20 September 2020
Air of impunity clouded Lungisa’s judgment in his long walk to prison
When Andile Lungisa walked into North End prison in Port Elizabeth to start his sentence, my emotions oscillated ambivalently between relief that an air of impunity is being removed from our politics but also sadness that such a young and promising political life has come to this.
Lungisa was part of a group of militant ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leaders who, with Julius Malema as their boss, challenged former president Thabo Mbeki’s leadership until his ouster in Polokwane in 2007. He moved from the National Development Agency, some type of youth leadership incubation structure used, but mostly abused, by the ANCYL, in 2008. He was succeeded as ANCYL deputy president by Ronald Lamola, who is now minister of Justice and Correctional Services.
There is a thing to be said about encouraging young people to be radical and or militant when their brain cells have not yet developed to understand the import of their actions and how what they do in the spur of the moment could imperil their dreams. Now Lungisa is in a prison overseen by his ANCYL successor.
In our politics, it is expected that young people must be militant (read uncouth) in order to be taken note of. It’s sickly, I know. It’s like saying community members must burn their own libraries and schools in order for their demands for a tarred road to be heard.
But in the traditions of the ANCYL, one must always be ready to challenge authority, speak out of tune and make threats of sorts. It is, for me, a misreading of the militancy of the ANCYL leadership of Anton Lembede, Nelson Mandela and Peter Mokaba. Yes, Mandela was a rogue of sorts. But his militancy was necessary for that time and appropriately directed.
Malusi Gigaba was a nerdy ANCYL leader and this is why Fikile Mbalula, who was his rabble-rousing secretary-general, was considered a shoe-in when Gigaba’s time was up. Mbalula too had words come out of his mouth before they were properly processed. He became a useful “militant” for Zuma against Mbeki. Mbalula and Malema were a match made in hell and their friendship endured beyond their political differences later on. Their reigns were not dissimilar, marked, in large measure, by a strong anti-Mbeki, pro-JZ sentiment for which Malema later apologised.
He, of course, only saw the folly of his ways after his type of militancy had no target but Zuma following the unceremonious removal of Mbeki from office. And Zuma had a short fuse for what, in his eyes, was misdirected youth adventurism. After all, he had succeeded in removing the “snake” responsible, through the Scorpions, for his ‘persecution’. He just wanted to focus on killing off the Scorpions through parliament, ensuring properly trained investigators and prosecutors were hounded out unencumbered by misdirected youth militancy.
But he wasn’t sure what to do with restlessness energy within the ANCYL beyond just removing remnants of Mbeki’s people in the provinces. No sooner had Malema and his cohort of militants realised the malcontent in charge of the country had changed loyalty from his convicted friend, or is it fiend, Schabir Shaik, to the Guptas that they started turning the lights on their masters.
Zuma’s short fuse ensured Malema was shown the door – and thus the EFF was born. The ANCYL died a natural death. Some of those who supported Zuma against Mbeki who remained in the ANC didn’t want a fate similar to Malema. Lungisa headed to the Eastern Cape. He made his way up, becoming a provincial executive committee (PEC) member before, in defiance of the ANC, taking up the position as Nelson Mandela Bay regional chairman. The ANC’s loss in the metro saw him become a councillor led by a DA mayor, for the first time, in 2016.
Before long, he used a jug of water to knock DA councillor Rano Kayser unconscious. Why? Because an ANC member was asked to leave the meeting. Yes, it was a brand of militancy he wanted to bring to the room to challenge a DA administration that came to power thanks to his former comrades now in the EFF. The betrayal. The anger. It was all too much. On the surface, he simply needed emotional intelligence to rein in his misguided notions of militancy.
But a part of him knew people who used chairs as weapons at ANCYL conferences, people who brought murderous weapons to conferences and used uncouth means to win – and got away with it. Why not him? Surely, if his mentor Zuma could avoid incarceration after such grand corruption involving Shaik, then repeated it with the Guptas, for so long – what would stop him? After all, didn’t he learn from the master himself?
When Lungisa defied the ANC by holding two positions, it was Zuma who went all the way to Port Elizabeth to show him support. Impunity is cancerous.
Payam Alhavan is an international lawyer and professor at McGill University in Montreal who is also a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. In a paper titled “Beyond impunity: can international criminal justice prevent future atrocities?” he notes: “The pursuit of justice may be dismissed as a well-intentioned, but futile, ritualistic attempt to restore equilibrium to a moral universe overwhelmed by evil.”
When he raised the water jug to assault Kayser, Lungisa may have thought the pursuit of the case against him will, as seems the case with Zuma, be a futile, ritualistic attempt. An air of impunity clouded his judgment. One should be militant without being criminal.