Lindiwe Sisulu: Opposition leader?

Douglas Gibson on the first horse out of the gate in this year's ANC leadership contest

The ANC, like any other political party, is exciting itself about the election of a leader. That election takes place late this year, but the horses are already running. In earlier times, it was not quite nice to campaign for election in the ANC. Party elders frowned on too-eager aspirants. That was then.

The January 8 Jamboree was used (abused according to Carl Niehaus) by certain leaders to proclaim their support for Cyril Ramaphosa. The period was used by Lindiwe Sisulu to make an extraordinary attack on black judges, the Constitution, and the Rule of Law.

Many observers merely shook their heads at the effrontery of this transparent attempt to launch her own campaign to become the president. She was clearly claiming a place in the faction led by Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule and the so-called RET (Radical economic transformation) forces opposing President Ramaphosa.

Most observers and many participants in the social media were gob-smacked that she regards herself as suitable material for the presidency of South Africa. Those who know her, laughed a little, She is not. But what about her becoming the leader of the opposition after the 2024 election?

It is clear the aim of the ANC to renew itself and win back the allegiance of the millions who no longer voted for it, is doomed. That party is riven by factionalism and many in it hate each other more than they hate members of opposition parties. In the latest elections, Ramaphosa led the ANC to its worst result in the democratic era. It now has around 46% of the vote and there is no reason to think that it will regain that lost support in 2024. It is becoming a strong possibility that the ANC will be out of power and that a coalition government will be elected.

Can you see President Ramaphosa being prepared to occupy the benches in the National Assembly as leader of the opposition? That being so, the ANC elective conference at the end of this year may be electing an interim president of the country, while seeking someone who could lead the ANC in opposition. Ms Sisulu could be a prospect. She is feisty; she has staying-power; she feels (with little justification) that she is a Woman of Destiny; and she is a vastly experienced cabinet minister who knows a lot (or a little) about a plethora of government departments.

She has served as a deputy minister and minister for more than a quarter of a century, mostly without any discernible achievements but with a number of conspicuous failures (look at the housing backlog; look at the sewerage pouring into rivers and the sea), as well as a penchant for appointing unsuitable and sometimes dodgy people to highly-paid office.

But her failures as a minister would not deter her. After all, she regards herself as a president in waiting. In opposition she might be able to put up a credible fight against a coalition government based on her vast knowledge of where the bodies are in the many departments in which she presided.

President Ramaphosa is unlikely to fire her now: that would free her up to campaign against him, but most observers expect him to overwhelm her in a leadership election, unless cool-heads in the ANC decide she might be a better prospect as leader of the opposition than alternatives like DD Mabuza or Ace Magashule or one of the other uninspiring and mostly ageing leaders. Don’t write Sisulu off.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com

This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.