ANC members in the East London City Hall spring to their feet when Andile Lungisa walks on to the stage. It is Sunday morning — the morning after the violent chaos that the Eastern Cape provincial conference will now always be remembered for.
Hundreds of people erupt into song, and Lungisa lifts a delegate accreditation tag high above his head, swaying from side to side with the rhythm. The crowd follows his example — hundreds of hands wave accreditation cards. Lungisa’s popularity is undeniable.
Elected four years ago to the ANC’s provincial executive committee (PEC), he has been labelled “disrupter-in-chief” by the newly elected ANC Eastern Cape leadership. But he says he is being targeted because of his national leadership preferences and his reputation as a “hardliner”.
“They are targeting individuals which they view in the Eastern Cape as influential. In Eastern Cape politics, there is always the Lungisa element, who is a hardliner on the left,” Lungisa told the Mail & Guardian this week.
He also revealed that he has opened a police case and is concerned about being assassinated after being followed by “suspicious-looking” cars on more than one occasion.
Seen as the chief lobbyist for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ANC leadership campaign, Lungisa says he has managed to secure support from two other regions that do not back party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
“They’ve targeted [us]; they know those are the individuals who were part of the team which is co-ordinating a different perspective in the Eastern Cape. If you try to deal with Andile’s integrity and weaken Andile, no one will have different thinking in the Eastern Cape,” he says.
Lungisa speaks of himself in the third person, just like Economic Freedom Fighters president Julius Malema — a reminder that he was once deputy president of the ANC Youth League when Malema was its president.
“Some of us in the Eastern Cape come from the left; historically, we’ve always been part of the group in the youth league known as hardliners. In 2004, during the build-up to the youth league conference … they blocked the grouping. It was us from the Eastern Cape and Julius Malema from Limpopo,” he says.
A few hours before receiving a hero’s welcome from the delegates in the city hall, Lungisa had tried in the main plenary session to query the legitimacy of the delegates present at the conference.
Despite delivering the support of three regions — Joe Gqabi, Amathole and Nelson Mandela Bay — the 39-year-old backed the losing candidate in the election of new provincial party leaders: premier and now former chairperson Phumulo Masualle.
Newly elected Eastern Cape secretary Lulama Ngcukaitobi says the party will take disciplinary action against those who instigated the disruption of the conference.
“Where necessary, disciplinary steps will be taken, but we are seeking to unite the organisation in the process,” says Ngcukaitobi. “The [city hall rally] is part of the factions that are organised outside of the organisation. It’s not an organic rebellion; it is well organised and resourced and the Eastern Cape government is used to sponsor such activities.”
Lungisa brushes this off, and still refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the new PEC’s election. He says it is not the first time he has thrown his weight behind the underdog. He is a rebel, he says — “the wild kind of native that would rather die on my feet before living on my knees”.
“I always support the weak. I don’t support the strong. [In] 2007, I supported then deputy president Jacob Zuma because I viewed him as being victimised … Now, I support comrade Nkosazana because she is being victimised, being insulted by those who own the means of production,” Lungisa says.
“The current deputy president is stronger because he’s supported by white monopoly capital, by its whole community. He is stronger and is a billionaire. NDZ has a strong character but I’m simply saying: she’s being attacked,” he adds.
This year marks Lungisa’s 21st year in a leadership position, he told the M&G. His first elected position was as chairperson of the Congress of South African Students branch in Mthatha in 1996. He also chaired the South African Youth Council and the Pan African Youth Union.
He was also appointed chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency in 2009. In 2013 he was arrested and charged with fraud and money laundering over a “fake” R Kelly concert.
Lungisa’s entertainment company had received R2.5‑million from the sports and recreation department to host a concert by the R&B singer that never materialised. In October 2016 the charges against him were withdrawn.
He also was almost elected as chairperson of the ANC’s Nelson Mandela Bay region earlier this year, despite warnings by the party’s secretary general that he was not eligible.
Zuma flew to Port Elizabeth to endorse Lungisa’s election, and was seated next to him before saying he was a “good leader”. The election was nullified and Lungisa was forced to resign less than a week later.
But Lungisa still holds Zuma in high regard. “The president is doing very well; that is why we support him in the Eastern Cape. Even the investment we received as the Eastern Cape under president Zuma is bigger than under president Mbeki and president Mandela,” he says.
Lungisa remains upbeat about his political career. He has not accepted the conference’s outcome, which excluded him from the PEC, and has big plans for the province.
“I think we should consolidate the Eastern Cape and make it the agricultural hub of South Africa,” he declares.
“My goal is to reposition the Eastern Cape as the mother of food production, because even the old Bantustans survived through agriculture. We’ve got arable land.”