My Second Initiation - Review

My Second Initiation by Comrade VusumziVusiPikoli, is simply a must read from and for a principles- and conscience-based perspective of South Africa’s past and present political landscape; a landscape strewn with mud-slinging, accusations and counter-accusations of betrayal. The book delves into the genesis of the current burning issues in the ANC – constitutional, moral and policy concerns; ideological events in which Comrade Vusi was one of the principal participants. Objectively in writing of his experiences he was liable to portray a too subjective appraisal of developments; hence he saw it fit to engage the services of the journalist, Mandy Wiener, as co-author. In the prelude, About this book, Mandy writes, “Pikoli could have written this book himself, but as he explained to me at the start, he wanted an enquiring eye to be cast on his story. I believe that, in itself, speaks to the credibility of the man.” Appropriately, the book is written in the first person narrative, which allows the reader to still see developments through Comrade Vusi’s eyes.

Accordingly, Comrade Vusi starts the narrative where it begins: his person, as seen through the name he was given by his parents, Vusumzi; a name meaning he who revives his family. To extend that person-being and expectations concept, in turn, he named one of his sons Vusisizwe, he who awakens the nation. Vusi and his children trace their roots from Jwarha, brother to Cirha and Tshawe, the sons of the Xhosa-speaking people ancient paramount, Nkosiyamntu. Their clan praises says they are handsome people, even when armed for battle, Abantu abahle noba bephethe izikhali! Nowadays it is not custom to attach significance to praisenames; neither did Comrade Vusi until he was called and advised by a friend in 2008 to go and reclaim this identity. Curiously this friend, a sangoma, at the time, had no prior knowledge of this lineage. Might Comrade Vusi be setting the stage for a biblical first-testament-like story?

In the next sub-section he writes, “In the tradition of ixhanti, we place a special pole in the yard of a house and each time we slaughter an animal, the horns of the beast are placed on that pole. It is a respected holy shrine to all the family’s ancestors and children are forbidden from playing around it.” I found myself wishing I heard read the book much earlier. My one reservation was that “Njiva”, Advocate Vusi Pikoli’s street name, contextualizes and presents these practices as Xhosa culture. The practices are shared by the other linguistic groups in southern Africa. It happens that Comrade Vusi got to know of them through his family, which, as said, is classed under Xhosa-Nguni dialect. Nonetheless the Homeric presentation of our customs earns him his salutations, Jwarha! Mazaleni! Abantu abahle noba bephethe izikhali!

To more properly set the stage for his narrative, which panned out as press sensational headlines and TV news thrillers in our times, he writes, “My relatives always predicted I would grow up to be a lawyer. I was very curious as a young boy and used to challenge everyone in debate… I was also a disciplinarian and a stickler for rules.” And it sure is a lively experience when an acquaintance tells you that they were charmers in their younger days. Usually such an admittance or claim thereof is accompanied by pleasant memories, a smile and sparkling eyes. In the written format Comrade Vusi says, “Not only was I slick, I also considered myself quite the charmer.” He told his future wife at the age of 14, when she was 13, that she would be his wife. Getting into politics before the realization of that foreknowledge was the next natural step for him as a young man growing up in New Brighton, one of Port Elizabeth townships. The first paragraph in the chapter titled Being politised has the sentence, “Covered with faded, spray-painted slogans in varying degrees of legibility, the bridge is an unofficial testament to the rich political history of the area… declaring allegiances and advocating ideologies. The officials have tried in vain to scrub them off but they have never really succeeded.” The township boasts of the Emlotheni Memorial Park where the first ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), soldiers were hanged and buried. After telling a few episodes relating to the township’s political history, he says he was young at the time, “but the memories are clear and indelible.” That reminded me of a former MK cadre in a chat-group who quite recently wrote, “Some of us are not ANC T-shirt members, we live for the revolution.”

In the background of the book is Comrade Vusi’s friend Sizwe Kondile. Vusi says “There were time when he [Sizwe Kwandile] walked all the way from his house to my place, just over a kilometer away, and when I started talking to him, he would say, ‘No, keep quiet man. Shut up!’ When Vusi wanted to know why he bothered to visit, Sizwe would answer, ‘No, man, I just want to be with you.’ Thus Njiva, Advocate Pikoli, sets the stage for his promising epic narrative.

It meets the expectations. After, perhaps now familiar, episodes of growing up stages by potential MK volunteers, joining MK and the ANC’s victory in the general elections of 1994, in August of the same year Njiva was invited by the then Justice Minister, Mr Dullah Omar, to be one of his two special advisers. Njiva ‘had been involved with drafting the terms of the ANC constitutional guidelines and the new Constitution did not differ much from what we had discussed and drafted in Lusaka.” Thus the tasks he had to deal with were ‘something of a continuation of that process’ - right up his ally. He was part of the department’s team that drafted the Truth and Reconciliation Act. He got promoted to post of the Department’s Director-General and finally in January, 2005, he got a call from Mr Thabo Mbeki, then president of the country to take the post of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). What follows is summed up in the book’s blurb, backcover summary: “He [Advocate Pikoli] provides an insider’s perspective on cases that have dominated discussion over the past decade from the Arms Deal and the Scorpions to Brett Kebble murder, Travelgate, the Special Browse Mole Report and Hoax E-mail Saga.”

The book foreshadows the current fallout from Public Protectors report on the Nkandla Upgrade to subsequent Constitutional Court’s finding on the country’s president’s response. In closing his chapter on NDPP Advocate Pikoli says “Those in government and the ANC leadership … confused two important issues: my [Vusi’s] allegiance to the party and my oath of office. To me, the Constitution and the law come first.” Reading this I double-checked the book’s publication date. It’s 2013. Some two and a half years before the Concourt findings on Nkandla! They still don’t get it!

Njiva was dismissed from his NDPP post in December 2008 by President Kgalema Motlanthe. He believes it was for doing his duties by the rules. To judge for yourself get a copy of the book My Second Initiation: The Memoir of Vusi Pikoli.