The passing of Songezo Mjongile, former Secretary General of the ANC in the Western Cape who died from complications from Colon cancer on September 17, is sad not only because of the publicly documented gut wrenching pain he must have gone through towards the end but also because in some people’s eyes, mine included, he had not completed his redemption and his plea for renewal and unity in the ANC was treated with suspicion and, dare one say, with disdain.
The reason for seeking redemption and being treated with suspicion is that Mjongile belongs to a generation of ANC leaders who were the first to taste the heady mix of power and money and succumb to lure of money on offer by the late mining magnate Brett Kebble.
I was a reporter at the Mail &Guardian when a series of Lembede’s questionable dealings with father and son mining entrepreneurs, if you want to call them that, Roger and Brett Kebble came to light. Their association with Kebble was defended to the end by Kanyo Gqulu, then spokesperson for Minerals and Energy minister Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka who eulogised Kebble in the pages of the Mail & Guardian.
Taking over the morbid, dour, insipid and uninspired leadership of one Malusi Gigaba, Mjongile and his generation brought the zest, energy and flashiness of the “one comrade, one Polo Playa” generation of youth leaders, named after the desirable merging youth oriented car brand at the time.
He lived and enjoyed the life that came with his status and enjoyed its fine trappings.
All that can retrospectively be out down to the folly of youth.
In a three year stay in Cape Town while covering parliament, our encounters remained, unfortunately in retrospect, fleeting but memorable such as at the opening of the Misael gallery in Long Street.
I suspect I still regarded his gregarious and engaging nature as part of an act to explain away his Kebble missteps.
Thus it was that when he emerged as part of a group that punted Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as the next leader of the ANC and president of the country, I lumped with the Radical Economic Transformation faction of the ANC and even once chastised him on a public post of having learnt nothing from his Kebble capture to associate himself with a wing that succumbed to capture by the Guptas, which of course made his Kebble looting attempts look and feel like a Sunday picnic.
Only later did I realise that his genuine interest was in the candidate NDZ, rather than the campaign including its sullied architects including such as Carl Niehaus.
He supported NDZ in the genuine belief that she was a leader who had an independent mind who a decade earlier had stood against former President Jacob Zuma’s slate at the Polokwane conference and this time merely saw the Zuma crowd endorsement as a path to power without the need to serve their agenda once ensconced in high office.
He raised serious misgivings about Cyril Ramaphosa in the run up to and after the NASREC 2017 Conference and some of these are now being more apparent by Ranpahosa’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery plan, or lack of it.
Chief among his misgivings was Ramaphosa’ propensity to succumb to pressure form interest groups as witnessed by his pandering to religious with an early, botched re opening of churches at the height of the pandemic which was embarrassingly spurned by the very people it was meant to benefit.
Mjongile’s final abiding message to the ANC, which was missed or misinterpreted in some quarters, was for the losing faction to respect conference outcome and abide by Ramaphosa’s leadership, even as they disagreed with aspect.
One can only hope that the ANC honours his memory by heeding his advice before it’s too late.
Coming form the only province where the ANC has played official opposition, he knows what it is like to be out of power.
Mjongile’s memorial service will be held at the Gugulethu Sports Complex on Heritage Day while his funeral will held at the same venue on Friday, 25 September. Farewell Madiba, I am sorry I missed the fact that you saw the light in the latter part of your activism.
(COMPILED BY INSIDE POLITICS STAFF)