Aubrey Matshiqi | Lindiwe Sisulu saga: There is more than one way to conceptualise 'rule of law'

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ANC NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu. Photo: Gallo Images/Frennie Shivambu
ANC NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu. Photo: Gallo Images/Frennie Shivambu

Aubrey Matshiqi writes that the response to Lindiwe Sisulu was, in his view, hysterical and that the western and liberal way of looking at the rule of law is but one conception of the rule of law.

When I was in government, I penned articles and other pieces of writing which, officially, were published in the names of government officials and politicians.

While I do not doubt that the articles published in the name of Minister Lindiwe Sisulu reflect her own views, I struggle to believe she wrote it alone. To say so is not to insult her intelligence and to think otherwise opens one to the illusory belief that Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo constructed the response to Sisulu's missive unaided by others.

Firstly I would like to get the plagiarism allegation against Sisulu out of the way before I proceed to share my opinion on the Sisulu-Zondo imbroglio.

If I am correct in thinking one of Sisulu's opinion pieces responding to ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang was a collaborative effort, I am possibly correct in thinking that those who helped her with research and, perhaps, parts of her writing too, let her down since the plagiarism allegation is not without foundation.

But she let herself down quite severely since it was in her name that the article would be published. She should have taken the trouble to proofread and edit carefully, especially because she should have anticipated that, in our politics of demons and archangels, she was going to offend many an uncritical praise singer and cheerleader.

Acknowledging the source was always going to enhance, not diminish, her argument.

READ | Fact Check: Sisulu copied from UK official's speech. reports and other sources without references

That said, what should we make of the hysteria that erupted in the country following the publication of Sisulu's first piece in IOL, entitled 'Hi Mzanizi, have we seen justice?'

We must remember that the article was published in English and most of the hysteria in response to it erupted in English. This means that it is not completely unfair to assume that many among those who are attacking Sisulu are - consciously, unconsciously or otherwise, acting in defence of what is a dominant world view, ways of being and ways of seeing in our neo-apartheid and neo-colonial order.

Those who speak English and those of us who are proficient in the grammar of whiteness seem to think that, because their views are representative of all that is rational, they must impose, in English, a canon of rational opinion because, to think in English, is to be rational.

Those who do not think in English, which is the majority in this country, therefore have nothing rational to contribute to our political and economic discourse. Those of us who speak English will speak on their behalf and think for them. I am a very good example of this pathology. Sisulu is another.

Lindiwe Sisulu and the rule of law

RONALD LAMOLA responds to Lindiwe Sisulu, writing that  attacking the very institution that is to uphold the Constitution goes against the grain of everything that we wanted to change from before 1994. 

KARYN MAUGHAN writes, Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu's comparison of black judges to "house Negroes” crossed a democracy-threatening line - and demanded a response from the judiciary.

MONDLI MAKHANYA writes we should not be surprised by Sisulu's attack on the Constitution and the judiciary as she does not believe in constitutionalism. She selfishly believes in what works for her, and her only.

PALESA MORUDU writes that while Lindiwe Sisulu has every right to enter the campaign for the ANC presidency and become the torchbearer for its "radical economic transformation" (RET) faction, she has no right to rubbish the Constitution that she swore to uphold.


We forget that our liberation will remain incomplete until our entire being is decolonised, that is; until all that was colonised - the mind, the spirit and the body - is decolonised. In this regard, English, thinking in English and the refraction of social, political and economic reality through English will never be enough.

Allow me to examine what is contained in Sisulu's first article before I address what I think are the pathologies in our politics that shaped the hysterical response to Sisulu.

Sisulu opens her article by arguing that, "Apartheid was 'legal'. Jim Crow laws in the United States were 'legal'. Colonialism was 'legal'. Even the Nazis were 'legal'. So, what does it mean to have the rule of law? And whose law is it anyway?"

I suspect that Sisulu's opening salvo is not offensive until she starts making references to the "rule of law". It is in this regard that she touches us on our neo-apartheid studio. Our neo-apartheid studio notwithstanding, the question, "And whose law is it anyway?", is valid.

READ | Opinion: Chrispin Phiri - Lindiwe Sisulu's attack on Constitution a distortion of ANC policy

Last week I opined about the fires in Parliament and, among other things said the following: our Parliament is one of the instruments that were used by colonial powers and the apartheid regime to oppress us as well as our forefathers and foremothers. With the advent of democracy in 1994, our country should have gone through "imvumakufa" - a process of rituals and ceremonies through which the old (the dark stain of colonialism and apartheid) must die so that the new (a society that is the antithesis of our dark past) can be born.

Our Parliament, therefore, is one of the institutions that should have gone through rituals of cleansing. This did not happen because South Africa is a country in Africa, but is not an African country. As I keep on saying, South Africa belongs to those who conquered it.

Furthermore, while, in a formal sense, colonialism is no more, coloniality - the logic which gave us colonialism - is very much alive and too many among our leaders are allies of coloniality. In part, it is this betrayal that is responsible for the rampant arrogance of whiteness in our neo-apartheid reality.

READ | Pieter du Toit: Parliament inferno: Where's the outrage and the urgency? Where's the president?

Lest I forget, let me alert you to the things to which I am not oblivious: First, Lindiwe Sisulu harbours presidential ambitions. Second, Raymond Zondo dreams of being appointed Chief Justice. Third, the arguments by both Zondo and Sisulu are a mix of the noble and ignoble and are decidedly political.

For those among us who think that the only thing Sisulu did was to "insult" the judiciary by using colourful language such as "house negro”, she also said the following: "In our beloved South Africa, a new Constitution in 1994 and the rule of law took on a new lofty meaning after the deck had been heavily stacked against the victims of the 'rule of law'. It was a new dispensation of justice after centuries of a vicious oppression of the indigenous of the land by invaders. But what has this beautiful Constitution done for the victims except as a palliative (Panadol)?"

She then says, "If we look around, we see a sea of African poverty. Let's not fool ourselves and one another; the primary motivation for the evils of colonialism was and still is economic. It is organised crime, the robbery of other people's land and resources, as well as the exploitation and use of their labour. It is also about the reduction of these people to mass consumers and exclusion from the ownership of the factors of production and wealth creation. But it seems today we have legitimised wrongdoing under the umbrella of the rule of law. Many years down the line, Africans manage poverty while others manage wealth. When we talk about transformation, is it just a buzzword? When we talk about reconciliation, what we don't hear is economic reconciliation?"

If we remove the political identity of the author from the argument, there is little to nothing that is wrong with it.

READ | Karyn Maughan: Sisulu echoes Zuma in baseless attack on 'mentally colonised' black judges

The western and liberal way of looking at the rule of law is but one conception of the rule of law.

The rule of law as it pertains in South Africa is emblematic of the triumph of a particular world view, ways of being, ways of seeing and ways of doing. Therefore, it constitutes what should be incontrovertible evidence that South Africa still belongs to those who conquered it.

As for the judiciary, if Zondo was speaking on its behalf it must grow a thick skin. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming an instrument for Orwellian manipulation.

- Aubrey Matshiqi is a political analyst.

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