South Africa


The Saboteurs (3) — Ace Magashule, Ace of plots

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Alon Skuy)

By the end of 2019, reformers are struggling; State Capture and the fightback seemingly have the upper hand. Rolling and national blackouts symbolised a bigger malaise as the presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa lost momentum. Who were the saboteurs and who fought in the frontlines of reform? In this series, we profile the 2019 SA People of the Year Winners: Saboteurs and the 2019 SA People of the Year runners-up: The Fixers.

Reform, or what the ANC calls renewal, was not sabotaged only from outside in 2019. In fact, one of the lead saboteurs was ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who torpedoed the economy with an incorrect statement from the governing party on the South African Reserve Bank mandate in June 2019.

Get that: the governing party’s CEO effectively sent the economy into a tailspin creating a crisis for his own government. Sabotage does not come more obviously than this.

By December, he launched a breath-taking broadside against the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) whose new board, appointed by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, had instituted legal action to retrieve funds lost in dodgy deals – in this case, against Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) CEO Iqbal Survé.

In December, the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), which is the asset the PIC manages, reported that it had written off over R1-billion in SIM debt.

In other words, the governing party’s CEO attacked a board put in place by its government to protect the retirement assets of government employees. The ironies and the obvious attack on state policy mounted.

In December too, Magashule rammed through the appointment of Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo, despite the Gauteng ANC wanting to be cautious given his business relationship with Regiments Capital. Regiments is the first company linked to State Capture to have its assets frozen by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). A new NPA leadership is regarded as one of the wins of a renewed ANC under Ramaphosa.

Magashule revealed his saboteur’s hand in September 2018 when the Sunday Times reported that he had attended a “plot” meeting at a Durban hotel with former president Jacob Zuma and Dudu Myeni, the chairperson of Zuma’s charity and formerly of SAA.

In December a Mail & Guardian columnist said Magashule and Myeni had met again at a Durban casino when Magashule was in town to meet the IFP to strike a deal to take back Johannesburg.

You can’t put too much on that as Myeni is a spent force without the sponsorship of the head of state, but what is clear is that Magashule has spent all year (and then some) undermining Ramaphosa’s new deal.

In May 2019, when the election results came out and showed that the ANC had won, Magashule said:

“The ANC would be where it is today [even if a different leader were to be elected], people have voted for the ANC, people are not voting any person.”

That was patently untrue. The ANC’s internal polls had showed that the party polled at least 10 percentage points below Ramaphosa, suggesting that without him, its election result would have been significantly lower. And, in the same year, Magashule was named in court action as being one of the architects behind the formation of the African Transformation Movement (ATM) as a spoiler political party. It failed dismally at the polls, but it is still remarkable than an ANC leader has been named in court papers in such an action.

The game of Ace

Those who know him say Magashule sees himself as under attack. The most important question is whether or not he can sabotage Ramaphosa at next year’s ANC national general council (NGC). An ANC president can face a motion of no confidence (and therefore, a recall as party leader) if a majority of five provinces support that call.

We selected an SG (secretary-general) who wasn’t cooked enough. (He is an) absolutely useless political manager,” said a senior ANC leader. Magashule, who runs his ANC office at Luthuli House with the speech-writer Justice Pitso (formerly lead columnist and analyst for the Gupta family’s media interests), his former Free State chief-of-staff Chris Ackeer and uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus, operates his own show, say Luthuli House insiders.

Magashule reportedly spends a lot of time in the Free State where the premier, Sisi Ntombela is regarded as what the puppeteer Conrad Koch is to Ace’s Chester Missing – a front. Sources say he still makes all the key political decisions in the Free State which he holds tight as a stronghold. In the North-West where former premier Supra Mahumapelo is mobilising again, Magashule can find some further support, but not enough to plot a motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa, say senior ANC sources.

But that is about it. The ANC’s power blocs are arranged in provinces and Ramaphosa still enjoys majority support, say his supporters. And, the party’s stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal has been consolidated behind Ramaphosa by premier Sihle Zikalala. Party strategists want to make sure that the 2020 meeting is a “paper-only” meeting which means one dedicated to policy discussions.

A rock in the river

(Magashule) contradicts the mainstream of forward motion (progress, in the ANC). (He) won’t compromise,” said a party leader, about Magashule. But the person added that he is increasingly a “rock in the river and the river just passes (him by)”.

The ANC leader said the party’s NEC was behind a strategy to consolidate its power by getting behind Ramaphosa. A weakened DA offered the party an opportunity to hoover up support it had lost in Gauteng.

Magashule is presented by ANC strategists as an increasingly isolated figure with only provincial Free State support. But in 2019, his machinations were at least one large factor in the reform momentum getting stuck. DM

Previous South African People of the Year

2018 South African Person(s) of the Year: President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team

2018 South Africa Person(s) of the Year (Runners-up): The Resisters

2018 South African Person(s) of the Year (Runners-up): Commissions of Enquiry

2017 South African Person(s) of the Year: The Whistle-Blowers

2017 South African Person(s) of the Year (Runners-up): Those Who Found Their Voice

2016 South African Person(s) of the Year: Pravin Gordhan, Mcebisi Jonas and Team Treasury

2016 South African Person(s) of the Year (Runners-up): Mogoeng Mogoeng, Dikgang Moseneke and The Constitutional Court of South Africa

2015 South African Person(s) of the Year: The Student

2014 South African Person(s) of the Year: Julius Sello Malema

2014 South African Person(s) of the Year (Runners-up): Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani

2013 South African Person(s) of the Year: Anene Booysen and Reeva Steenkamp

2012 South African Person(s) of the Year: The Victims of Marikana

2012 South African Person(s) of the Year (Runners-up): Section27 and Aaron Motsoaledi

2011 South African Person(s) of the Year: Thuli Madonsela