By: Steve Motale
Dear Karyn Maughan
Last week several newspapers published an opinion piece penned by Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. The opinion piece stands within the spirit of a discourse of a free and democratic South Africa in which conversations on the state of the nation are engaged.
Following the publishing of such an article, you took the liberty to send the Minister questions on her opinion piece. Naturally, the idea of asking questions is welcomed since it engenders debate and contributes to the discourse to better our society. However, in my conversation with you, which you acknowledged, I promised a detailed response to your questions. You, however, informed me that you already had received a reply, to which I indicated that it could not have been an official reply since such follows a particular protocol, as you know.
Perhaps more troublesome and disturbing was you informing me that you had already sent this apparent “rude response” to President Cyril Ramaphosa. When I asked why you saw a need to forward it to the President, you were categorically clear, ‘because I want the president to deal with this minister. To this end, I enquired if you work in the Presidency or for News-24 as a journalist? I also indicated to you that your claimed direct line to the President of South Africa suggests a severe concern for the proximity of the President to particular journalists and news platforms as this leaves him compromised and open for abuse.
In response to your questions and the sketched context of our conversation, I wish to raise the following concerns.
1. Your proximity to the Presidency as advanced by you and the News24 platform outfit that you believe you could report the Minister to the President and therefore seeking her to be dealt with. This statement on your part lends itself to grave concern for the separation of media and state immanent in a President and a journalist. It furthermore would suggest that the President acts based on what you as a journalist report to him. I am not sure if you realized that your response in its truest sense pits the President as being at your beck and call.
Maybe you must explain to South Africa this apparent symbiotic relation you as a journalist share with the President that affords you a unique latitude to report to him with the explicit intention of ensuring he acts against a cabinet minister. Is it true that News – 24 shares this intimate relationship with the President that reduces him to a mere tool for your personal agenda to be used by someone like you? We warrant knowing about your apparent direct connection or golden line to the President. Are you acting on behalf of News24 or the Presidency, is your legal, journalistic work attesting this unique relationship and access to President Ramaphosa?
2. The shameless ad hominem tone of your questions followed by your article, instead of engaging the fundamental issues the Minister’s opinion piece brings to the ongoing debate, is already a sad sign of the low bar you wish our public discourse to be pegged at. It is a shame. The article that you wrote after you sent questions is mischievous and reflects your obsession with factional politics. Credible legal scholars have all pointed out the paradox of having a constitution dubbed the best in the world and yet having the most unequal society where the black majority is trapped in grinding poverty.
Your claims about the Minister’s views on “black judges” reflect your own racism and have nothing to do with the contents of Minister Sisulu’s article. Our judiciary consists of hard-working men and women of all races, and criticism of our judiciary cannot be racialized in the manner you have done in a myopic and irrational sense. The imprisonment of President Zuma was an injustice, as recognized by some of the judges of the Constitutional Court (Jafta and Theron), was unconstitutional as it caused the imprisonment of a citizen without trial and did cause divisions in our land.
3. Engaging in criticism and self-criticism is part of the culture of the ANC. Contrary to your assumptions, the ANC has made remarkable strides against enormous odds to address the social inequality and poverty amongst our people. But owing to the legacy of apartheid, that has not been enough as our people remain mired in poverty. Only those who refuse to think historically can act as if they can overcome the effects of more than three and a half centuries of colonialist oppression, capitalist exploitation, and political disempowerment can be overcome in thirty years of democratic rule.
Authentic leadership, however, means we must not be blind to the mistakes we have made, the wrong choices we have taken, and the damage these might have done to our own people. Hence Minister Sisulu’s consistent fight against corruption in every department she occupied. There, the record is clear. Eternal vigilance is not only the best defence of democracy as a whole; it is also the best defence of the character of our organisation and the quality of our liberation. This calls for complete honesty, humble self-reflection, and a determination to always do better in the service of our people.
Those who do not understand or resist this, or reduce this to factionalism to keep things the way they are, do not have the organisation’s best interests in mind. Nor do they serve the interests of the country. We must redouble our efforts to do more and achieve a radical transformation of the economy to create jobs, economic opportunities, and better lives for our people. The Minister’s experience as a member of Cabinet for over twenty years has given her the unique privilege to know our successes and failures. It has provided her the unique opportunity to serve, lead, and contribute to the remarkable achievements of an ANC-led government. We must do more to alleviate our people’s social inequality and poverty.
The challenges of tackling socio-economic inequality and poverty belong to the entire ANC as a ruling party. They are not the responsibility of one man who has only been a President for about four years. Your question, therefore, is thoughtless, stupid, and mischievous at the same time.
5. Cherry-picking rulings of our courts on gay rights, the death penalty, and same-sex unions or abortion reflects a biased mindset. The Preamble of our Constitution, adopted in 1996, sets out the main goals of our Constitution: to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice, and fundamental human rights, to lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people, to ensure that every citizen is equally protected by law, to improve the quality of life of all citizens, to free the potential of each person, and to build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
The success of any Constitutional Democracy thrives on these democratic values. It promises a better life for all through the realisation of not only civil and political rights but also socio-economic rights. Abject poverty and astronomical levels of unemployment remain a reality for our people. Only sustained and far-reaching transformation can address these deep-seated problems inherited from apartheid and colonialism. Anything less is merely a panado for the poor and marginalised.
Without radical, that is, deep-rooted, thoroughly transformative socio-economic policies justice that lead to more equity, justice, and dignity, our people will continue to drown in the cycles of perpetual impoverishment, social disadvantage, and psychological trauma. Mistrust in government such as we are seeing today will destroy our hopes of building democracy. Our much-needed and longed-for social cohesion will evade us, and our people will remain the victims of the kind of divisive politics. Your response to the issues the Minister is trying to raise is so lamentably demonstrative.
6. Your attempt to distort the content of the Minister’s opinion piece by injecting the views of President Zuma is pathetic and reflects dishonesty and poor journalistic ethics. You are the self-anointed foot soldier of factional politics in the ANC. Minister Sisulu’s article speaks for itself. Yes, the ANC, the ruling party, initially achieved an overwhelming electoral victory, which allowed it to implement an efficient and effective system of governance empowered to serve the people. The party, made tremendous strides but also faltered on some of the projects it set for itself as government. More must be done with renewed determination and better strategies.
7. I implore you to read Minister Sisulu’s opinion piece intelligently as it is evident in the rule of law. As the Constitutional Court stated, in adopting our Constitution, we signalled a decisive break with our past – a ringing rejection of a history of denial of human rights to our people. We started an ambitious and laudable project to develop, nurture and infuse a culture of respect for human rights in all aspects of our lives. We all committed ourselves to a new and egalitarian society founded on values of human dignity, equality, and freedom for all. We must collectively acknowledge that much has been achieved since the advent of our democracy in 1994. Yet a lot more remains to be done. Despite promises by the state to improve the lived realities of South Africans through advancing a transformative constitution, this egalitarian society founded on values of human dignity, equality, and freedom for all, remains elusive. While constitutional supremacy guarantees civil and political rights, the democratic project will remain a dream deferred if our people are marginalized and reduced to mere spectators in a crucial game they should be playing. As the Concourt explained, “Ubuntu” is a constitutional value that must be observed in interpreting our laws – it is necessary to consider the values underpinning the Constitution, including Ubuntu.
8. All branches of our government must assume the responsibility to end social and economic inequality and injustice. It is incorrect to think that the struggle for the emancipation of black South Africans ended in 1994 when the black majority was granted the right to vote. The dawn of a new struggle for the economic emancipation and the realisation of socio-economic rights for all our people cannot be compartmentalised. Apportioning blame is a cowardly way of solving problems. All politicians, judges, civil servants, members of society must take responsibility for the rampant inequality in our society and actively work to eradicate the twin evils of poverty and social inequality.
9. True and committed leadership is required because the knowledge that our Constitution is a symbolic bridge between our dreadful apartheid past and our future can only be truly transformative if there is an effective and accountable government. A government committed to addressing structural inequalities arising from the underlying systems of oppression inherited from the apartheid state that continues to thwart the economic emancipation of historically marginalised groups.
There is an urgent need for the emergence of leadership wholly committed to true transformation and economic emancipation, especially of women, the poor, and marginalized. Every citizen must become our partner in the emergence of that leader single-mindedly focused on building a capable, ethical, and developmental state, which is a crucial facilitator for the successful execution of the government’s goals of achieving the targets of the 2030 National Development Plan.
*Steve Motale (Spokesperson for Minister of Tourism Hon. Lindiwe N. Sisulu)