05/10/2017 05:05 SAST | Updated 05/10/2017 08:44 SAST

Lindiwe Sisulu: Make Me Your President To Avoid Another Polokwane

She has, unlike her opponents, mustered up the backbone to say she wants to be president and outline what she will do in that role.

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the presidential race -- her candid and charismatic approach to politics now garnering appraisal from ANC constituencies as well as the public at large.

Sisulu has done what her six opponents in the ANC have up until now failed to do: muster up the backbone to unambiguously say: "I want to be president and this is what I will do for the country and for the party in that position."

Others have spoken about and based their campaigns on broad discussions about unity, around concepts such as radical socioeconomic transformation, or have taken an anti-corruption stance. But they have stuck to the ANC rhetoric, not explicitly defining how they, as individuals, will serve the country as president.

Sisulu's political prowess was most discernable when she sat centre-stage at Talk Radio 702's town-hall discussion in Sandton on Wednesday, with veteran journalist Karima Brown grilling into her presidential campaign.

At the station's studio, Sisulu's campaign team went to great lengths in extravagantly bordering the room with campaign banners. Each chair was wrapped in the ANC's green, yellow and black T-shirts, all of which were labelled with 'Sisulu 17' and her trademark catchphrase, "it's a must".

The audience, mostly made up of young women, erupted into songs of praise before Sisulu arrived. When she did make her entrance, without the company of bodyguards, the melody from the audience grew tenfold and Sisulu –- dressed in a smart red dress -– made her way to the stage, embracing Brown before taking to her seat.

"We will be focusing on the ANC, on my plans for the nation if in the event I am successful," Sisulu said, setting the agenda for the evening.

And she continued by praising some of the ANC's successes since it came into power. But that rhetoric did not last long.

"I'm standing [for president] because I've come to a point where I've realised we are at a crossroads, where we are just about to repeat what we had in Polokwane [ANC national conference in 2007].

She said her drive for the presidential post is based on promoting the renewal of the ANC, and beginning a new form of activism that addresses inequality, encourages contemporary thinking and listens to "the anger of our people".

"I bring along a wealth of experience from working in government and in the ANC. I've been in government since 1996. I bring my utter commitment to the ANC. I believe I have a plan to return the ANC and the country back to its glory," she said.

And she does have a wealth of experience –- which she makes reference to at every opportunity.

She's served the party in various ministerial posts for 21 years in home affairs, intelligence (which she seems most proud of), housing, defence and military veterans, public service and administration, and currently human settlements.

But whether she has been effective in these roles is debatable.

Sisulu enjoyed immense success during her tenure in the housing ministry, claiming two international awards for the transformation she brought about there. But recently, the DA is gunning after her to account for about R2-billion in irregular expenditure at four of her ministry's provincial offices.

But her presidential campaign remains undeterred.

She is pushing a pro-poor agenda, amplifying her strategy with piercing calls for an end to corruption and factionalism in the ANC.

Her manifesto is based on delivering basic services, land and homes; free education; economic growth and inclusion; and equality (especially for women).

Speaking on unemployment, Sisulu said the ANC has tried various options on how to regenerate the economy.

"We need to create policy certainty amongst investors and ourselves. We must empower people to get themselves out of poverty... I will find out from people how can I help you help yourself... Collaboration breeds the kind of trust we need," she said.

If she were to become president, Sisulu said heading to the 2019 national elections, she would focus on making the party more attractive to the "younger generation".

However, she would not be drawn to answer on practical solutions to fix factionalism. Brown pushed her for an answer.

"The ANC needs to find itself. This is an ANC that has hit a glitch. We have hit an iceberg," Sisulu said.

She has made her intentions clear: she's not gunning after any post aside from that of Number One and would want to lead a team of ANC cadres in the top ranks who share her visions and are "acceptable to [her] campaign".

"I am not a deputy because I am a woman. I am not a deputy to anybody. I would like people who are truly committed to the ANC. I want somebody who truly wants unity in the ANC, not tied to any faction, and without baggage," Sisulu said.

Asked who is funding her campaign, Sisulu offered up her financial records for inspection and said her volunteers are mostly working free of charge while friends and family have offered financial support.

"I would like you to ask it of every candidate who comes here... Nobody is providing me with money for my campaign. Most of my volunteers are working for free, but there are family or friends who have offered up money. Every penny is accounted for," she said.

The reaction from the audience was overwhelming; most praising her as an icon for women in South Africa – and that is how she has positioned herself throughout her campaign.

When the townhall discussion came to an end, chants of "Sisulu my president" rang from the audience and the presidential hopeful took at least half an hour to pose for pictures with her supporters.

Much can be said about Sisulu – like how she was previously a staunch Zuma-backer who sung his name throughout his presidential campaign and said little about the rot in the ANC when he was elected for a second term – but her reputation has not been marred by any major controversy.

Sisulu is now upping her game and the branches will surely be watching ahead of December, but whether she will be able to overpower the powerhouses that are Cyril Ramaphosa, Zweli Mkhize and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, remains to be seen.

#702TownHall with Lindiwe Sisulu