There are striking similarities in the lives of Anton Muziwakhe Lembede and Roland Lamola who was this week announced as minister of justice and correctional services.
Lembede, a founding member of the ANC Youth League in 1944, came from a peasant family in what is now KwaZulu-Natal.
Lamola, who was among a group of leaders who reinvigorated the Youth League in the early 2000s, grew up on a farm in Mpumalanga.
He revealed in an interview with the Mail & Guardian a few years ago that growing up on the farm he didn’t regard politics as a career, and that his sole connection with the outside world was a tiny radio that belonged to his farmworker father. Lembede’s father was also a farmworker.
After matriculating in Bushbuckridge, the home of APC leader Themba Godi in 2000, Lamola studied law at the University of Venda graduating with an LLB in 2005.
Among his qualifications he holds an LLM in corporate law from the University of Pretoria and an LLM in extractive law from the same institution in 2016.
Like Lamola, Lembede was a man of letters who took up teaching after matriculating before switching to law, obtaining a BA and LLB through the University of South Africa through correspondence, a massive achievement for a black man in oppressive 1930s South Africa.
But unlike Lembede who became general president of the Youth League in 1944, Lamola lost out on leading the organisation in 2015. A photograph of a gutted Lamola cutting a lone figure in the conference hall after the conference told the story of the deep hurt suffered by the youth leader.
Lamola had an early start in politics, joining the Youth League at the age of 14 in 1996. Later on, just like Lembede him and his comrades in the league played a role in exerting pressure and influencing some of the mother body’s decisions.
This was later to prove disastrous as the mother body cracked down on the radical leadership under Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Pule Mabe and Lamola among others. In the 1940s, Lembede, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo had also fallen into similar trouble with the ANC leadership battling to control the exuberant, radical energy of its youth wing.
Lembede died mysteriously aged 33 in 1947. 72 years later, at age 36, Lamola is SA’s youngest justice minister in the democratic era.
He obviously faces different challenges to those faced by Lembede’s generation in that the ANC is now a ruling party plagued by internal strife, factional battles and endemic corruption implicating many of Lamola’s comrades.
With president Cyril Ramaphosa having promised voters a crackdown on corruption in the run up to the May general election, Lamola, as justice minister finds himself right at the heart of efforts to tackle this scourge.
And with evidence emerging in the Zondo Commission suggesting many of the ANC’s bigwigs are implicated one way or another in corruption and looting of state resources, the justice minister will have to navigate a very tight rope.
He has to ensure justice is being done and seen to be done and avoid being seen as protecting his comrades or meddling in the affairs of state institutions tasked with the administration of justice.
In Minister of Police Bheki Cele who has been retained by Ramaphosa, Lamola has a passionate and impartial ally in the fight against corruption. But he will also need the wisdom and passion of Lembede in restoring public faith in the ANC.