If there is one thing I remember about the late Songezo Mjongile, it is that the Songezo I encountered was different from the Songezo I thought I knew.
Andazi nokuba niyandiva na?
I think that my curiosity in current affairs was at its peak during the good old days when the ANCYL leader Songezo was in charge of Lembende Properties, an investment arm of the ANCYL.
At the time the City of Cape Town, under the then ANC mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo was involved in a controversial Big Bay land development deal which saw a hand-picked group of empowerment companies, some directly owned by the youth league such as Lembende Investments Holdings.
Many of those companies were set to make huge profits by reselling the properties in one of the most controversial beachfront developments since 1994.
The Mail & Guardian newspaper also reported extensively about the complicated mining transactions linked to Roger and Brett Kebble, the then ANCYL leaders and those at Lembende directly benefited financially.
Images of the mining magnate and businessman Brett Kebble’s coffin airlifted by Songezo and other youth league leaders to his final resting place at St George’s Cathedral flooded the press, cementing a rather strange relationship that Brett Kebble had with the young lions.
The ANCYL grieved Brett Kebble’s death along with the family, hailing him as an example that South African big business should emulate.
Reports that some senior ANCYL leaders served as “fronts” for some of the Kebble business interests were never really disputed.
A friend who knew Songezo during those days in social circles said of his passing: “but that man ibutyile ubomi (he lived)”.
For me it was only later in the years I had my encounter with Songezo when I was appointed to do political communication for the ANC Caucus in the Western Cape Legislature.
One of my duties included attending those very long Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) meetings where Songezo was an active participant, shaping the public discourse of a party in government.
I remember the in-fighting and divisions between the ANC leadership in the province made that era not the best of times until the ANC lost control of the province to the DA during the 2009 general elections.
I was young and had gathered that Songezo was one of the youngest in the ANC PEC so I could easily relate to him and find comfort whenever he was present.
He was friendly, selfless, very dedicated and worked as hard as an engine behind my boss who was my political principal and arguably the most powerful politician in the province beside the premier.
My experience was that Songezo cut a completely different figure from what had been described to me in the previous years.
A few years after parting ways with the ANC Caucus I had another encounter with Songezo. This time it was in the bushes. I was wearing a different hat as a journalist in search for the most popular umkhwetha in the country, Fikile Mbalula, in the Delft bushes, near the Cape Town International Airport.
Mbalula had been abducted by his comrades and forced into initiation. My job was to find Mbalula’s bhoma (hut).
I saw Songezo’s Range Rover parked in the sand nearby and at that moment I knew Mbalula’s bhoma was nearby.
After my front page story in the City Press, with photos taken by my fellow photojournalist Elvis Nyelenzi, showing the guard of powerful German machines as a shield to the ANCYL firebrand Mbalula, Songezo was not impressed with my exposé.
He lashed at me for daring to write about the old tradition in the newspapers and said they would re-initiate me if I continued doing such things. Even though I knew that Songezo’s threat for my second initiation was mere talk, somehow it got to me.
But looking at how his sudden passing has touched so many people; comrades and his family, it is a big and a painful loss to lose such a leader who seems to have touched many people’s lives. Indeed he was larger than life and far beyond what the media could comprehend.
May his soul rest in peace.