ANALYSIS

As Ramaphosa gains momentum, Magashule is forced to bat for both sides

By Stephen Grootes 7 October 2019
Caption
ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

On Sunday night, 6 October, Magashule gave a speech in which he said that everyone in the ANC should protect Ramaphosa and that he himself would defend the president. Now, that was... strange.

Since the strange result of the ANC’s Nasrec conference, which resulted in now President Cyril Ramaphosa becoming the leader of the party while Ace Magashule became the secretary-general, there has been an almost unanimous view that they are leading different factions pulling in opposite directions.

But on Sunday night, 6 October, Magashule gave a speech in which he said that everyone in the ANC should protect Ramaphosa and that he himself would defend the president.

Considering the context of the statements, and the recent history between the two, these comments may well be indicative of changes to come.

The evidence suggesting that Ramaphosa and Magashule are at odds with one another is close to overwhelming.

Magashule has attacked former tourism minister Derek Hanekom, claimed that the ANC wants to change the mandate of the Reserve Bank, and forced through the appointments of Mosebenzi Zwane and Faith Muthambi to important positions in Parliament.

Ramaphosa says he is trying to reform government and has removed from Cabinet people that Magashule supports.

This has given the impression of two ANCs with conflicting aims.

Which is why Magashule’s comments on Sunday night are so interesting/puzzling. Speaking to ANC Youth League members in Hammanskraal, he was quoted by IOL as saying, “They will still go for Cyril Ramaphosa. My role and your role is to defend the head of the ANC because when they attack the head, the intention is to kill the movement.”

He also said that his preference at Nasrec was Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, but that “was not the outcome”. ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe has also said this, on national TV.

Magashule said the party needed to focus on unity, suggesting that otherwise, Tshwane will be beyond its reach in the local elections in two years’ time. He reminded ANC members that the party controls Gauteng by only one seat in the provincial legislature.

There is much to ponder here.

First, it has been rare to see Magashule showing any support for Ramaphosa since Nasrec. However, his comments about how the ANC is being attacked through its head resonate with a previous statement from the ANC’s National Executive Committee.

At the time, the NEC made the point that an attack on the leader of the ANC is an attack on the ANC. This is a dynamic that former president Jacob Zuma used to great effect. It allows the leader of the ANC to make his problems the problems of the party. Magashule may have no option but to allow this dynamic to continue.

Very few will regard Magashule’s comments as a signal that he is actually changing his mind.

He also said that Zuma had helped the ANC in the elections, even while conceding that some do not like him.

This is a very real indication of the change of fortunes for Zuma over the last 12 months. From being the second most important political actor in South Africa in February 2018, he is now reduced to avoiding inaugurations and receiving back-handed compliments such as this from Magashule. Even Magashule can’t talk up the importance of Zuma, because he no longer appears to have that influence.

Meanwhile, after appearing to lose interest in governance, Ramaphosa has created momentum. The most important job on his to-do list (after Eskom) is growing the economy. He has started a proper debate on that through Finance Minister Tito Mboweni. So far, Ramaphosa appears to be untouched by any of the pushback that Mboweni has received.

This is vital for Ramaphosa, who promised in May to end poverty “in a generation”.

Life for Magashule, however, has not been getting easier.

The testimony at the Zondo Commission which shows how the Guptas benefited from the Vrede Dairy Farm appears to confirm that Magashule played a role. He has also failed to respond to the book Gangster State by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, which details the evidence of corruption against him. When the book came out, Magashule said he would sue Myburgh, but he has not done so, six months down the line.

While there is still no indication from the National Prosecuting Authority about if or when Magashule will be charged, this is surely a concern for him.

It must also be occupying Ramaphosa’s mind and he might well view such an event as his moment to consolidate his power in the ANC.

The secretary-general of the ANC is supposed to be concerned with the electoral success of the party, and the ANC is in a difficult space here. The party can’t afford more time to be spent on factional battles. While no clear threat has emerged (and the DA is doing all it can to ensure it does not present a clear threat) the ANC is at risk of losing the support of its voters, in metros and in some provinces. As a result, Magashule must give the appearance, at least, of ending any rifts. The party’s leadership, even if divided, has to seem united.

For the moment though, there is no indication that the NPA is anywhere close to laying charges against important members of the ANC. Should the NPA do that, political turmoil is likely to follow.

Magashule will likely try to play both sides for as long as he possibly can to ensure his position is not weakened any further. DM

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