiative for political co-option and conformity in post-apartheid South Africa. Antonio Gramsci explains in his classical work Prison Notebooks how the ruling class, through their project of hegemony, engage in co-option and assimilation of the oppressed (by using the civil society) for purposes of political conformity with an aim of accumulation.

This is exactly the story of South Africa. However, when one examines at close range the arguments by Sisulu, one doesn’t see the difference between what she argues for and what the forces of radical economic transformation (RET), a faction of the ANC associated with former president Jacob Zuma, stand for.

Against this background, one cannot rule out the possibility that the minister might be showcasing her availability for the presidency of the ANC in the upcoming conference in December.

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Meaning that in the bigger scheme of things, Sisulu was on a campaign trail to pose a serious threat to President Cyril Ramaphosa. The arguments by the minister are also embedded in opportunism, given the fact that she is one of the longest-serving ministers of the ANC-led government and is a senior member of the ruling party who has been in the national executive committee for ages.

Therefore, it is contradictory to blame South Africa’s constitutionalism and liberal democracy for producing inequality, poverty and unemployment while it is the ANC that negotiated the current political set-up.

The fact that proponents of the RET have generally been in support of her article signifies that she is a Trojan horse for them (Zuma supporters). The arguments by the minister in the article were raised in a political context.

Therefore, Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo fell into a political trap by trying to clear the air about what the minister had said. The tension between the minister and Justice Zondo was also escalated by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) when they came into the picture by supporting Sisulu.

If Justice Zondo had not held a press conference to clarify the position of the judiciary, that would not have made a difference, largely because there have been many criticisms against the judiciary and certainly the one by Sisulu was not the last one.

* Ntsikelelo Breakfast is a senior lecturer in the Department of History and Political Science in the Faculty of Humanities at Nelson Mandela University.

** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.

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