South Africa

Magashule’s unsteady post-election poker game, with the future of the ANC at stake

By Stephen Grootes 21 May 2019

ANC's Ace Magashule and Malusi Gigaba during the ANC's NEC meeting in Pretoria. May 13, 2019. Photo Thulani Mbele

All bets are off in the high-stakes game of poker that the jostling for control of the ANC has become. The upcoming ANC NEC meeting will be crucial in determining just who holds the aces, and who is going down the toilet in a straight flush.

From what can be publicly seen, it appears that ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and those around him are going on the offensive. The snipes and comments and general political subtext keep coming. At the same time, the ANC may soon have to make a decision about Ethekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede who has been formally charged with corruption and is making no moves to resign. And of course, there is still a series of decisions about Ramaphosa’s Cabinet to come.

It appears that what looks like turmoil in the ANC is going to get worse before it can in any way get better.

In the hours after voting two weeks ago, Magashule found himself having to “clarify” a series of comments he had made about whether it was the image of Ramaphosa that had saved the ANC in these elections. First, he had toured the results centre saying it was a “collective effort”, when ANC Head of Elections Fikile Mbalula had reiterated his earlier claim that it was because of Ramaphosa. Then, in a strange set of circumstances, Magashule did an interview on SABC-TV with Fikile Mbalula on a chair watching him. In that interview, Magashule said that Ramaphosa was the “face” of the campaign, and so was important.

At the same time, there has now been a serious complaint from the ANC in the Western Cape about Magashule’s conduct on the campaign trail there.

In a letter that was leaked over the weekend, the ANC’s Western Cape elections boss, Ebrahim Rasool, said that Magashule had had an “extremely damaging” impact on their campaign there. He said that Magashule’s behaviour in controlling the supply of T-shirts and his comments about white people set back their campaign.

Again, was this deliberate in some way?

And yet, again this last weekend, Magashule made his claim that it was a collective effort. EWN quoted him as saying:

The leaders of the ANC and Jacob Zuma were there to campaign. Many other leaders who are not known and many young people; all of you comrades were on the ground, that’s why we won elections.”

Magashule was speaking knowing there was a special ANC National Executive Committee meeting planned for Monday. At this meeting, the NEC is expected to make a final decision on who will be the Premier in North West, after failing to reach an agreement last week.

The question then is why would Magashule do this when he has had to backtrack in the past?

As he almost certainly does not enjoy being humiliated over and over again, there must be a reason.

First, it seems that he is trying to keep some kind of narrative in the public domain. It might be that there is still an active effort to remove Ramaphosa, based on the election results. However, Mbalula, who has either changed sides (again) or is just campaigning for a Cabinet position, is likely to be privy to all of the electoral research the ANC conducted during the poll. And that research is likely to confirm what is publicly known – many people voted for the ANC at the national level, but not at the provincial level. This could be seen as proof that it was the “Cyril factor” that kept the ANC in power.

Magashule is unlikely to have an answer to this; nonetheless, he keeps fighting.

Sometimes people do this simply to change the way the wind is blowing. But it could also be that he is performing for a political sponsor, that he is showing former President Jacob Zuma that he still has support. Certainly, Magashule and those around him would know that if he were removed from office their chances of fighting Ramaphosa would be severely damaged.

Magashule, like Ramaphosa, was elected to his ANC position by a conference, and so can only be removed by a conference.

However, there are other dynamics swirling around that could perhaps have some bearing on his future.

It is generally perceived that Magashule is guilty of corruption and that the Hawks or the National Prosecuting Authority, or “someone”, is investigating the claims made in the book Gangster State by Pieter-Louis Myburgh. That means a day could come when Magashule is formally charged. At that point, there is likely to be pressure on him to resign his position.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Ethekwini, Zandile Gumede, was formally charged with corruption last week. So far, she has not resigned, or given any hint that she will do so.

This is in stark contrast with what happened to ANC mayors who were named in the report into the VBS scandal. There, the mayors resigned and were also told to withdraw from any political activities until their names were cleared. This meant that they could not hold onto their official ANC positions in Limpopo in the meantime.

It would seem natural the same should apply to Gumede. And, if she is also forced to step down from her position as chair of the ANC in Ethekwini, that then might have implications for Magashule, should he one day be charged.

At the same time, it should not be forgotten that the ANC’s NEC in 2018 instructed Andile Lungisa to step down from his position as a Member of the Mayoral Committee in Nelson Mandela Bay. The mayor there is the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani, so the ANC cannot just remove him. But, despite repeated decisions by the NEC, and promises to deal with this, Lungisa is still in that position. This is despite the fact he has actually been convicted of assault for cracking a glass jar on the head of a DA councillor during a council meeting, and sentenced to an effective two years in jail.

Lungisa may be hanging on for more than just himself, he may be hoping to prove the point that he will not be a precedent that must be followed.

In the meantime, the more burning issue is likely to be the composition of Cabinet. Magashule takes every opportunity to deny that there are any tensions between himself and Ramaphosa. Under the convention, the two are expected to sit side by side when Ramaphosa appoints Cabinet ministers within the next week.

Ramaphosa himself has set the bar for appointment quite high, saying last week he expects his new Cabinet to deliver. This means people have high hopes that it will not include some of the serial offenders of previous Cabinets. However, there are some constituencies he would surely have to placate in some way.

The point of this is that what might be playing out here is politics as a game of pressure.

Magashule may be trying to keep the pressure on Ramaphosa, to remind him of his presence, and that he could still be politically vulnerable in some way. At the same time, Ramaphosa himself appears not to be responding to Magashule. Perhaps he feels that any test of strength in the NEC would be foolish and too risky. It might also be that he is waiting (or hoping) for the independent law enforcement agencies to do their work.

The next question is how far will Magashule go? Over the weekend he specifically mentioned Zuma as an ANC leader who had campaigned effectively. Could he now go to Zuma’s court case in Pietermaritzburg? Could he openly attack Ramaphosa?

Could he be preparing to be openly critical of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet choices because he knows what’s coming?

All of these possibilities may now be on the table. Massive turbulence lies ahead. DM

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In other news...

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government - mission accomplished.

And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.

However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

If you believe in supporting the cause and the work of Daily Maverick then take your position on the battleground and sign up to Maverick Insider today.

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