South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday reprimanded a senior minister after she attacked the constitution and said judges were “mentally colonized” in a scathing attack that has fueled speculation about new rivalries within the ruling party. Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, daughter of revered anti-apartheid activists Walter and Albertina Sisulu, launched her extraordinary attack on both the judiciary and the constitution in opinion pieces on the Independent Online (IOL) news site in recent days.
The 67-year-old veteran minister derided unnamed senior judges as “mentally colonised Africans”, who are “only too happy to lick the spittle of those who falsely claim superiority”.
She also attacked South Africa’s ground-breaking post-apartheid constitution, saying that it had failed to improve the lives of the majority of black South Africans still living in poverty. Her remarks, which triggered heated debate, fuelled speculation that Sisulu is planning to run for the leadership of the ruling African National Congress at a party conference in December.
Ramaphosa hit back against what he called “attacks on the independence and integrity of our judiciary” in his weekly newsletter on Monday
“We must safeguard against any and all efforts to diminish our hard-won democracy,” he wrote.
Without directly referring to Sisulu’s piece, he also stressed the “need to protect our constitution, our democratic state and the electoral process from anyone who wants to weaken our democracy”.
The party of late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is due to hold a leadership election in December.
Ramaphosa is widely expected to seek a second five-year term but could face a challenge from a faction of the party that is loyal to corruption-accused ex-president Jacob Zuma.
Sisulu, daughter of Mandela’s former comrade-in-arms Walter Sisulu, has served as a lawmaker since the advent of democracy in 1994 and been a cabinet minister for more than 15 years. In her piece on IOL she suggested that some members of the judiciary were judging black South Africans more harshly.
“In the high echelons of our judicial system are these mentally colonised Africans, who have settled with the worldview and mindset of those who have dispossessed their ancestors,” she wrote.
“The lack of confidence that permeates their rulings against their own speaks very loudly, while others, secure in their agenda, clap behind closed doors”.
She was also scathing about South Africa’s much-lauded 1996 constitution, calling it a mere “palliative” for apartheid victims faced with “a sea of African poverty”.
In a follow-up opinion piece on IOL on Sunday, she went further, saying the constitution “far too often serves the few, the powerful, and the well-connected” and was “not holy Scripture.” Her comments about the judiciary drew fire from the acting chief justice Raymond Zondo.
“This is not criticism, it is an insult to …all the African judges who serve this country with distinction, with determination to uphold the constitution,” Zondo told a news conference last week.