Daily Maverick

Goodbye, Ace: Magashule’s exit bash to bring Bloemfontein to a standstill on Wednesday

There will be a massive bash in Bloemfontein on Wednesday as Free State officials are set for an extra-long Easter weekend starting with the swearing-in of new premier Sisi Ntombela and a farewell to the old, Ace Magashule. The EFF claims the cost will be R20-million, the ANC officials deny it. Welcome to the province where Ramaphoria hasn’t quite arrived yet. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.

Ace Magashule is stepping out of the Free State after 26 years into the full-time, national position of ANC secretary-general. He was elected provincial chair in 1992, and after the democratic elections two years later he waited his turn to become premier for 15 years.

This only happened in 2009, with the arrival of Jacob Zuma (to whom he remained loyal) and a resolution by the ANC that provincial chairpersons should preferably become premiers.

Of course there will be a party when he leaves on Wednesday. The farewell had already started when he held his State of the Province Address in his hometown of Parys in February.

Even his spokesperson, Tiisetso Makhele, admits that Wednesday will be a celebration. He issued a statement on Tuesday following the election of the ANC’s candidate, ANC Women’s League deputy president Sisi Ntombela, as premier in the legislature.

The Free State Provincial Government will be hosting an Inauguration Celebration (sic) for the new Premier, as well as the Farewell Function for the outgoing Premier on Wednesday, 28 March 2018,” his statement read.

The ceremony is set to take place at the Free State Rugby Stadium.

Makhele said the government had noted the allegations that the event would cost R20-million, but “these reports are untrue”.

He didn’t offer alternative information on how much it would cost, only saying it would be “in line with the budgetary and expenditure guidelines of government”.

Justifying what is expected to resemble a large ANC rally, he said it’s crucial that Ntombela be given “an opportunity to interact with the community, as well as the people of the Free State, to engage with government as well as further find ways to assist government to create a better society”.

A letter also went out on Tuesday from director-general in the premier’s office, Kopung Ralikontsane, that Free State government officials working in the Mangaung Metropolitan area leave work at 09:00 on Wednesday to attend the inauguration and farewell. The premier – presumably the new one – also gave government employees in the province permission to leave work for the weekend at 10:00 on Thursday.

The province’s emergency medical services, however, have all been told to be on standby for the event, where 35,000 attendees are expected, according to an internal memo sent by WhatsApp.

The operational plan for festivities reveal that these started with a gala dinner, billed from 13:00 till 20:00, on Tuesday after legislature proceedings, with emergency services expected to report for work at 05:00 on Wednesday to be there when the masses of guests arrive.

From the N1 to the N5 and N8 emergency medical personnel have been placed on alert. For the event itself there will be two response cars, six ambulances, two patient transporters, two mobile clinics, one “China Bus” and one helicopter on standby.

For the number of guests billed, it’s not difficult to see how Economic Freedom Fighters Free State chairperson Kgotso Morapela came to the number for the event that “disturbed and appalled” him.

In a statement, he said:

We have also been reliably informed of the instruction issued by Ace Magashule himself, instructing all mayors and municipalities in the province to mobilise people and transport that will take hundreds of people to the stadium at a phenomenal cost of over R20-million to the provincial government.”

This doesn’t include the costs to municipalities to ferry “volunteer” workers and ANC members to the rugby stadium, he alleged, adding that some of these municipalities owed big money to Eskom and the Water Board.

He ended the statement by calling on Free State residents not to vote for the ANC in the general elections.

Despite much rhetoric and noise on the fight against corruption, here in the Free State it is business as usual and the ANC at Luthuli House is unable to cleanse itself by reining in and dealing with questionable characters such as its secretary-general.”

The EFF might have hit a nerve with that one. President Cyril Ramaphosa and Magashule sit uneasily in the same Top Six leadership. Magashule got into the position with a mere two dozen votes over Ramaphosa’s ally, Senzo Mchunu, and, perhaps not so coincidentally, a few weeks later the Hawks searched his office for smallanyana skeletons related to the Estina Dairy Project.

This project was allegedly used to launder money from the province’s agriculture department for the wedding ceremony of Vega Gupta at Sun City in 2013.

There have also recently been questions about a Gupta-linked medical firm, Mediosa, receiving R25-million from the Free State government for work that hasn’t been done yet.

Many in the ANC are whispering that Ramaphosa’s allies in the ANC are hoping that Magashule will eventually be “dealt with” by the law and removed from his position.

Magashule is likely to want to keep his provincial support base loyal and strong, should he have to face a court case (and need moral support).

The new premier, Ntombela, is an ally of Magashule. Some detractors even feel she’d be a kind of proxy for him. So he’d want her to have a lot of support too.

The province might have to go to conference soon – or perhaps after next year’s elections (which could happen sooner), depending on what the ANC’s national executive committee decides in May.

Former Mangaung mayor and deputy ANC provincial chairperson Thabo Manyoni, and former economic development MEC and ANC provincial treasurer Mxolisi Dukwana, are likely to be in the running for provincial chair. There is expected to be a tough contest.

Magashule spent many, many years building his power base in the Free State, and the massive celebrations on Wednesday would be just one of the ways he will employ to hold on. DM

Photo: Ace Magashule (Leila Dee Dougan /Daily Maverick)

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