South Africa

ANALYSIS

Ace Magashule’s unstoppable oncoming train, now a few metres closer

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule during a media briefing about his meeting with former president Jacob Zuma on 11 September, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alon Skuy)

After all of the fire and fury around the Economic Freedom Fighters and the VBS Bank scandal, which should in all honesty be called the VBS/ANC/EFF scandal, it appears the focus of our daily politics might be moving back to the situation within the ANC, the party’s secretary-general Ace Magashule in particular. There now appears to be chapter and verse evidence, and more interestingly a talking witness evidence, about his relationship with the Gupta family. If what has been published so far is true, it could indicate that Magashule was involved in an easily provable wrongdoing. It may have huge implications for his political future, while also, once more, strengthening President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Update: Just as this article was going into publication, Daily Maverick SCORPIO has unveiled another breaking investigation, this time involving Ace Magashule’s involvement in the theft of a Pierneef painting that used to adorn the walls of his office while “serving” as Free State Premier. Read more of this breaking news here.

On Sunday the City Press published more details of a proposed deal involving the Guptas that was offered to a then state economic development MEC in the Free State, Mxolisi Dukwana. Dukwana has told the paper that he was offered the sum of R2-million a month for 10 years if he would sign on the dotted line. Crucially, when he was offered this deal by Tony Gupta, Magashule was in the same room. All of this took place back in 2011, long before the activities of the Gupta family were known and understood in the way that they are now.

Dukwana also suggests that when he said that the person who would actually have to sign the deal was the then head of department, Thuso Ramaema, Gupta told him that he should fire Ramaema, and appoint Richard Seleke in his stead.

(Seleke was until recently the director-general in the Department of Public Enterprises; he left recently after being accused of having close links to the Guptas. In fact, the #GuptaLeaks show that his CV was sent to Duduzane Zuma before he was appointed to the Public Enterprises DG post in 2015. Dukwana later led a group of rebels against Magashule in a bid to try to unseat him as the leader of the ANC in the Free State.)

The reporting in City Press was started by a set of legal papers filed in a separate application, in which Dukwana tried to get hold of documents that he wanted to present to the Zondo Commission investigating State Capture. In other words, he tried, but appears to have failed, to get certain diaries and files that would bolster his story and strengthen his testimony.

Magashule has issued a statement denying the claims, and suggesting that the media was being used for someone’s personal “crusade”.

In the end, the upshot of all of this is it now appears likely that someone with intimate knowledge of the relationship between Magashule and the Guptas is soon going to testify at the Zondo Commission. In other words, Magashule’s name is going to be under harsh spotlights on national television, while one of his now political opponents explains in detail some of the former Free State Premier’s alleged wrongdoings.

The importance of this is not just in the testimony itself. It is also that when one person blows a whistle, others involved in wrongdoing are forced to consider their own situations. They may conclude that it would be uncomfortable to be the last person to testify, as that person is usually the accused. As a result, it is reasonable to conclude that Dukwana will simply be the first of many who will testify against Magashule, who was the leader of the ANC in the Free State from 1992 until his election as national secretary-general in December 2017. It is likely that in that time he made plenty of internal enemies, people who wanted the job, and the benefits, for themselves. It is now entirely possible that more of them, some of them hitherto unknown, come out with what they know. And it is likely that they know a lot, if indeed there was wrongdoing.

All of this is likely to create a situation in which Magashule has no choice but to actually make good on his threat to testify at the Zondo Commission. Magashule has previously said he would speak “beyond the terms of reference” of that commission, in what looked like a coded threat that he has knowledge of of smallanyana skeletons in his opponents’ closets. But that still would surely not be a comfortable place for Magashule. If he were asked to explain Dukwana’s testimony, what would he say? How would he explain the Vrede Dairy scandal? What about the role of his sons in the Gupta companies? And that’s before a lawyer gets going on his role in having Mosebenzi Zwane appointed Minister of Mineral Resources and the shining star of former president Jacob Zuma’s administration.

It would appear that this situation is, once more, to the benefit of Ramaphosa.

First, it simply sucks time and energy from Magashule and the people around him; they simply do not have the resources to mount any political offensive against Ramaphosa, because they are fighting for their own survival. The previously mentioned harsh lights tend to expose more mud.

Second, it is possible that divisions will emerge among those around Magashule, as people realise that they themselves could be implicated. That is a breeding ground for suspicion-based desperation, which makes unity harder for this faction and a recipe for making bad decisions.

It should not be forgotten that Ramaphosa cannot fire or suspend Magashule; only an ANC conference or national general council has the power to do that. But, all of this can serve to delegitimise Magashule politically, rendering him isolated and irrelevant. This may even amount to roughly the same thing, although the administrative functions that this office serves are important to the ANC. Any disruption to them could have negative implications for the party in the longer term.

In the middle of all this, the recent history of the ANC shows how important the relationship between the leader of the party and the secretary-general actually is. Thabo Mbeki was seen as strong as a leader until Kgalema Motlanthe moved from his side to Jacob Zuma’s. Zuma appeared rock-solid in the ANC until Gwede Mantashe appeared to move more to the Ramaphosa camp. But as leaders, they had been elected in a situation in which they could work together. At Nasrec, Ramaphosa and Magashule were elected when everyone knew they could not. Even Fikile Mbalula was aware of the problems this would create.

The other important aspect of this is that it may suggest that Ramaphosa’s policy of “governance by commission” is working. As these commissions sit, so more and more damning evidence is coming to light. While this may have worked against the president in the case of Nhlanhla Nene, it looks as though, with Magashule, it will be a hit. This is important, because these commissions are going to keep going. And as a result of that, the evidence that is presented against Ramaphosa’s enemies will continue to grow.

Specifically, the latest developments suggest that Magashule is becoming weaker by the day. At the moment, it appears incredibly unlikely that he is able to stop this dynamic. In other words, he is now facing an unstoppable oncoming train, which is picking up speed. With no way of stopping. With no way of stopping. With no way of stopping……. DM

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