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ANC to take Minister Sisulu to task for criticising judiciary and constitution

  • Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has continued her attacks on the Constitution in her latest response to fellow Cabinet colleague Ronald Lamola‘s open letter. 
  • She has, however, indicated she is willing to meet with acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo to iron out any misunderstandings. 
  • Sisulu‘s remarks are set to dominate the ANC national working committee and national executive committee meetings on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. 

The ANC is expected to discuss Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s opinion pieces, which criticised the Constitution and judiciary, at two party meetings this week.

This, as a defiant Sisulu, who lambasted the criticism the pieces attracted, refuses to back down. 

On Sunday, she penned yet another opinion piece, this time in response to fellow Cabinet member, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola’s, open letter. In it, he described her column as an attack on the Constitution and judiciary.

Sisulu’s latest piece insisted the Constitution “isn’t Holy Scripture”, while warning “self-appointed custodians” not to defend the Bill of Rights’ shortcomings. 

This as the ANC is expected to hold a national working committee (NWC) meeting on Monday and national executive committee (NEC) meetings on Thursday and Friday, amid growing calls for the party to include the attacks on the agenda.

On Sunday, Sisulu’s spokesperson, Steve Motale, told News24 she was no longer looking to seek legal advice on acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s dismissal of her initial column.

Motale said: “For the record, she stands by all three opinion pieces she has penned, including her response to a Cabinet colleague [Lamola].”

He added there was no need for Sisulu to table any grievance within ANC structures, including the NWC and NEC. 

“The national chairperson, Gwede Mantashe, is on record saying the minister has not brought the ANC into disrepute.”

Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in a media briefing on Wednesday said Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s op-ed article both “attacks” and “insults” the judiciary.

Motale, however, revealed Sisulu would be willing to meet with Zondo to iron out any misunderstandings. 

“The minister is always open to engagement, especially on pertinent socioeconomic issues impacting on millions of South Africans still trapped in abject poverty.”

According to him, Sisulu was satisfied she had “immensely contributed to the public discourse and she’s humbled by the huge responses her opinion pieces have generated, and she is also humbled by the support she has received from South Africans from all walks of life”.

Her latest piece, published on Independent Online on Sunday, made it clear self-appointed custodians of the “fragile Constitution” did not faze her; and she was not perturbed by the threats of being fired from Cabinet.

Sisulu wrote: “But if I am asked to betray my convictions to sit at the Cabinet’s table, I may not be the right person to serve.

“Can we let the people engage freely, less in fear of the Constitution’s fragility and less intimidated by its tender-timidity as advanced by the self-appointed custodians? The actions in denying freedom of speech of the latter violate the very document they claim.

“I ask you, why are some so irritated with my opinion piece? Until all daggers, some agonisingly blunt, are drawn, and some have already assumed my head must go to the guillotine in the narrowness of mind. These convictions I hold dear did not arise momentarily but are borne from more than 50 years of conscious choices to do what is right regardless of what cost.” 

She added the Constitution “isn’t Holy Scripture”, and was open to criticism. 

“It does set high standards for our democratic life together. But it is not Holy Scripture. Rather than seeing it as an untouchable, irreproachable holy relic, I see it as a living document, evolving with our own development. As such, it is open to discussion, debate, and critique.” 

Sisulu said the Constitution did not embrace the experience of South Africans as a whole, “especially the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalised, and the excluded, it has failed in its primary function, regardless of how it may offend us to accept such.” 

Meanwhile, ANC spokesperson and NEC member Dakota Legoete confirmed the NWC meeting would take place on Monday, while the NEC meetings would be held on Thursday and Friday. 

Legoete would not comment on the meetings’ agendas, as they had not yet been shared with members. 

Three NEC members, who spoke to News24 on Sunday, including ANC Veterans League president, Snuki Zikalala, confirmed the party’s NWC and NEC would meet this week. 

The other members indicated that, initially, discussions around finalising President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address would be on the agenda. However, there was now an expectation that Sisulu’s remarks would also be up for discussion. 

“Given the developments of the past two weeks, which include the minister’s remarks, the public outcry, the responses from the acting chief justice [Raymond Zondo] and the justice minister [Ronald Lamola], there is no way that the matter of Sisulu’s utterances will not be on the agenda.

“Individual members and some party structures and alliance partners have already made it clear that they would want the matter to receive the serious consideration it deserves,” an NEC member told News24. 

Zikalala said he was not sure whether Sisulu’s remarks would be on the NEC’s programme, but believed the matter could be raised.

“The ANC veterans would take the opportunity to express their extreme displeasure over the unfortunate utterances. 

“We will be emphatic in expressing our disappointment that these remarks were even made by someone who has served in the Cabinet since 1994.

“The utterances were unfortunate and ought not to have ever been made, especially by someone who is chairperson of the ANC’s social transformation sub-committee. She should have raised such a matter at the NEC meeting.” 

He added it was the ANC’s secretary-general who drew up the agenda for NEC meetings, and that that role was currently with treasurer-general Paul Mashatile and other senior ANC officials who worked at Luthuli House. 

News24 understands while there are many who disapprove of how Sisulu chose to share her views on the Constitution and judiciary, she still had strong support from the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) and senior members, such as Tony Yengeni. 

A senior ANCWL member told News24 it was disappointed by the outrage regarding Sisulu’s comments, saying:She, like every South African, has a right to express her views, more so given her role as the chairperson of the party’s social transformation sub-committee. Social transformation has in this country been treated as if it’s secondary to other forms of transformation when in fact, it is a first-generation right.

The member continued: “The minister is right, [social transformation] is actually the underbelly of our Freedom Charter and should be prioritised as such. Those contributing to this conversation should not be silenced but afforded an ear regarding the matters they raise,” she said. 

Yengeni publicly defended Sisulu, saying it was actually Zondo who had overstepped, and not the other way round. 

On Wednesday, Zondo came out guns blazing regarding the opinion piece by Sisulu titled Hey Mzansi, have we seen justice? in which she called for the complete overhaul of the judiciary, criticising black judges and the Constitution.

Defending his colleague, Yengeni, during an exclusive interview with the SABC, said Sisulu had the right, like any South African, to express her view and was protected by the Constitution of the country.

“I think that Lindiwe Sisulu, as a citizen of this country, has the right to express her views on any subject that is on the table. Lindiwe Sisulu is a citizen of this country before she is a Member of Parliament, before she’s a minister, and therefore she enjoys all the rights enshrined in that Constitution. 

“Freedom of speech is a right that she enjoys just like you and me. It’s even enshrined and protected by the Bill of Rights so no one, no one, including Zondo, can stop her from speaking her mind.

“It’s a constitutional right that she fought for herself, and all of us fought for those rights, so this notion that she insulted the judges is neither here nor there because she raises, very sharply, an issue that has been raised before.”

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe did not comment on whether the NWC or NEC would be sitting this week or if Sisulu’s attacks on the judiciary and Constitution would be on the agenda.

News24

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