Look beneath Lindiwe Sisulu’s comments – Isaac Mogotsi

The post-apartheid political class in South Africa has collectively failed the majority poor black masses. That’s all Lindiwe Sisulu was saying in her friendly criticism of our democracy. In return, she has been labelled a ‘Zumanite’, a ‘constitutional delinquent’, a ‘power monger’ and anti-judiciary, believes Isaac Mogotsi, Executive Chairman of the Centre for Economic Diplomacy in Africa. He cites Thabo Mbeki’s famous characterisation of post-apartheid South Africa as the Dickensian, A Tale of Two Cities. The cardinal question, Mogotsi argues, is why the elites still benefit from the status quo and expect the poor black masses to infinitely put up with such glaring injustice in the land of their forefathers. Some 17,000 or so black millionaires since 1994, and a black nouveau rich middle class of some two million, when tens of millions languish in poverty and economic exclusion. Don’t ‘other’ Lindiwe, he says; listen to what’s under her comments. Story first published on Politicsweb. – Chris Bateman

In defence of Lindiwe Sisulu

By Isaac Mogotsi* 

In his seminal work The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume One, Karl Popper draws a sharp distinction between a friendly and a hostile criticism of democracy and states that those “democrats who do not see the difference between a friendly and a hostile criticism of democracy are themselves imbued with a totalitarian spirit”.

This is because, according to Karl Popper, “totalitarianism, of course, cannot consider any criticism as friendly, since every criticism of such an authority must challenge the principle of authority itself”.

Much of the public intellectual reaction to the article of Lindiwe Sisulu titled ‘Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice?’, which appeared on 7 January of this new 2022 year, fails to draw the necessary distinction between a friendly and a hostile criticism of our post-1994 democratic project.

In February 1986, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert shook the white liberal establishment under apartheid to the core when he tout a coup (to borrow a French expression) resigned from apartheid white parliament he had served a long time in as a member of Parliament (MP) as well as the leader of the then main white parliamentary opposition of veteran politician Helen Suzman, the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), because Van Zyl Slabbert felt that the white parliament was incapable of bringing about the type of reforms he sought, which would result in the end of legislated apartheid.

In the philosophical sense of Karl Popper, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert’s political posture of resigning from the white parliament in February 1986 would represent a hostile, not friendly, criticism of the racist white ‘democracy’ which existed under apartheid and which excluded black people.

In contrast and by way of insightful comparison, about a week ago Lindiwe Sisulu penned her now-much debated piece which is highly critical of the glaring and indisputable failure of the post-apartheid political and constitutional order to fundamentally address the deep pain of ongoing black poverty, economic exclusion and disempowerment, and the lack of empowering social and economic transformation in our post-apartheid society.

But unlike Frederick van Zyl Slabbert, Lindiwe Sisulu has neither resigned from parliament as an MP, nor has she resigned from her powerful positions within the high councils of the ruling party the African National Congress (ANC).

That Lindiwe Sisulu has not resigned from these positions and roles speaks to her continuing fealty to the core ideals and values of the South African Constitution, as well as to the aspirations of the ruling party the ANC she belongs to.

Scorched (Lindiwe Sisulu). For more of Zapiro’s magic, please visit www.zapiro.com.

In a word, Karl Popper would have characterised Lindiwe Sisulu’s criticism of the status quo as a friendly, and not hostile, criticism of our nascent democratic project.

That the embittered critics of her piece now seek to unfairly project her as a ‘Zumanite’, a ‘constitutional delinquent’, a ‘power monger’ and anti-judiciary, or as some uncontrollably ambitious Amazon seeking presidential power for power’s sake is baffling, albeit still self-serving.

But you would not tell that Lindiwe Sisulu’s critique of the status quo was friendly and highly constructive, given how much scorn has been heaped, with joyful abandon, on her and on her piece by those – black and white – who today benefit from our untransformed economy and judiciary.

I have no doubt that Karl Popper would have easily detected the totalitarian spirit, mindset and impulse driving many of those who have heaped calumny on Lindiwe Sisulu’s friendly criticism of our fledgling democracy and who mask such totalitarian proclivities on their part as some so-called lofty defence of our Constitution, our judiciary and our constitutional order.

It is classic sophistry indeed.

Not quite surprisingly, the most stinging and most unfair criticism of Lindiwe Sisulu has come from within the ranks of the ruling party the ANC she belongs to, especially from Mavuso Msimang, who, to borrow the florid and intemperate language of Tito Mboweni, our former Minister of Finance, seems to have elevated himself and self-anointed as the oracle, the spiritual representative, the pure embodiment and the high priest of the political and intellectual authenticity of the currently dominant, anti-black, anti-poor, pro-white monopoly capital (WMC) and pro-whiteness post-apartheid neo-liberal order benefiting only a tiny and avaricious sliver of the black and white ruling elite demographic establishment in our country.

Now here is some fascinating and revealing political precedent worth paying special attention to:

In 1969, the exiled ANC was rocked by what became known as the ‘Hani Memorandum’ authored by the younger Chris Hani and his fellow young ANC exiles.

A very detailed and informative account of the incident of Hani Memorandum is provided in an eponymous paper by Hugh Macmillan.

What is relevant is that Hugh Macmillan posits that it was the Hani Memorandum, which triggered the exiled ANC under OR Tambo to convene the historic Morogoro conference of 1969.

As a consequence, there can’t be any valid argument to be had regarding the historical significance and place of the Hani Memorandum, which ushered in a sea-change in how the ANC operated in exile and it reinvigorated the ANC to later become the mighty, glorious and globally acclaimed national liberation movement it became in the 1980s and 1990s, and truth be told, until former president Thabo Mbeki fired his former deputy president Jacob Zuma from his cabinet and later bizarrely sought a third term at the helm of the ANC at its 2007 Polokwane national conference.

There is no doubt that Lindiwe Sisulu’s piece ‘Hi Mzansi’ falls in the same category of historical significance and pantheon for the ANC and South Africa as the Hani Memorandum of 1969.

In fact, the scorn heaped on both is unsettling and eerily haunting in its similarity and echo.

Take for instance what Hugh Macmillan writes about one Walter Msimang (Mavuso) aka Mavuso Msimang, the now self-anointed high priest and oracle of the currently dominant neoliberal order over which the ANC has presided for the last 26 years since the demise of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in 1996 with the adoption of Thabo Mbeki-inspired neoliberal GEAR.

Hugh Macmillan writes:

“According to Walter Msimang (Mavuso) the Memorandum did not have widespread support.”

In a word, Mavuso Msimang deliberately undermines the historical significance of the Hani Memorandum of 1969 just to serve his narrow ideological agenda, which Hani Memorandum, amongst other things, took direct aim at one Thabo Mbeki, a close political confidante of many decades of Mavuso ‘Walter’ Msimang, for being one of the children of ANC leaders who were being privileged in the 1960s by being awarded “with a scholarship of NUSAS” (as the Hani Memorandum alleges) to study in England.

In fact, Mavuso Msimang, according to Hugh Macmillan, went as far as dismissing the Hani Memorandum as an idea of Tennyson Makiwane, who later emerged as one of the leaders of the exiled ANC’s renegade and factional grouping called the Group of Eight, and who were subsequently expelled from the ANC.

There is no doubt that in seeking to tie the Hani Memorandum to Tennyson Makiwane, who had already begun to engage – together with his allies – in splintist and renegade disruptions and ruckus within the exiled ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and against OR Tambo, the leader of exiled ANC, Mavuso Msimang, if Hugh Macmillan is to be believed, was engaging in political slander and ad hominem against Chris Hani, the type of political slander Mavuso Msimang today levels against Lindiwe Sisulu for her ‘Hi Msanzi’ piece.

It is how low Mavuso Msimang was prepared to descend to rubbish and tarnish the historical importance of the Hani Memorandum of 1969.

Old political habits die hard, if they ever die.

And today, Mavuso Masimang similarly descends to the bottom of the gutters just to slander and politically destroy any political ambition for higher office which Lindiwe Sisulu has all the right under the sun to harbour under our democratic dispensation.

It is nothing short of political libel on the part of Mavuso Msimang against Lindiwe Sisulu.

Fast forward more than five decades later, the same Mavuso Msimang is again at the forefront of those Karl Popper would say are imbued with a totalitarian spirit, who seek to slander Lindiwe Sisulu for merely penning a ‘Hi Mzansi’ piece highly but legitimately critical of the current anti-black poor status quo in our country.

Another fundamental point which Karl Popper makes in his book The Open Society and its Enemies is how the wars between ancient Athens and Sparta, the collapse of Sparta and the political turmoil of his era, especially the tyrannical and puppet government established after the fall of Sparta, played a decisive role in the rise of Plato as a major philosopher of ancient Greece and the West, and on his unsurpassed works like Statesman and Republic.

Similarly, it is vital to view the ‘Hi Mzansi’ piece of Lindiwe Sisulu against the tumult of our contemporary political developments such as the ravages on our society by Covid-19 pandemic, the July 2021 National Uprising, as well as the ruling ANC under the insipid leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa suffering its biggest electoral loss since 1994 during the last local government elections.

Such unprecedented societal earthquakes are bound to produce anguished reflections in some of society’s leading and animated public and organic intellects, amongst whom we count Lindiwe Sisulu, just as the terrible and costly failures of exiled ANC’s Wankie operations of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the exiled ANC, in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the late 1960s contributed directly to Chris Hani and his disillusioned young exiled ANC colleagues penning the Hani Memorandum.

The saddest part to observe around the ‘Hi Mzansi’ piece of Lindiwe Sisulu have been the insults and open disdain directed at her and her piece, often camouflaged as so-called defence of the Constitution and the judiciary.

The whole piece of Lindiwe Sisulu has very curiously been reduced to an attack on the Constitution and the judiciary, as if that is all what the piece is about.

And it definitely is not only about the Constitution and the judiciary.

What these unsavoury and often infantalised attacks on and insults directed at Lindiwe Sisulu hide in plain view is that almost to a man, those accusing Lindiwe Sisulu of insulting the Constitution and the judiciary are the same privileged actors in our society who levelled even worse insults and attacks on our poor black people who participated in the July 2021 national uprising, mischaracterising that national uprising as an attempted insurrection, counter-revolution, a looting spree, anarchy, mayhem, pure criminality or any of such choice terms, without seeking to pay sufficient attention to the objective, material conditions and factors which might have driven our people to act in the desperate manner in which they did during that July 2021 national uprising.

And such self-interested actors were quick to insult those who took part in the July 2021 national uprising as looters, criminals, economic saboteurs, Zuma supporters, Zuptists, RET lunatics, Robin Hoods, sympathisers of the Guptas, etc.

So, it is not that those accusing Lindiwe Sisulu of employing insults against and launching attacks on the Constitution and the judiciary are themselves holy, worthy and above employing insults when it suits their political, juridical and ideological agendae.

Well, unless they labour under the canard that it is OK to insult poor black South Africans rising up against iniquities but not to insult black judges and the judiciary.

That would be the worst case of classism.

So, what is really at stake here?

For an answer to that question, one would need to look to Antonio Gramsci, the great Italian anti-fascist activist, politician, thinker and organic intellectual’s theory of hegemony and counter-hegemony in Gramsci’s Prison Writings.

What really unsettled and greatly perturbed those black and white ruling elites currently benefiting from the unequal, iniquitous and untransformed status quo in South Africa is that the ‘Hi Mzansi’ piece of Lindiwe Sisulu upends and sabotages the pretence and fake as well as illusory appearance of some consent from the dominated and economically subjugated poor black masses to the anti-black and anti-poor compromises of CODESA elite pact of the early 1990s which ushered in our neutered, wobbly and formal democracy.

In the absence of such consent to CODESA elite pact of the early 1990s on the part of the black masses, the black and white ruling elites would have to increasingly resort to naked, coercive state and non-state brute force, a la Marikana massacre or the recent Phoenix massacre in KZN, to keep the black masses dominated and subordinated by a ‘colonised capital’. At that stage, the shallowness of the sham and shambolic CODESA elite pact, which has so far mainly benefited a tiny minority of elites in our society, will be laid bare for all to see in all its inglorious raiment.

It is thus totally shameful and politically impermissible that ANC’s Yonela Diko can boast about 17,000 or so black millionaires produced in the last 28 years, or about the black middle class of about two million or so black nouveau rich, when tens of millions of poor black masses still languish in abject poverty and economic exclusion.

Indeed the failure of the post-apartheid democratic project to once and for all address economic exclusion of the overwhelming majority of the black masses is a blight on our democracy and our collective conscience, as well as a potent existential threat to our democratic experiment

How could it be that in 30 to 40 years the People’s Republic of China was able to lift over 65% of its population of 1,3 billion Chinese (close to 800 million Chinese) out of dire poverty and into the middle-class status, while we in post-apartheid South Africa are duped and politically swindled by people like Yonela Diko and Mavuso Msimang and their allied cohorts to celebrate the creation of a few thousand black millionaires and a two-million strong black middle class since 1994, in a country where the black majority is constituted by over 50 million people?


How can that ever make sense?

These reactionaries and neoliberals, like Yonelo Diko and Mavuso Msimang, who expect Lindiwe Sisulu, on account of her high positions in government and in the ruling ANC, not to be critical of and instead to acquiesce to the dominant neo-liberal status quo and its discursive norms and standards which she has been and is part of, only betray the continuing massive influence of the Marxist-Leninist tradition of crude ‘historical economic determinism’ has, unwittingly and unbeknown to them, had on them.

As Max Weber demonstrated in his writings, it is crude sociological and economic determinism to expect that one’s own class position or improved material conditions as an intellectual necessarily prevents one from committing individual class suicide.

To this day, it does not occur to them that there should be nothing surprising that the 1959 Cuban Socialist Revolution was led by Fidel and Raul Castro who hailed from an upper bourgeois Cuban family whose high status in the Cuban society was maintained during the corrupt Batista regime the Castro brothers overthrew.

In conclusion, the withering critique of South Africa’s post-apartheid democracy by Lindiwe Sisulu reminds one of the crucial distinction which Michael MacDonald draws in his book Why Race Matters in South Africa between white superiority and white supremacy.

The end of formal apartheid signified the end of white supremacy as embodied in the political, social, cultural, economic, institutional, legal, religious and other forms of subordination and subjugation of the black masses to white supremacy.

It is in that sense that we today speak about the formal end of apartheid – or post-apartheid South Africa – and not about the end of apartheid in its essentialist nature and form as embodied by continuing white superiority in the democratic era.

Unofficial and informal apartheid lives on in many of its ongoing manifestations and eruptions in South Africa’s lived, quotidian heuristics, as far as the poor black masses are concerned.

It is for this reason that when he addressed the Editors’ Forum in 1996, the then deputy president Thabo Mbeki stated that it would be impossible to create a united nation in South Africa unless the legacy of colonialism and apartheid was addressed.

This formulation of Thabo Mbeki harked back to the strategy and tactics of the exiled ANC’s 1969 Morogoro conference.

And it was for the same reason that then president Thabo Mbeki once spoke about South Africa being constituted by two nations: one black, poor and economically disempowered and excluded; and the other white, rich and in command of most of the means of production, material and incorporeal resources and advantages of our society.

It is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, this new, post-apartheid South Africa.

Nothing has fundamentally changed since Thabo Mbeki made those remarks.

Almost nothing.

As the French would say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The cardinal question is why do the elites benefiting from the status quo expect the poor black masses to infinitely put up with such a glaring injustice in the land of their forefathers?

On the other hand, the end of formal apartheid in 1994 (the end of white supremacy) did not herald nor bring about the end of white superiority over black people.

Michael MacDonald convincingly demonstrates that with the advent of South Africa’s fledgling democracy, white superiority did not end.

He writes that:

“Capitalist societies vest power in financial markets, corporate boardrooms, and economic discourse. In South Africa, all of these theaters remain under the control of whites. Of course, that does not mean that whites who control them necessarily act as whites, that they are concerned with furthering racial objectives. But it does mean that whites have power at their disposal, that their powers are not necessarily limited to economic affairs, and that the government is competing for their confidence; it means that whites, whatever their electoral prospects, have political influence, that they have economic power that can be deployed in defence of their ‘cultural identities’, and that they can check and balance the majority’s power.”

And descendants of white European colonisers have checkmated the black majority to a standstill in the last 28 years, with the result that there has hardly been any progress on the transformation front.

We have seen this play out in real time in post-apartheid South Africa in the last 28 years, manifested most sharply in growing and assertive white arrogance and disdain for the multitude of the black poor.

So, genuine and real transformation in South Africa does and cannot mean having a nice Constitution, or so-called ‘world’s best Constitution’. It does not even mean having nice laws and a bevy of black judges who speak perfect colonial English language, are suffused and very au fait in Roman-Dutch law imported into our country through genocidal force and force-fed on our black people by heartless and remorseless European colonial invaders and slave owners or their ‘nativised’ descendants and prodigals. It does not mean getting rid of only white supremacy while leaving white superiority in post-apartheid South Africa intact, alive and kicking.

And, as Lindiwe Sisulu’s ‘Hi Msanzi’ piece implies and alludes to, it certainly does not mean having a black ruling party like her own ANC replacing a white apartheid ruling Nationalist party, while leaving the whiteness industrial complex intact, alive and kicking.

That is not change. It is a mirage.

That would be political and constitutional trickery and fraud of the highest order perpetrated on our poor black masses by CODESA elites.

Nor does it mean a sliver of rapacious black elites replacing racist and self-aggrandising white apartheid elites, or being co-opted into the ill-gotten gains of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and black land dispossession buttressing the dominant and pervasive white European political and economic power structures in our country.

Genuine and real transformation in South Africa must mean that the ill-gotten power – economic, political, cultural, social, intellectual and soft – wielded by whites in this country on account of the huge benefits they accumulated and derive from colonialism, slavery, white European religious Christian bigotry, apartheid and now neo-apartheid in democratic South Africa must be brought to a screeching halt without further delay, for the promises of our democratic experiment to poor black masses to be realised.

There now is no more CODESA-type middle road.

And it was for the same reason why Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the former premier of Limpopo and former Cabinet Minister, once bitterly bemoaned a deleterious and corrosive post-apartheid situation where the democratic state was being and is being denuded of real and effective powers to transform society, including through holier-than-GATT liberalisation, helter-skelter privatisation and defunding of crucial social services for the poor, white ‘colonised’ capital flight through delisting of major corporations abroad with the explicit consent of the Mbeki government etc, and because the state’s powers were being assiduously, if also insidiously, migrated to private spaces of white superiority, elite gated community complexes, hedonist exclusive mall developments and to white power props like political parties like the DA and the Freedom Front Plus, as well as to white-controlled and well-funded NGOs, foundations, rate payers’ associations, community vigilante groups, big business formations, private school governing bodies, general meetings of company boards, rich municipalities, news publications like the Daily Maverick and radio stations like 702, quasi-political groupings like AfriForum and Solidarity, ‘ZumaMustFall’ campaigns, a sprawling security companies complex under the control of beneficiaries of colonialism, slavery and apartheid, as well as to the markets, elite universities and colleges, research centres, and to the economic discourse dominated by self-serving white opinionistas, as brilliantly pointed out by Michael MacDonald.

The continuing failure of democratic South Africa to decisively address the terrible legacy of colonialism, slavery, white supremacy, white superiority, land dispossession and apartheid profanes all of our best and loftiest democratic ideals and make the words of the African American author and activist James Baldwin in his book Fire Next Time to resonate and to weigh heavily on democratic South Africa, like a spectre haunting the post-Nelson Mandela South Africa.

To paraphrase esteemed and acclaimed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s words in his treatise ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’, “The problem of democratic South Africa is the failure of collective elite political leadership, irrespective of narrow party political affiliations to transform our society and to get rid of the colonial and apartheid legacy.”

It is the unique irony of the post-apartheid dispensation that the political and electoral failures of the ruling ANC are tied to the hip to the neo-liberal project currently holding sway in South Africa. It is the height of political folly on the part of right-wing political parties like the Democratic Alliance (DA) to self-delude into thinking that this anti-poor and anti-black neoliberal project can survive the coming political and electoral implosion of the ruling ANC.

It will not.

Post-apartheid political class in South Africa has collectively failed the majority poor black masses.

This is a truism bordering on an axiom.

And this is the overriding message Lindiwe Sisulu seeks to convey in her ‘Hi Mzansi’ piece.

As such, much of the aspersions and insults directed at and unwarranted attacks on her and her piece are nothing but a thunder of a mouse’s flatulence signifying nothing of political and ideological value.

And it is why Lindiwe Sisulu emphatically but poignantly states: “We have to change.”

Indeed, we have to!

It is either we change or perish as a nation.

South Africa, the time to change is now.

Ke nako!

  • Isaac Mpho Mogotsi is Executive Chairman, Centre for Economic Diplomacy in Africa (CEDIA). 

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