Lindiwe Sisulu's African National Congress (ANC) presidential campaign has already accomplished what many observers, including many of her detractors, thought was impossible. Despite launching her campaign nearly six months after Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Sisulu has been able to rack up support at a branch and regional level throughout the country, from Limpopo to the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal.
There is no denying she is a serious contender. However, political commentators in the established media and those embedded in factional narratives have overwhelmingly endorsed Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma. They have raised a number of doubts about Sisulu's prospects of appealing to and winning the support of key provinces and regions, which make up a sizeable share of the delegates who will be present at the ANC's elective conference in December.
Nevertheless, there are a number of reasons why she could win the majority of delegate support. Her credibility and attachment to what some classify as the "old" ANC could attract ANC members and supporters who have left the party, including those who have pledged their allegiance to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the Congress of the People (Cope) and the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Sisulu has demonstrated that she understands that a real, accountable democracy is essentially a pro-poor government, which works collectively with a proactive citizenry that holds public servants accountable. Sisulu has, through her numerous statements, put forth a clear and coherent socialist vision for South Africa that seeks to empower citizens through the provision of houses and, by implication, land.
She has articulated a vision that not only puts people to work, through creating what she terms catalytic housing developments, but has put forward the first and possibly most revolutionary way of tackling apartheid spatial planning.
The legacy of this planning has left millions of South Africans disconnected from economic hubs, which has perpetuated poverty and inequality. By the time the apartheid ideology had been defeated, the country's geography had been scarred almost irreversibly.
For the architect of apartheid, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, the instruction to successive administrations was unambiguous. He told the then Parliament that "we must take the implementation of separate development so far that no future government will ever be able to reverse it".
The challenge before us now is twofold. Reverse the legacy of apartheid. Second is to imagine the future that we want while simultaneously responding to present-day challenges: urban influx, changing demographics, energy scarcity, unemployment and depressed economic growth. This requires that we transform our cities to not only be places of residence but also to become "laboratories for innovation" if we are to address the endemic socioeconomic and developmental challenges. -- Lindiwe Sisulu
Sisulu's vision is to turn South Africa into a construction site where new communities are built, more people live in decent housing on their own land and more citizens have direct access to economic opportunities. These catalytic projects are intended to be game-changers in the process of undoing apartheid spatial planning. An appropriate example is Cosmo City in Johannesburg.
While land remains a critical part of our political discourse, no other candidate has articulated an action plan to address the issue. They simply repeat the usual platitudes that the land should be returned. But neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma has expressed how this land will be distributed or who would benefit from it.
It is widely acknowledged that it is practically impossible for the limited amount of agricultural land (specifically, commercial farms) to be distributed to all black South Africans. While expropriation, with or without compensation, of agricultural land might address a historical wrong, the bigger question is whether it will benefit the ordinary South African? Will it benefit the black middle class? The state? Or will every citizen get a small piece of arable land on which they can farm?
Plausible as these suggestions might be, no articulation of these possibilities has been generated by the so-called front runners in the ANC presidential race.
Unlike the other candidates, Sisulu has highlighted the importance of radical social economic transformation. She has emphasised that social transformation and economic transformation cannot be treated as two separate concepts, as the one reinforces the other.
This makes sense, as the social ills faced in our society can often be related to the economic conditions of our people, and the economic conditions of our people are often reinforced by the overwhelming social ills in society.
So while a concerted effort must be made to radically transform our economy, we must also work to radically change the social conditions of our people. This has been Sisulu's position as chair of the Social Transformation Subcommittee of the ANC and during her tenure as human settlements minister.
What makes Sisulu's campaign worthy of serious attention is that, unlike other candidates, she has a decades-long track record of fighting for and actually implementing radically transformative changes to the social and economic fabric of our society.
Her positions have not been populist and have not emerged recently. They can be traced throughout her career, through her submissions in Parliament, her public speeches and the way the human settlements department has orientated itself.
We must change our national discourse away from the endless populist rhetoric that isn't rooted in a substantive track record. More so, we must orientate the selection of leaders based on concrete plans and policy positions -- ones that place people at the centre -- not those that are empty rhetoric designed to speak to emotive issues, with no substantive plan to fundamentally change the lives of the people.
Sisulu embodies the characteristics of a social democrat or a democratic socialist, where the people and their socioeconomic issues are at the centre of her vision for South Africa. And her campaign has focused on these:
- Land for the landless and the dispossessed
- Homes for the homeless
- Incentives for entrepreneurs so that we all grow the economy
- Equal access to the resources of the country as we build our nation
- Progressive realisation of free education for all
- Decent service and a clean government of public servants who know they serve the interests of the people first
- Equality for women
- Inclusion for the poor and the black majority, for the wealth of this country belongs to all
The rising tide of Sisulu supporters are not naïve. They see past the factional divides within the ANC and have focused their attention on the core issues facing our country.
Sisulu's campaign is a genuine mass movement, fuelled by a desire to see the realisation of the Freedom Charter and for those who are tired of broken and false promises. This campaign demonstrates not only that it is time to clean up government, through the eradication of corruption, but that the business-as-usual politics we have seen in recent years must be dismantled.
The rising tide of Sisulu supporters are not naïve, they are the realists. They see past the factional divides within the ANC and have focused their attention on the issues, the core issues facing our country: poverty, inequality and unemployment.
This campaign is rare and perhaps unprecedented in the country's modern electoral history.