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Government distances itself from Lindiwe Sisulu's 'reckless utterances'

Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was one of the candidates in the 2017 race that ended with Cyril Ramaphosa being elected ANC president. File photo.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was one of the candidates in the 2017 race that ended with Cyril Ramaphosa being elected ANC president. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

The government has distanced itself from what it has termed “reckless utterances” by tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who suggested that the country's constitution has done nothing but keep the formerly oppressed masses in poverty.

Minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele said Sisulu's remarks “grossly misrepresent the constitution”.

“It has the potential to undermine the credibility and the weight of the rule of law in this country, especially when it is done by an individual who took an oath of office to protect the law, because once you take an oath, you accept being a champion of that law,” said Gungubele, speaking to TimesLIVE on Tuesday.

In an opinion piece published last week, Sisulu, who has served as an MP since 1994, launched a scathing attack on the constitution, saying it has done little or nothing for the victims of colonialism. Instead, she said, it has given rise to “a sea of poverty”.

Gungubele said the remarks were “mostly unfortunate” because the constitution was the outcome of “the same people Sisulu claims to be speaking for”.

Sisulu had criticised the lack of transformation and economic reconciliation, arguing that since the new constitution and the rule of law, the deck had been heavily stacked against the victims of the “rule of law”.

“What we have instead witnessed under the supreme constitution and the rule of law since 1994 has been co-option and invitations to political power brokers to the dinner table, whose job is to keep the masses quiet in their sufferance,” she argued. 

To a lesser extent, Gungubele agrees with the issues raised by Sisulu — but not the manner in which she raised them.

“The purpose of the constitution is to deal with the very issues that she’s speaking about: healing the pains and divisions of the past, ensuring there is social justice, dealing with the imbalances of the past is an imperative of this constitution,” Gungubele said.

Sisulu, who made the remarks on the eve of the ANC’s 110th birthday celebration in Polokwane, has declined to comment further.

Gungubele said it was not usual that the government distanced itself from remarks made by cabinet ministers, but that in this case it was important to do so because of the position Sisulu holds in society.

“The people’s law, which is supreme and adopted, has to be respected, especially by a colleague who sits in cabinet, who also sits in the executive of the governing party ... That colleague has a more noble way of proposing processes of amending the constitution, especially against the background that she took an oath to protect it,” he said.

Though Sisulu was writing in her personal capacity, Gungubele said it was a reckless use of the right to express her own view because she had taken an oath of office. But he admitted that the constitution may be flawed in many ways. 

“This constitution has never declared that it is perfect, that’s why it has avenues to amend it. We must never pander, keep quiet, when the rule of law is being attacked. We must condemn that. Such cannot represent this government,” he said. 

About Sisulu's criticism of the judiciary, Gungubele warned: “Once you attack judges and say they are instrument of something, it’s not even an attempt to undermine the rule of law, it is an insult, because if you are convinced - especially as a public figure - that a judge has been bought, the law has processes to deal with such issues.”

He called on South Africans never to accept such remarks.

“After more than 300 years of apartheid colonial laws ... South Africans must never allow any situation that undermines the rule of law, that creates an orderless society, where the goals of human improvement cannot be realised.”

Asked if President Cyril Ramaphosa had seen Sisulu’s comments and if he would be taking action, Gungubele said: “I don’t want to speak about the president, but I know he reads about the issues of the day.”



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