By: Gillian Schutte
Looking back over the media furor caused by the article, Hello Mzansi have we seen justice? - published 06 Jan 2022 in the Independent Press, I was struck by the barrage of outrage and contempt aimed at its author, long time ANC and NEC member, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
In it she writes, “Apartheid was “legal”. Jim Crow laws in the United States were “legal”. Colonialism was “legal”. Even the Nazis were “legal”. So, what does it mean to have the rule of law? And whose law is it anyway? “In our beloved South Africa, a new constitution in 1994 and the rule of law took on a new lofty meaning after the deck had been heavily stacked against the victims of the “rule of law.”
It was a new dispensation of justice after centuries of a vicious oppression of the indigenous of the land by invaders. But what has this beautiful constitution done for the victims except as a palliative (Panadol)?
The article clearly opened up a portal for a much needed robust public debate on a number of issues pertaining to the plight of the poor majority in South Africa.
It spotlighted the colonised judiciary and its anti-poor constitution as a major part of the problem and while many commentators engaged with the topic at hand it was quickly intercepted by a viral outbreak of articles that vitriolically attacked Sisulu’s person, rather than engage with the concerns she outlined.
Headlines soon cast her as a caricature - a woman scorned – a selfish woman, a woman trading on her family name, an undisciplined and reckless woman et al.
Rebeca Davis’s article in the Daily Maverick, "Lindiwe Sisulu’s F-you to Ramaphosa should come as no surprise and here is why" – is a case in point. Her piece is beset with contradictions.
On the one hand she lists Sisulu’s reflexive apologies made on the trajectory of her timeline in the ANC – while on the other she asserts, “Sisulu is, after all, ANC royalty — and being a royal means almost never having to say you’re sorry.”
More curious in Davis’s article is the inference that Sisulu should apologise to Ramaphosa, who, it seems, is presented as a paragon of virtue. Has she ever demanded that he apologise for his lack of remorse and central role in the 2012 Marikana Massacre, or the SANDF, SAPS massacre of 18 innocent citizens in the wake of Covid-19 lockdown? And what of the Phoenix massacre, or the fact that he continues to use the ‘land expropriation without compensation’ lie as a cheap electoral trick.
It comes as no surprise that the Daily Maverick has taken the lead in the barrage of Sisulu-bashing articles that wilfully flatten her out into a cardboard cut-out figure, devoid of intelligence, self-reflection and humanity.
Most of these articles offer little analysis of her wholistic career and what she has got right, nor her attempts at righting the wrongs she has been accused of.
Their aim is clear and that is to present Sisulu as wholly inhumane and irrational according to their barometer of rational liberal values.
The fact is she is not the cold calculating diva they seek to paint her as. As a former MK soldier in the struggle against apartheid, Sisulu has periodically shown resonance with peoples struggles, even while being stymied by the ANC anti-poor, neoliberal trajectory. She has been one of the few Ministers who has bothered to go (high heeled) boots-on-the-ground to interact with people in struggles.
One such example is her meeting with Rhodes Must Fall students in 2015 where she engaged with Fallists and answered hard questions over a gruelling afternoon. Not only was she expected to respond to issues that were not her portfolio, but she also had to answer for ANC’s shoddy neo-colonial track record.
She did this with humility and care and showed a genuine concern for the issues of the furious youth.
More recently she was the only Minister, outside of the security cluster, who bothered to visit the Phoenix victims in July 2021during the widespread unrest and the heinous massacre of African Phoenix residents by Indian vigilantes from the same community.
Moreover she recognised that the unrest was fuelled by “hunger, poverty, and ongoing impoverishment, by disappointment, by disillusionment, by unemployment, and judicial overreach”.
Legal and political commentators have scolded and disparaged Sisulu for signalling the free market premise of the constitution as having a decisive role in the dispossession of the majority African population.
According to them the judiciary and its constitution are blameless in ANC’s lack of roll out. Perhaps they will respond better to Left economist Patrick Bond when he points out the same matter in his paper Constitutionalism as a barrier to the resolution of widespread community rebellions in South Africa … -
“Ultimately, the Constitution facilitates inequality because it serves as a myth- making, deradicalising meme, with its grounding in property rights typically trumping activist claims to human (socio-economic) rights”.
The fact remains that those who make up the dispossessed majority are native Africans. They remain at the bottom of a historically classed and raced hierarchy from which white monopoly capital and its ANC shareholders would topple if the judiciary and its constitution were to be decolonised and radicalised.
This is the horror of all Settler societies. The hegemony goes all out to block any move towards the possibility of egalitarianism or decolonisation across all sectors and it is the white owned media that works to retain the hegemony.
Radical Black voices are quickly assassinated via mainstream and social media, fuelled and funded by those who have no intention of facilitating the loss of their privilege, even while paying lips service to equality.
What is clear is that Sisulu’s article has shaken the white hegemony and its colonised lackeys to its very roots and when this happens there is always a mass mobilisation of outrage and vitriol.
The messenger is attacked for anything other than the message. The aim is to detract from a much-needed debate and obfuscate the intention to enact radical change. The first point of call is to create a new truth by manufacturing distrust and contempt for the messenger.
Sisulu’s public scorning has come fast and furiously and with such preciseness that it is easy to imagine that this is a well-orchestrated smear campaign pushed along the lines of the political divide within the ANC and its white monopoly capital partners.
*Gillian Schutte is a feminist, activist, social commentator, filmmaker and writer. Her work is widely published in local and international journals and newspapers. She is a published poet, author and columnist.
** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.