Sisulu slipping off the ANC bandwagon?

Charles Molele

Lindiwe Sisulu’s re-appointment as International Relations Minister is not guaranteed, as 400-designated members of Parliament are set to be sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in Cape Town this week. Recently, sharp differences between Sisulu and senior ANC and government leaders on foreign policy have come to light.

On Sunday, the South African Communist Party (SACP) issued a statement denouncing the attack on Sisulu by the Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) over the decision to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel into a mere liaison office.

Her supporters within the ANC have come out in her defense after she attended a memorial lecture for her late father Walter Sisulu on Saturday, which was delivered by controversial ANC secretary general Ace Magashule. Her presence at the event was interpreted by some as an endorsement of the anti-Ramaphosa group within the ANC.

In a scathing article, which appeared in the influential community newspaper, The Jewish Report on Friday, the SAJBD vice president Zev Kregel labelled Sisulu “the single biggest threat to South African Jewry” in government. The story also appeared in the Daily Maverick, which reported that Sisulu’s decision could cost her a plum job as a Cabinet minister.

Already, Sisulu’s decision to downgrade the embassy in Israel and a litany of other internal issues at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) have apparently caused a discord between her and President Cyril Ramaphosa. Her supporters now fear she will be dropped as the minister of international relations.

The communist party entered the fray on Sunday, and denounced the attack on Sisulu as “rubbish and racist”, saying it supported her decision on Israel.

“This accusation is nothing but rubbish and racist, and is dismissed with the contempt it deserves,” said SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo.

“This is the time for action. The SACP reiterates its unwavering support for the decision taken by our government and being implemented by the Department under the leadership of Minister Sisulu, to downgrade the status of the South African embassy in Israel to that of a mere liaison office. The SACP is firmly behind the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, democratic national sovereignty, and has consistently supported the two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders with a viable Palestinian state.”

Fallout with Ramaphosa

Now, as Sisulu prepares to go to Cape Town to register as a Member of Parliament, her future as minister of international relations remains uncertain. It is understood Ramaphosa might redeploy her to a new ministry when he announces his new Cabinet next Monday.

Ramaphosa will be inaugurated on Saturday 25 May at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. The inauguration, to be attended mainly by Heads of State from the SADC region, is set to cost R120-million according to the Minister in the Presidency, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

The next Cabinet is expected to be announced soon after Ramaphosa’s inauguration on Saturday, and the new ministers will be sworn in on Tuesday 28 May.

Inside Politic last week reported that Sisulu has fallen out of favour with Ramaphosa partly because of foreign policy decisions.

READ: Analysis: Ramaphosa’s crossroads – It’s now or never

Government insiders told Inside Politic that Ramaphosa was likely to redeploy Sisulu from her current position, but keep her in his Cabinet.

Sisulu played an important role for Ramaphosa during the ANC elective conference. Her supporters, who initially wanted her as ANC deputy president, supported Ramaphosa as party leader at the elective conference.

Now, Ramaphosa is said to be unhappy with how she conducted herself at Dirco – including allegations that she appointed a review panel of the department without consulting Ramaphosa first.

The president is also said to be unhappy that she left a crucial meeting in South Sudan a few months ago, without notifying him prior to her departure back to South Africa.

Recently, she is said to have appointed a team of international relations experts – to assist her to broker a deal between Felix Tshisekedi and former president Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo without first consulting Ramaphosa.

The president was apparently angered by this and has rejected Sisulu’s team of experts and opted for his own.

Defending Sisulu

Sisulu’s supporters believe she was unfairly targeted by her political opponents despite her good performance in government.

They argued that as minister, Sisulu needed not to consult president Ramaphosa on every foreign policy issue.

“Why would the president be consulted all the time. If that’s the case, he might as well become the International Relations Minister. Remember that at the center of foreign policy is human rights. If ministers have to consult the president on everything, then we will have a serious problem,” said senior government leader sympathetic to Sisulu.  

He challenged Sisulu’s detractors to focus on her track record as minister rather than petty political squabbles.

“There are people who are planning to destroy her so that the president [can] get rid of her. What’s surprising is that when the president was campaigning, he never even said anything about the foreign policy. He did not even boast about us getting a seat within the United Nations. We are bringing the African Union Summit to South Africa. We had BRICS here not so long ago. All these in a space of a year. No one has done that before. We put South Africa back on the global map. Our focus was to reposition the country and we did that within a very short space of time. If people don’t see her performance, then hard luck,” said the senior government leader.

Her supporters also believe she is being targeted because of her fight against corruption within her department.

“Remember she is discovering corruption within Dirco as well. Criminals are going to be in trouble,” said the senior government leader.

In her Twitter account on Saturday, Sisulu said her decision to downgrade the SA embassy in Israel was in line with the ANC resolution taken during the 2017 Nasrec.

Sisulu dismissed reports that Magashule’s faction was betting on Sisulu’ her ambition to become president to unseat Ramaphosa.

She also said reports that she intended to unseat Ramaphosa were “fictitious”, offensive and “highly unprofessional”.

“The Minister of International relations and Cooperation, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu has read comments and articles from Mr Adrian Basson, Editor of News24, based on his fictitious theory that the Minister is part of a group planning to topple the current President of the ANC. The Minister finds Basson’s fictitious theory offensive and highly unprofessional. His theory is gathered from fake news and rumours meant to spread fear and discord in the ANC,” her statement read.

“The Minister finds the comments very malicious and lacking journalistic integrity as Mr Basson did not seek any comment from the Minister or offer her a right of reply. The Minister is consulting her legal team.”

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