Ace, Race, Money: Magashule takes the ANC’s internal battle into unexplored territory

By Stephen Grootes 15 April 2019
Ace Magashule, Secretary-General of the ANC, during the ANC executive committee meeting at Saint George Hotel in Irene in Pretoria, South Africa. Magashule is considering legal action against the author of a book that places him at the centre of state capture in Free State. (Photo by Gallo Images/Beeld/ Deaan Vivier)

As election fever hots up, what party representatives do comes under the microscope like never before; small incidents, sometimes on the spur of the moment. Over the weekend ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was caught doing two things on camera, leading to much criticism. And while the reactions may be based more on the perception of Magashule than actually deeds, his actions may suggest the kind of strategy he might use to fight back against those campaigning against him.

The two incidents that caught the public’s attention took place while Ace Magashule was campaigning in the Western Cape at the weekend. In one case he went into a home to speak to the people inside. He was then filmed opening a fridge and looking inside. After that he moves to the woman who lives in the house and gives her R400 in cash, leading to her very grateful response.

In the second incident, he was filmed by eNCA speaking from the back of a van through a microphone. He then makes a comment which has been translated as, “Don’t waste your vote on the white man again.” He refers to the DA as “umlungu”, a term used to refer to white people.

These two incidents have led to an intense reaction. Much of talk radio and social media spent Monday morning condemning his actions. The group of Elders in the ANC were quoted as condemning his actions and words. The group’s Mavuso Msimang told EWN and News24 that it was “unacceptable” for Magashule to tell people not to vote for a particular party in a “racist way”.

The recent history of Magashule is obviously a part of this. The publication of the book, Gangster State, by investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh has cemented the idea in the minds of some that Magashule is a classic patronage politician. In other words, he governs through dealing out largesse, in this case R400. And then, according to this perception, when he is challenged, he uses race to defend himself.

However, the actions themselves are interesting in their own right.

First, as some Twitter users pointed out on Monday morning, Magashule is certainly not the first politician to give a voter something while on the campaign trail. T-shirts are handed out by the thousand during an election, is that not a gift? And for someone who has very few clothes, is a T-shirt not a significant gift? In some cases, it appears that in fact both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza have been present when such a gift has been handed over.

And one wonders what the reaction would have been if the person handing out the cash had been Julius Malema or Mmusi Maimane? What would the ANC have said?

What reaction would there have been from the chattering middle-classes if it had been Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan? Would he, who is generally seen as clean, have been equally criticised? Having said that, it seems unlikely that Gordhan would have handed out cash; it’s simply not his style.

People in the ANC have made racial comments before during an election. The most memorable example of this was in 2011, when an ANC leader said, on a stage at the FNB Stadium right before the Municipal Elections, “The DA is for white people, the ANC is for you.” This is almost exactly the same message that Magashule gave.

The ANC leader in question was Julius Malema, at the time as leader of the ANC Youth League. He made the comment right in front of then President and ANC leader Jacob Zuma. He was not disciplined, in fact, it could be argued that he did what Zuma and others would have wanted him to do, to make race part of the campaign.

That said, there is surely a big difference between the leader of the ANC Youth League making such a comment, and the secretary-general doing so.

The secretary-general is supposed to be almost the centre of the ANC. Certainly, during the Gwede Mantashe era at Luthuli House, that was the impression created. If the centre of the ANC makes a comment like this, how far then can the extremes of the party actually go? And if they do go too far, how could Magashule ever rein them in? The answer surely is that he could not.

There are other aspects to this as well that may relate to the current divisions in the party.

Magashule may have made the comment about “mlungu” not so much for campaign purposes, but as an indication of what his strategy is likely to be within the party.

It is becoming clear that there will at some stage be a huge tussle between himself and President Cyril Ramaphosa. It also appears that the current situation simply cannot last much longer – someone will have to go. Magashule may be preparing to try to use race as part of his campaign to keep his job. This could well revolve around a claim that Ramaphosa is somehow not “politically black” or that he is working for “White Monopoly Capital”. In other words, there could be an element of the politics of race in this fight.

In the meantime, the motivation behind the swift condemnation of his comments by the Elders may well have an element of internal ANC politics too. It is clear that they are supporting Ramaphosa, and his efforts to clean up the ANC. This means that they might have swung into action because of this, rather than just the simple motivation of rebuking someone who has not followed the ANC’s traditional non-racial philosophy.

As this campaign continues, one thing has become clearer. We have never had someone as highly ranked in the ANC as the secretary-general being rebuked in public by other sectors of the party. The sight of a secretary-general being rebuked in this way is a sign of how things are in the party. We have also not had a sitting secretary-general behaving in this way either.

The usual rules, where the ANC uses an election to unify itself, often around the leader, no longer apply. This alone shows that we are in weird, unexplored territory. Three weeks more. DM


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