Analysis 168

Ace Magashule lays out his political war plan to fight corruption charges

By Ferial Haffajee 14 November 2020

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule appears at the Bloemfontein Magistrate Court on 13 November 2020 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Frikkie Kapp)

The party strongman is likely to use the January meeting to drum up support for the big fight at the party’s national general council in May 2021.

First published in Daily Maverick 168 newspaper.

In a move reminiscent of former president Jacob Zuma, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule will defend his corruption charges with a political campaign that will start in January 2021.

Speaking on a stage and in front of thousands of local and bused-in supporters in ANC colours and carrying support posters, Magashule said that the party’s 8 January address will be held in Bloemfontein – the ANC will be 109 years old and was founded in a church in the city on 8 January 1912.

The campaign elements in Bloemfontein as Magashule appeared in court were the same as those deployed by Zuma in serial corruption cases at court: a vigil, a march, a political event, fiery speeches, allegations of conspiracy and a final rendition of Senzenina (the struggle funeral hymn which means “What have we done?”). Some protesters did not seem to know why they were there: a woman carrying a poster protesting “cup-cake” (an insulting term for Ramaphosa used by his political enemies) said that “cup-cake” was Magashule when asked by eNCA.

The party strongman is likely to use the January meeting to drum up support for the big fight at the party’s national general council (NGC) in May 2021. There are no elections at the meeting, but the party’s constitution does provide for the tabling of no-confidence motions in leaders. Magashule could try for such an action against President Cyril Ramaphosa, but it is unlikely to succeed, as it needs a majority plus one. Magashule’s faction does not have a majority.

Or Magashule will use the NGC to fight proxy battles using resolutions from the party’s December 2017 conference which have not yet been implemented. These are calls for the nationalisation of the SA Reserve Bank and for the constitutional amendment to allow land expropriation without compensation.

A general view outside court where ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule appeared at the Bloemfontein Magistrate Court on 13 November 2020 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Frikkie Kapp)

This land law amendment is in Parliament and there is a rush to get it through before the assembly prorogues.

And Magashule revealed his political strategy should the next national executive committee (NEC) meeting of the ANC decide that he has to step aside while his court case continues.

The party’s constitution, a resolution from the 2015 NGC and an August 2020 NEC statement on new muscular anti-corruption measures say he should. “The ANC does not belong to any individual. In any revolution, there is a counterrevolution. This ANC is an organisation of branches,” he said, adding that he would only stand aside if a special conference of the party said he must step down. Magashule did not attract any national office-bearers to the protest. The party’s national spokesperson, Pule Mabe, was by his side. Its head of the anti-crime and corruption desk, Tony Yengeni, spoke out against the charges facing his colleague. In addition, former finance minister Malusi Gigaba, who now works in Magashule’s office, was there, as was Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, student leader Mcebo Dlamini (now an adviser to Human Settlements and Water Affairs Minister Lindiwe Sisulu), ANC MP Bongani Bongo and his fellow Free State corruption accused, and former mayor Olly Mlamleli. The MK Military Veterans Association leader Carl Niehaus organised the protests. Niehaus and Mahumapelo were bundled out of the court precinct by the police as they tried to muscle their way into the courthouse.

Will Ramaphosa stand firm?

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who won the party’s presidency by a smidgen of 179 votes in December 2017, has chosen a path of rapprochement with the secretary-general.

But the peacemaking path has been shredded by 21 charges of corruption and fraud, alternatively theft and money-laundering, laid against him by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on 13 November.

Various sources over months of reporting have told Daily Maverick that Ramaphosa has substantially increased his majority in the party’s NEC by using his incumbency strategically. Politicians flock to power and so there is a view that Magashule is now a loud noise signifying little.

People outside court burn a Cyril Ramaphosa T-shirt in protest where ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule appeared at the Bloemfontein Magistrate Court on 13 November 2020 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images/Frikkie Kapp)

But at a press conference to respond to the warrant of arrest issued for Magashule this week, his deputy, Jessie Duarte, said huge tensions were brewing in the party because of the charges.

The former Free State premier is popular across provinces in the ANC and at the court protest he said: “When I leave the ANC, I am nothing.” His political plans can cause turbulence for the Ramaphosa presidency. Or if the NPA’s independence is protected and the case is allowed to continue without interference, then having Magashule tied up in court for years (he will next appear on 19 February 2021) could give Ramaphosa space to execute and deepen his reform project.

The images of Magashule in court on Friday were almost impossible to imagine even a year ago because the NPA and the police had been so compromised by State Capture and political interference. The court appearance symbolised that reform is beginning to take hold, but the question now is whether it can hold. DM168

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  • gets tiresome that high-flying criminals find and seek safe haven in politics. I cannot even say that Trump started it but certainly most prominent. Magashule simply follows in the footsteps of JZ.
    something is terribly wrong with our legislations that this can actually go on for years to no end.
    SA already resigned to the fact that JZ will never ever face music nor see the insides of a prison cell. nonsense.

  • I sincerely hope that all the government employees who were there supporting Elias, applied for a day’s leave! (And used their private transport to get them there and back.) That was obviously not work related, so tax payers should not be footing that bill.

  • Oh dear, and then South Africa’s own Donald Trump, but perhaps a lot more malevolent and dangerous. If this man was to don an orange onesie I think South Africans might just start believing again.

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