One needs to register shock over the Eastern Cape ANC provincial general council (PGC) outcome when a reasonable expectation was for a female deputy president to emerge as part of the CR17 campaign for the ANC presidency – and that the veteran Mama uLindiwe Sisulu would be a clear favourite for that position given that the Eastern Cape is her home.
Yet to the great surprise of many – including his majesty King Zwelibanzi, two males – Zweli Mkhize and David Mabuza – took the lead for the deputy president position, with Mkhize scoring 193 nominations and Mabuza 190.
Surely the people of the Eastern Cape would want to see an experienced female politician in the presidency, especially since the province possesses one of such great stature? Certainly on her home turf in KwaZulu-Natal, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had the clear advantage with 454 nominations against 191 for Cyril Ramaphosa for the position of ANC president.
One understands political positions are highly contested with various criteria, including popularity, but with all due respect, Mama uSisulu is the most senior of these candidates, her record speaks for itself and she is very well-known in the Eastern Cape – not only because her roots are here, but for the role she has played in the struggle to emancipate black people, women in particular.
And, as minister of human settlements for two terms, she has made a visible mark in delivering houses across the province. She is indeed known to young and old for her remarkable achievements in service delivery – as a former defence minister, intelligence minister, deputy home affairs and public service and administration minister.
All of this strategic government experience apparently counted for nothing in her home province – even the newly elected leadership seems to have overlooked her excellent service to the poorest of the poor. Indeed, the EC PGC results indicated no support for her in the top six positions; apparently they preferred to drop their own child.
The cause could be a cocktail of motives, which may include an insatiable desire to inflict maximum pain and humiliation on her by those who perceive her to be too independent and too factual for their liking.
She is a true revolutionary shepherd. Everybody knows she is not greedy and has an eternally inquiring mind regarding significant matters, is not pedestrian and not a receptacle for gossip. Therefore, for some, she may be “difficult” to work with.
We are not saying she is perfect, but she is a highly principled woman. We are told her campaign suffered much because of her high ethical standards and refusal to accept money. Is this why she is suddenly viewed as “arrogant” in some quarters?
This is revolutionary indeed. She believes in the strength and force of persuasion and having a solid argument on the table, not bags of money or dealing in character assassination. She believes in straight talk that breaks no true friendship. Unfortunately, the same strengths may be viewed negatively by those who see money, not the soul, as the final decision-maker in any conference.
We are also informed that the Mother of the Nation, uMakhulu Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, is extremely disappointed and discouraged by the manner in which women cadres in the Eastern Cape lacked solidarity and decided to nominate a male deputy, leaving behind a credible and an experienced woman.
Mama uSisulu was inspired to stand for the ANC presidency by a number of poor women in this province and others who pleaded with her, who saw in her a gift of hope. She listened to them. We wonder what influenced the EC into the sudden change of mind and preference of a male for the deputy position – one who has never delivered any services in this province.
Ours, especially those who are partly complicit in this political incident by trusting our leadership, is to offer a humble apology for letting Mama uSisulu down in this manner. We know that Mama uMadikizela- Mandela instructed Mama Sisulu to participate in the presidential race and gave her all her blessings.
What went wrong was beyond her control. Hopefully, the truth about what really occurred in the EC will come out one day.
Others have said she made a blunder by confronting secretary-general Gwede Mantashe for publicly picking his own preferred candidate for the presidency. As the custodian of the conference, he is expected to ensure that branches are not unduly influenced in making their choices. She pointed out a conflict of interest.
One might conclude that there was a general feeling that she must be taught a lesson. She was painted as arrogant, entitled, political “royalty”, while she was, in fact, only standing up for principles.
Perhaps others still believe that, as a woman, she should be more submissive and remain silent, even if she felt something needed to be corrected.
What we all forget is that apart from experiencing political torture back in the days of apartheid, she is one of the most reshuffled cabinet ministers, yet she has never complained, not for a single day, about the things said about her.
This confirms there is no tag of royalty or entitlement. She earned her struggle credentials through a life of sacrifice. She was not carried on the shoulders of her father and placed in a high-ranking position in the ANC, as some may find it convenient to say.
Surprisingly though, other provinces, such as the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo, never saw a need to punish her for stating her democratic public views on the SG, taking a position, and for her boldness in standing for the presidency when asked to by various branches across the county.
These provinces must be thanked for their political maturity, solidarity, foresight and ability to separate issues. They see the need for her wealth of governance experience and tried and tested political leadership over decades. They collectively agreed that the position of the deputy president was attainable and that there is a necessity to dispel entrenched patriarchal tendencies.
Even in other provinces where comrade Ramaphosa was second to Mama Dlamini-Zuma, Mama Sisulu also came second for the deputy president position. In Mpumalanga she came after Mabuza with 49 nominations, in KZN she was also after Mabuza with 68 nominations, and in the Free State it was the same with 28 nominations.
Many EC traditional leaders from Contralesa who I have spoken to attested to the view that the deputy presidency is now ready for a woman leader of her calibre, and some of the leading religious leaders felt the same about the EC PGC outcome.
However, most traditional and religious leaders are not branch delegates; hence their voice is regarded by some politicians as insignificant for the ANC’s December conference. I find this reasoning very short-sighted because winning the ANC national conference does not translate into winning the country’s national elections. The one million ANC membership that decides on who is going to be the organisation’s president cannot win the majority vote in the 2019 general elections – traditional leaders are essential for delivering such a victory for the ANC.
Those whose voices may not matter now because they cannot be lobbied to ensure victory at Nasrec will, when the conference is done and dusted, matter enormously when it comes to the next challenge of winning the national elections.
Then indeed, traditional, religious leaders and ordinary members of the public who love their country, but who are not necessarily ANC card-carrying members, will decide who is going lead South Africa. I suggest it will be wise for politicians to take this constituency seriously now, to heed their wishes about who should be in the top six. You can’t wish away the fact that people follow the leadership of the ANC more than the brand because it is only through good leadership that the mission can be carried out. Hence the issue of capacity, strong credentials and popularity becomes vital for the 2019 poll, where lobbying delegates matters not.
Being over-excited about winning the December conference needs to be balanced with retaining state power in 2019, to proceed with the agenda of radical economic transformation, the provision of basic services and building houses.
After a series of attempts from EC branches for Sisulu to stand, she is on record saying “I will do any work that the ANC branches say I must do”. That would include the position of deputy president. So it’s completely absurd to say she was only interested in the position of presidency.
While disappointed by the EC PGC outcomes, his majesty King Zwelibanzi Bulekhaya Dalindyebo, myself and uMakhulu Winnie Madikizela-Mandela are humbled by the support of the provinces that believed in Mama Sisulu’s leadership as we do.
Wathinta Abafazi Wathinta Imbokodo, phantsi ngokuthengisa phantsi, imbi lendawo. Let’s hope things will change and be fine.
Prince Langalibalele Mthunzi Ngonyama is spokesman for King Zwelibanzi Dalindyebo