South Africa


Is Ace Magashule’s credit card about to be swallowed by the ATM?

Photos: Gallo / Luyanda Ceketwane / Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alon Skuy

It has now been all but confirmed that the ANC is conducting an investigation into whether some of its top officials were involved in the formation of the African Transformation Movement, a party that campaigned against the ANC for votes. The significance of this investigation is obvious, and it appears to be all about the secretary-general of the ANC, Ace Magashule. If this investigation were to find a smoking gun, his position would be untenable.

Such an event could lead to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s ouster, and the balance of power would move back in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s favour. There is much road to traverse here, but at the least, this situation could put Magashule on the back foot. Again.

The first report about the investigation into Magashule came from News24. It said that Magashule was being investigated for his role in the formation of the African Transformation Movement (ATM) and that the people conducting that investigation were former president Kgalema Motlanthe and former speaker of the National Assembly Frene Ginwala.

While there was no confirmation of this investigation from Luthuli House (where Magashule is in charge of communications), there was no denial either. And it is the lack of denial that might be the most important. If this was not true, Pule Mabe would have been pressed into service and the ANC’s media WhatsApp group would have hummed with his indignation. But that did not happen.

Then, in the evening, Minister of Transport and member of the ANC’s national executive committee Fikile Mbalula was was asked on the SABC News Channel whether it was true Magashule was being investigated.

His response:

I don’t think any commission or investigation is about the secretary-general, it’s about looking at the issue in terms of all allegations, anyone can make allegations. I realise it’s reduced to him because he was named in a newspaper and all of that, but the processes the ANC will embark upon, the ANC will speak for itself. From what we’ve got, those investigations will be much broader for anyone who might be involved in such activities.”

Mbalula said that the ANC NEC had decided an investigation was necessary. But he was careful to say it was not necessarily about individuals, although such a probe was also an opportunity for anyone to remove a stain from their reputation.

Mbalula’s comments also suggest that it is not about Magashule alone. That must obviously be the case. But it might be interesting to discover if other people could be caught up in this web. Jacob Zuma, for example, spoke at a meeting of the Black First Land First Movement while it was contesting elections against the ANC.

The significance of all of this is difficult to overstate.

It is obvious that someone cannot be a senior official in one party and help another at the same time. Most political parties have a clause in their disciplinary code that says helping another party leads to almost automatic expulsion (the former British spin doctor Alastair Campbell was recently expelled from the Labour Party that he did much to help to power for tweeting that he had voted for the Liberal Democrats). To do such a thing is the equivalent of treason within a political party.

Perhaps the real danger for Magashule may be the people conducting the inquiry.

Motlanthe is not just a former president. He is one of the last leaders in the party who are seen to be of unimpeachable integrity; there have been no corruption claims made against him. He is also absolutely the right person for this inquiry because of his pre-presidential history.

He was the secretary-general of the ANC for 10 years. He will know more than anyone how important that office is, and what can happen if it is not managed properly. The investigation might also provide a useful role for him to play. He has garnered some public attention through his attempt to start a national conversation about the way forward for the country. Also, for a former president, he is fairly approachable. And he may not be afraid to give some form of public update on his investigation from time to time.

Ginwala has a similar history. The first Speaker of the democratic parliament, she was the person Thabo Mbeki appointed to lead the commission of inquiry into former National Prosecuting Authority boss Vusi Pikoli, precisely because of her integrity. She was also a member of the ANC’s previous integrity committee.

This means that the danger for Magashule now (if the claims around the ATM are true) lies in the pursuit of due process. It will be impossible for anyone to speak against the people conducting the inquiry and they will have a real interest in cleansing the ANC of wrongdoing.

Then there is the ATM itself.

The first time most voters would have heard of it was when Mzwanele Manyi joined the party, giving it a public profile.

Manyi’s history over the past decade shows that he has always been involved in efforts to help former president Jacob Zuma. Whether it was as the government spokesperson while Zuma was president (after Themba Maseko was forced out following his refusal to help the Guptas), or as an “analyst” on ANN7, or as the “owner” of ANN7, Manyi’s actions have always been aligned with Zuma’s interest.

Even now, with no media platform and no political base (the ATM received 0.44% of the national vote in the elections), he continues to tweet to his 172,000 followers.

It is his proximity to Zuma that have fed the suspicions over the formation of the ATM. It also appears obvious that Zuma and Magashule have been working together. There have been persistent claims of an attempt to bring down the level of ANC support in the elections, in a bid to use that as a weapon against Ramaphosa.

But Magashule’s real problem remains what it has always been — he has only a provincial power base.

Worse, the claims against him relate only to the Free State. As a result, no other national leaders would want to support him because they are not involved in what is alleged to have happened there during his time as Free State Premier. They would be tainted by association, especially if they are not sure what actually happened during that time. As a result, he can be politically isolated, even while he is a figure symbolising the “fight-back” against Ramaphosa.

This investigation can only serve to increase this isolation.

It may also be important to examine how and why the NEC agreed to this investigation. The body has appeared to be divided on major issues. However, claims such as these may be impossible to ignore.

The immediate importance of this latest revelation may be that the NEC believes an investigation is necessary, and that, once it starts, it may become impossible to stop. And this is where its power ultimately lies. There appears to be no danger to Ramaphosa or his faction in this move. The only people the investigation places in danger are Magashule and those tied to his group. It opens another front in the ongoing tussle between the factions.

It has been pointed out many times that it is very difficult to remove a sitting secretary-general of the ANC because they are elected by a conference. But a disciplinary process involving such allegations may be one way to do it… DM