Lindiwe Sisulu: Mkhwebane, TJP and systemic oppression of SA women in power – views sure to challenge popular perceptions

In her open letter, Lindiwe Sisulu, an ANC veteran and member of the ANC’s national executive committee, criticises the treatment of Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the suspended Public Protector of South Africa, and comments on the recent passing of Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the Former Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy. Sisulu argues that Mkhwebane, like other women in positions of power, is a victim of a system that subjugates and judges women differently from men. She highlights an orchestrated smear campaign against Mkhwebane, fueled by the white media and some ANC officials, which aimed to undermine her competence and integrity. Sisulu calls for solidarity among women and denounces the complicity of society in the persecution of Mkhwebane. She also draws parallels between Mkhwebane’s situation and the mistreatment of other prominent women in South Africa, such as Winnie Mandela.

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Dear Women of Mzansi

By Lindiwe Sisulu*

In my view both Tina Joemat-Pettersson (May her Soul Repose Peacefully) and Busisiwe Mkhwebane are victims of a system that lives off the subjugation of women, where women are treated very differently from men and are measured on scale. Busi’s own was treated with huge skepticism from day one she took the job. Unlike her predecessor, she didn’t have the wholesale support of white media and couldn’t wait to prove themselves right; that maybe she is not “fit” for the job. That’s where she finally entrapped with all manner of justification to establish a committee to check her fitness to do her job, and she was never going to get out of there alive. Similarly with Tina-a victim of her own compassion, maybe she thought she was reaching out to another woman to “save” her. All who know Tina, know her as a gentle kind caring soul. Both these women are caught up in a society that judges them, looks at women as objects to be used and patriarchally entrenched. 

Our silence as women in the persecution of Busisiwe Mkhwebane makes us all complicit. 

As an African Woman, an ANC veteran, and a member of the ANC’s national executive committee and the ANC’s Women’s League member, It becomes very difficult to stay quiet on the reprehensible treatment of our Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Silence is tantamount to a brazen betrayal of the values instilled in me by my parents, the ANC and above all the values enshrined in the constitution of South Africa.    

The struggle for the liberation of Black women detailed a three-strand chord. They suffered the agony of race, class, and gender disenfranchisement resulting in an ongoing echelon of poor black women. They suffered at the hand of the racist oppressor, who was white, while they suffered the anguish of patriarchy which is male-based. While the ANC is categorically clear that it espouses the ideals of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society, too often, Black women in democracy continue to suffer oppression by the testosterone-led crowd. 

Our modern signpost of this racist and sexist abuse and degradation is a woman, Advocate Busi Mkhwebane.

For years and against all odds, Adv Mkhwebane has been fighting a system that intends to block her from doing her mandated job effectively. Despite stellar performance including achieving historic clean audit in 26 years and maintaining that in two successive years, Adv Mkhwebane has been dragged across the proverbial burning coals by the racist DA, some top ANC officials, some members of Parliament, and captured corporate media, in an orchestrated smear campaign against her. Her unwavering stance against corruption, strength and commitment to justice has remained resolute in the face of this visible and vindictive campaign that seeks to paint her as incompetent, lacking in intelligence, and ignorant of the law. 

Her once outstanding reputation is shredded daily as vindictive and factional embedded journalists, some even women journalists, continue constructing and selling a grossly false picture of her to the gullible public.  

She is painted as a criminal and faces daily ridicule. None of what the orchestrated factional newspapers report is a true reflection of her valour and capability. It is simply because she is determined to do her job without fear or favour.

I wish to cite just a few examples of the calculated campaign of vilification against our Public Protector by those who seek to protect and serve the interests of white monopoly capital and their puppets. Not surprisingly, Adv Mkhwebane ruffled feathers when she focused her investigation on apartheid bailout money for Bankorp, which was bought by ABSA, to determine if monies for the lifeline are still outstanding to the Reserve Bank. Many years prior to that, a panel headed by Judge Davis found that the flaws in SARB’s “methods of assistance to Bankorp/Absa were of a serious nature” and had been illegal. 

Read more: Lindiwe Sisulu: In-depth insights, outliving ‘dark’ forces and hope for SA’s future

In the opinion of the Davis panel: “The provision of a grant, using a simulated transaction, implies that the Reserve Bank acted outside its statutory powers, judged by international standards as required by section 10(1)(s) of the SA Reserve Bank Act of 1989, that action meant that the function being carried out was not such as central banks customarily may perform.”  

To the chagrin of the capitalists, Adv Mkhwebane reached similar conclusions in her report in 2017 and all hell broke loose.  Maybe it’s time that she tells us as country, what was contained in those sealed documents as there was nothing legal about sealing. 

The ensuing attacks went beyond merely harsh criticism – they crossed the line into vile abuses based on distortions of the law and facts.  It was alleged that Adv Mkhwebane had committed misconduct and was incompetent for suggesting legislative changes or constitutional amendments. That was an outrageous lie.

Those who were involved in the CODESA negotiations would know the legislative background to the powers of the Public Protector as follows: In the wake of the “Information Scandal” under apartheid, an Ombudsman was created after amending the Advocate General Act by the Ombudsman Act of 1983. The purpose of this office was to ensure and maintain efficient and proper public administration. Importantly, in terms of section 11 of the the Ombudsman Act 110 of 1983, the Ombudsman was empowered to act as a remedy to deficiencies in the legislation. In the exercise of the Ombudsman’s supervisory powers he was expressly authorised to propose or initiate a change in the statutes. 

Suffice to state that during the multi-party negotiations, the political parties agreed that South Africa should have a Public Protector (Ombudsman). In 1995 the office of the Public Protector replaced the Ombudsman. Because Advocate Mkhwebane stepped on the toes of big capitalists and their puppets, she has been tarred and feathered for her innocuous suggestions about legislative changes, a routine act that her predecessors Ombudsman under Apartheid were expressly empowered to do. Adv Mkhwebane did not misunderstand or exceed her powers, she merely annoyed agents of white monopoly capital who could not stomach her courage to challenge their stranglehold on our economy. Now they hope to exact their revenge through her impeachment.

Another issue involves the false accusations against Adv Mkhwebane is evinced by a recent Constitutional Court judgment, Public Protector and Others v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others (CCT 62/20) [2021] ZACC 19.  This matter involved the CR 17 campaign and Bosasa matters and President Ramaphosa’s misrepresentation to parliament. Shockingly, the Concourt ruled that:

The Public Protector changed the wording of the Code to include “deliberate and inadvertent misleading” so as to match with the facts.  Having effected the change in the Code, the Public Protector proceeded to conclude that the President had violated the Code.  It is unacceptable that the Public Protector did what no law had authorised her to do. It was the wrong approach adopted by the Public Protector here which led her astray.  

Read more: Paul Hoffman: The suspended Public Protector wants to tell her story

Instead of evaluating the President’s conduct against paragraph 2.3(a) of the Code, she measured it against a standard she had created in Para 61. This was clearly false statement of facts by the court justices. All Cabinet members who have served in government since at least 2009 have been provided with a Ministerial Handbook which contains the 2007 Executive Ethics Code that includes “deliberate and inadvertent misleading”. The Code has been used by the Public Service Commission in the inductions of Ministers and MECs since 2009 and no one has ever claimed that this was Adv Mkhwebane’s mischievous invention until she made an adverse ruling against the President. 

The phrase “members may not deliberately or inadvertently mislead the president, the premier or, as the case may be, the legislature” is contained in the handbook. It is an injudicious falsehood to state that Adv Mkhwebane invented the language explicitly stated in the Handbook. She did not make up her own version. But she is now supposed to be persecuted on the basis of this gross distortion of her performance simply because she is a black woman who has offended Caesar.

As an African woman, I have often seen this happen to my sisters. It is what an inherently chauvinistic world does to women – devalue their performance or portray her in the worst as even our judiciary has done and then declare them incompetent and unworthy of any leadership role. I saw this happen to Comrade Winnie Mandela when she was so painfully excluded from ANC leadership in 1995 after being accused of corruption. History would lead us to know that she was really guilty of expressing her left-leaning views to the world at a time when global forces were infiltrating the ANC with their deep pockets. 

In short, Comrade Winnie threatened the neoliberal policies as her views called for African autonomy and radical transformation. She espoused the same values in the days of apartheid, which saw her being subjected to years of apartheid police harassment and a vicious propaganda campaign that sought to cast her as a monster. We all know that her passionate left-leaning political views had made her extremely popular with the African population and reflected their desire for complete emancipation. She was truly the mother of the nation. She heroically helped to promote and keep the ANC politically relevant throughout the years of its banishment in exile and imprisonment of its leaders.

Yet less than two years into our new democracy, comrade Winnie’s fighting spirit presented a real challenge to the ANC Tripartite Alliance leadership, white corporate bosses and the Nationalist Party government. 

Today we see ourselves back into the hands of entrenched white business and capital control, a phenomenon which 

Comrade Winnie was vocal about and against. 

She also insisted that the ANC should address the issue of suspected double agents in its ANC Alliance Tripartite leadership structures. This is a view I cherished and wish the ANC should be open about, as I have no problem in being open about it if the need arise. 

Read more: SLR: Tina Joemat-Petterson and the entitlement of impunity

Instead of dealing with the content of Comrade Winnie’s views about the infiltration of the ANC by apartheid agents, the activities of the double agents, and the increasing neoliberal agenda that was engulfing it, certain members of the ANC Boys Club closed rank against Comrade Winnie Mandela. They used the ANC internal structures to intimidate and silence her. They were content with the crumbs (minority shares) from the banquet of the apartheid industrial giants.

But perhaps most threatening to them was Comrade Winnie Mandela’s campaign for the position of the Deputy-Presidency, backed by the mass popularity she held on the ground. Before this could happen, however, before a woman leader could become the deputy or the President and ensure her people before profits mandate, she became the subject of a public humiliation, fuelled by her party closing ranks, alongside a corporate media propaganda campaign. Women from the middle classes stood on the sidelines and cheered her demise.

I too, have felt the wrath of some ANC officials and their supporters after penning my article about the shortcomings of the judiciary last year. I have felt the suffocation of attack from my party in collusion with the press, where they seek to squeeze the breath from your body and reconstruct you into a shred of what you know yourself to be. My credentials, physicality, and style were all scrutinised and soiled with vitriol and spite. You ask yourself what was political about those labels. When I went in and out of jail, as far as exile where were these derogatory labels?

It matters not that I have fought a credible fight against apartheid, prejudices and corruption and that is why my name was never associated with State Capture, where many of those who are implicated are men. Today as a woman you are stripped naked, called and associated with all evilness as if you are still under apartheid. 

We know this is the fate of Black women who stand up to the ongoing male dominated status quo – this partnership between some ANC officials and white business – these bosses of the extractive industry who take and take, and protect themselves at all costs at the expense of all Africans, be they workers, children or women. 

The entire fabric of our constitutional order is imperilled when members of our hallowed judiciary write judgments geared towards vindicating certain favoured politicians and that we know are all based on falsehood.

It is incongruous for our ANC leadership to pontificate about women’s and human rights when they have witnessed and assisted those who have stripped Adv Mkhwebane of all her magnificence and human dignity. South African citizens and ANC members must ask themselves soul-searching questions: is it ever justified for a court to strip a citizen of their right to dignity and human rights by lying about or changing the law just to deal with that person? Has the judiciary not fanned the flames of factionalism and divisions within the ANC by ruling in the President Zuma’s Nkandla case that the permissive 2007 Code applies and then reverting to the stricter 2000 code when President Ramaphosa was involved?  

Given that former Public Protector Madonsela used the 2007 Code the Concourt claims not to exist, what is the status of those closed cases where members of the executive were adjudged guilty by Madonsela who relied in a non-existent law? Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane was unanimously appointed to this public portfolio unopposed in October 2016. However, since she started her mandated work to investigate certain state officials’ wrongdoings, she has been harassed and vilified by the Boys Club backed by White corporate bosses and their corporate media machinery.  

Read more: South Africa’s illusion of revival: ANC leadership has failed to deliver change

To the average member of our society, the persecution has the appearance of a vendetta – Adv Mkhwebane must suffer because she found evidence implicating the Head of State in wrongdoing through clandestine corporate funding supporting his election campaign? 

As a liberation movement and a ruling party the ANC cannot afford to be seen as a vengeful party working in cahoots with the DA to retaliate against Adv Mkhwebane, shield corruption, block Judge Ngcobo’s Report and continue to pursue impeachment on Mkhwebane as a way to entrench white capitalist power. It should be a wakeup call that virtually all the other black political parties represented in the National Assembly have disassociated themselves from the mooted impeachment scam.

It has been a cruel and pitiless attack on our Public Protector, which bears all the hallmarks of chauvinism, patriarchy, and misogyny. Adv Mkhwebane is humiliated, threatened, vilified, and intimidated for executing her work fearlessly. Yet women’s organisations, Chapter 9’s, and feminists have mostly ignored this injustice.

Foundations claiming to be anti-racist and pro-human rights have never intervened in this matter. Some have accused Adv Mkhwebane of being factional and have actively encouraged the attacks on her. What does this say about the state of human rights and feminism in South Africa? Is it a case of liberal feminist views being foregrounded at the expense of African women who continue to be slaughtered like sacrificial lambs to a system that de-privileges them on all levels?

Like so many other issues pertaining to our African populace, this wilful ignorance of the ill treatment of Adv Mkhwebane directly contradicts the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, particularly women’s rights. I say this because the nature of the attack on her falls into the category and takes on the dimensions of violence against women. The modus operandi is to drive her into oblivion, causing her severe emotional and psychological damage so that she is rendered incapable of performing her duties and fighting corruption. But she has not crumbled under this incessant pressure and attacks.

Let’s not forget that the ANC has a long history of powerful women in its DNA. Lilian Ngoyi, Charlotte Maxeke, and my own mother, Albertina Sisulu. Shall we remind ourselves that those who marched in August 1956 demanded the abolition of atrocious apartheid Pass Laws constituted women? I recognise the same tenacity and drive for justice in Adv Mkhwebane’s eyes. She is symbolic of the mighty rock that the patriarchy attempts to strike into nonexistence, yet she remains resolute.  

Juxtapose this disgraceful abuse that Adv Mkhwebane is being subjected to, for merely executing her duties to lack of condemnation of Maria Ramos, who in 2017 faced no consequences at all after confessing that ABSA, of which she was group chief executive, had played a role in manipulating the currency. This was a treasonous act that warranted a fitting punishment. Instead this shameless economic sabotage was met with a deafening silence and, Ramos was rewarded with another top position. She currently sits on the board of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the asset manager that manages trillions of rand in government employees’ pension money. Undeniably, this provides irrefutable evidence that whites involved in state capture in cahoots with white monopoly capital are protected at all costs, while honest black women public servants are sacrificial lambs to be victimised and destroyed according to the whims of white capitalists and their stooges.

The abuse of Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane is a disgrace to this democracy. It is a disgrace to South Africa. It is a disgrace to the judicial system and exposes its lip service to impartiality. It shows up the contradictions in constitutional law and its propensity to bend in favour of business and white privilege at the expense of the landless majority. It speaks to how profits are put before people and how devalued the Black Woman is in the neoliberal framework that underpins the constitution. It fails to recognise that African women are a precious resource, and it is a grave injury to all women when one woman is subjected to a cruel and unusual attack. This happens all too often. It is time to call it out.

I call on all women to say ‘no more’ with me. No more structural, systemic, and institutional abuse of women. We must not stand on the sidelines and watch women such as Adv Busiswe Mkhwebane being destroyed when they challenge the status quo and speak truth to power. We must claim our right to be robust. We must support each other across the economic divide and in all endeavours that strengthen the chance for women to live their full potential. We must remember our strengths, both individually and collectively. We must hold ourselves to the ethos of our powerful mothers who came before us and, like them, always seek to liberate ourselves from the clutches of masculine oppression. 

If we do so, we will definitely have to deal with the unavoidable and inevitable question on; Had Mkhwebane’s 21 questions to the President on his Phala-Phala farm been answered, wouldn’t Tina Joemat-Pettersson be still alive? This is a question we as women must debate going forward as we continue to commemorate Tina. 

Let us together reignite our feminine slogan: ‘Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ – You strike a woman, you strike a rock. 

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*Lindiwe Sisulu is an ANCWL and NEC member. She writes in her personal capacity.

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