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My Second Initiation by Vusi Pikoli and Mandy Wiener Launched with Bongani Bingwa

Vusi Pikoli and Mandy Wiener

 
My Second InitiationVusi Pikoli’s much-anticipated memoir, My Second Initiation, was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd of media, friends, family, former colleagues and supporters at Constitution Hill on Wednesday.

In her welcome speech, Terry Morris of Pan Macmillan mentioned the huge amount of media attention the book had received within the few days since its release and described it as an inside account of Pikoli’s time working in the justice system, which also includes the story of his formative years and the abduction and death of his close friend Sizwe Kondile with whom he had grown up in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. In 1981, Kondile was abducted in Lesotho and, after being detained at a police station in Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape, was taken to Komatipoort near the Mozambique border where he was shot and burned.

Pikoli and Wiener were in conversation with Bongani Bingwa – journalist, actor, TV presenter and investigator for the Carte Blanche programme. But before the conversation got started, Pikoli was treated to a song of praise by friends and relatives, whom he acknowledged for their love and support through sharing with him what he described as a journey of love, pain and hope.

Bingwa asked Pikoli why he had decided to write this book. Pikoli said he never considered himself to be a writer and resisted a number of attempts to get him to tell his story. He felt too raw at the time of his suspension as the National Director of Public Prosecutions in September 2007 by former President Thabo Mbeki, but after a period of reflection he started to feel that the story should be told. He said Wiener was one of the first people to ask him to write a book and she had interviewed him for her book Killing Kebble. He felt she would be the right person as she was not afraid to be hard on him when she felt it necessary.

Wiener felt that Pikoli could have written the book himself as it is a very personal and brave account. It speaks to his character that he would let himself be interrogated. The process involved a series of interviews over a period of some months, where Wiener cross-examined Pikoli for days on end and found he was not afraid to admit his weaknesses. The book deals with prosecutorial independence and political interference, while his childhood and struggle background and the story of Kondile forms the background to Pikoli the man.

Bingwa referred to Pikoli’s activities during the struggle years and asked if he knew at the time what he was getting into. Pikoli said he was inspired by his uncle, who he never met as he was sent to Robben Island in 1963 when Pikoli was five years old. Many people were banned and under house arrest in the township and he grew up realising that one has to be prepared to kill and be killed.

Pikoli admitted that living in exile, sleeping in graveyards and fearing attacks from South Africa represented the worst of times. The smell of death stayed in ones nostrils for days on end but there was no time to stop and reflect. Singing freedom songs kept them going, and of course there were some good times too.

Wiener was four years old when Pikoli went into exile, and so it was a foreign concept for her, both poignant and profound, and she was fascinated with the stories of the exile years. The first half of the book is a story of pain and what people like Pikoli were willing to sacrifice.

Turning to the triumph of the 1994 elections, Bingwa asked Pikoli how much he and his comrades underestimated the allure of power and its temptations. Pikoli said that they could see that things in other liberated African countries were not going well, “but they used to say that this would never happen here”. He found it heartbreaking to see former comrades who had turned to crime because they were destitute. With nothing but a military background, many of them came home to no jobs and said that “the Movement is not looking after us”.

When he was appointed the National Director of Public Prosecutions in the place of Bulelani Ngcuka, he saw it as a deployment. Weiner added that Pikoli had no idea then what a poisoned chalice it was, and that he was going to have to prosecute the deputy president and the national police commissioner. Pikoli recounted how difficult it was to have to go to Luthuli House and tell Jacob Zuma, President of the ANC, that he was going to be charged with corruption, although he seemed to have been expecting it.

After Brett Kebble’s death in 2005, they had no idea that Operation Bad Guys would uncover a quarter of a billion rand drug bust, three self-confessed hit men and massive fraud and corruption, all of which would eventually lead to Pikoli’s suspension.

Pikoli described the huge obstacles in the way of prosecuting National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi. They knew he was in the pocket of criminals, but the docket was empty when the Scorpions took over the case. Pikoli said he was under no obligation to inform President Mbeki that he was pressing charges against Selebi, and was dismayed when Mbeki asked for a two-week delay. “Crime Intelligence knew our every move and there was a danger of documents disappearing. Selebi knew we were investigating him,” said Pikoli.

The reason given for Pikoli’s suspension two weeks later was a breakdown in communication between himself and the Minister of Justice, Brigitte Mabandla. Wiener said that the subsequent Ginwala Commission of Inquiry was fascinating as they were able to see all the documentation involved in Pikoli’s suspension, which related to concerns about the indemnities granted to the criminals involved in Kebble’s killing. It was clear that the government was not being candid at all.

This was a fascinating conversation. To Pikoli, Bingwa said, “This is an important book, ably told. Your supporters will like it, and your detractors will hate you even more!”

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