South Africa

Wind of change as Hawks swoop on Ace Magashule’s office

By Greg Nicolson 26 January 2018

A month after Ace Magashule was elected ANC secretary general, the Hawks raided the Free State premier's office on Friday during their investigation into the Vrede farm scandal that saw almost R220-million diverted to the Gupta family. The cards are now stacked against President Jacob Zuma and his allies. Magashule could be the first to fall. By GREG NICOLSON.

There’s a reason why there was widespread shock when Ace Magashule was elected secretary general at the ANC’s December conference. He has ruled the Free State with an iron fist since the dawn of democracy, has been accused of manipulating party processes and faces a raft of corruption allegations.

If he thought being elected to one of the most powerful positions in the party, and the country, would protect him, he was wrong.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, better known as the Hawks, raided his Bloemfontein office on Friday looking for documents related to the provincial government’s deal with Estina, the Gupta-related company that earned almost R220-million meant to go to aspiring black farmers.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Asset Forfeiture Unit put the assets of the Krynaauws Lust Farm under curatorship last week as the investigation into the provincial government and the Guptas continues. The Hawks also raided the offices of the Free State Department of Agriculture on Friday and will speak to those who were meant to be beneficiaries of the provincial programme on Saturday.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, like Magashule, is one of Zuma’s and the Gupta family’s closest allies, and led the provincial department when the deal was done. In court papers, the, NPA said the deal was designed to defraud and steal funds from the department. The Guptas used R30-million of that stolen cash to pay for the lavish family wedding in Sun City in 2012.

We wish to assure the public that we will co-operate with all law enforcement authorities doing investigations on this matter. It is, in fact, in our interest that this matter is brought to its finality to allow the Free State provincial government to continue its work of changing the lives of the people for the better,” said Kopung Ralikontsane, director-general in the premier’s office in a statement on Friday.

Magashule, who was not at his office during the raid, dodged questions on Monday during an ANC briefing. Whether it’s with Vrede Dairy or any other thing, the law must actually take its place. So let’s leave that matter, it’s with the NPA, it’s with the law enforcers,” he said. “Whatever happens, we are actually reiterating the stance of the ANC that we need to fight corruption wherever it rears its head.”

There was no indication whether the Hawks’ raid was successful on Friday and seeing as the Vrede deal was done years ago, incriminating evidence might be long gone.

Authorities have been reluctant to act against political officials implicated in corruption, particularly as reams of evidence have been published linking Zuma and his allies to dodgy deals designed to enrich the Gupta family. This year, however, the NPA has also applied to seize R1.6-billion from McKinsey and the Gupta-related Trillian as an investigation into their deal with Eskom continues, and Zuma has been pressured to appoint the State Capture commission of inquiry he avoided for so long.

Those implicated have repeated that they are innocent until proven guilty, but the tide appears to be turning after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC. Speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos on CNN last night, Ramaphosa was asked whether action would be taken against Zuma.

Well right now we’ve got me as president of the ANC and Mr Zuma as President of the Republic. Our Constitution is designed in a way where he still has 18 months to go. But in the ANC we’ve all agreed at the national executive committee that we are now in a transitional period,” he said. “This transitional period dictates that we should navigate through this transition very carefully and delicately.” He said they would engage in discussions with Zuma and are “looking through a variety of options”.

Let’s look at all this let’s see what this transition can mean to the ANC and have a thorough-going discussion with him.” He said the decision must be in the interests of South Africans. “So watch this space as we go through with the transitional talks.” Once again he emphasised that Zuma should not be humiliated.

As Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership weigh up what to do with Zuma, the circle around Zuma’s allies is closing. Magashule has been one of the President’s key allies and is reported to have been tasked with speaking to him about stepping down. But his own position remains tenuous.

As the allegations against the Free State premier increase and the authorities continue their investigations, Magashule could have a weaker hand in trying to protect Zuma or ensure he has a dignified exit. Ramaphosa’s allies could try to push for Magashule to be removed or use his vulnerable position to force him to accede to demands to remove Zuma. DM

Photo: Newly elected ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, at the ANC’s elective conference in December. Photo: Daily Maverick


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