This Monday morning the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that is expected to decide whether Ace Magashule will step aside as secretary-general is due to resume, after starting on Sunday evening. There are many dynamics that are swirling around this meeting, with legal opinions and WhatsApps flying about at a furious rate. While it is not possible to accurately make predictions at this stage, there are signs that the balance of power is shifting. Key to this may be the views of Deputy President David Mabuza and the ANC’s Treasurer-General, Paul Mashatile. But the probable decision to not even temporarily remove Magashule will further weaken the party and what is left of its authority.
Whether Magashule will be forced to “step aside” is one of the fundamental questions facing the ANC. If he remains as secretary-general, and is able to go through a criminal trial while still occupying this position, the ANC will be weakened in the eyes of voters during an election year.
There has been much informed reporting about a series of legal opinions in which lawyers have expressed different views about whether Magashule, or anyone in his position, can be forced to step aside. It would appear that three of these opinions say he cannot, while one says he can.
What they do reveal is that this is not just a legal question, but first and foremost a political one.
Will Magashule face a criminal trial while secretary-general of the African National Congress? And if he were found guilty, would he remain in office while appealing? Would he cling to office until the Constitutional Court gives a final ruling? That could take years, during which time the ANC would have a convicted criminal as its secretary-general.
And what would happen if more charges are brought against him, which appears more than likely?
The ANC appears to be relying on the assumption that a person who is criminally charged will voluntarily step down. Why would someone who has done something wrong now be moved by their conscience to do something right?
Because this is mostly a political question, the internal politics of the ANC and the NEC itself are what will determine the answer. It is likely that key to what happens will be the positions taken by Mabuza and Mashatile.
In the months after Mabuza and Mashatile were elected to the top six at Nasrec it appeared that they supported President Cyril Ramaphosa. They helped him to stand up to Jacob Zuma and must have been involved in the NEC decision in 2018 that led to Zuma resigning from office.
There was also some evidence that Mabuza opposed Magashule. In March 2018 he used Parliament to publicly criticise Magashule for spending R20-million on a “farewell party” when he resigned as premier of the Free State to take up the ANC job.
But in City Press on Sunday it was suggested that Mabuza and Mashatile would back Magashule.
This should not come as a surprise, as it is in their own interests.
Mabuza faces possible legal problems of his own. A new book reveals the role he is alleged to have played in forcing a Mpumalanga landowner to give up his property. This issue is the subject of court action that could well put Mabuza in a difficult position.
Mabuza is well aware that should something bad happen to Magashule it would set a painful precedent that might end up biting him too.
The same may apply to Mashatile. There were many claims, made over a decade ago, about what was called the “Alex Mafia”, of which he was accused of being an important part. Last year he had to defend himself against these claims again, during a hearing of the SA Human Rights Commission.
And they will be very aware that Ramaphosa is the only person with the legal authority, as president, to remove a National Director of Public Prosecutions, who would make the ultimate decision as to whether or not criminal charges would be instituted against them.
Of course, these are just a few people in an NEC made up of 86 members. Under the ANC’s procedures an NEC decision is made “by consensus”. This means this decision about Magashule is not made by a simple vote, but by some form of agreement by all.
It seems unlikely that the NEC will reach consensus on a decision as important as this, with so many ramifications for the party and with so many factions at play.
This would have long-term implications for the NEC.
Just three months ago this same group of people decided, in a very public fashion, that those who are implicated in corruption must step aside. Now it may be that at the first test of this they will simply ignore their own decision.
In effect, if the NEC does not remove Magashule from his position, they are saying that their earlier decision was a nonsense. And if that is the case, does this NEC have any legitimacy whatsoever?
This would strengthen what is really the dominant dynamic in the ANC at the moment, the weakening of central political authority.
It would appear that the safest prediction to make is that whatever happens the ANC is going to be left weak, disoriented and ideology-free. And with the DA going through its own implosion, the South African political scene might be entering a new, dangerous phase that leaves our representative democracy suffering badly. DM
"Let no-one enter here who is ignorant of mathematics" ~ Plato