First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
For several months, the ANC has given its Secretary-General Ace Magashule time longer than rope as he has executed a defiance campaign against stepping aside, but now he may have hanged himself politically.
This weekend the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) will have to decide when it will implement the Integrity Commission’s report on the “step aside” rule.
“Ace has burnt his bridges so badly,” said a senior party official, adding: “He is overestimating his support.”
He overreached by declaring on Gagasi FM last week that the party’s Top Six officials had no authority to tell the parliamentary caucus how to vote on an inquiry into Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office. Magashule refused to convey the line to the caucus and left it to party chairperson Gwede Mantashe to hold the whip. The majority of ANC MPs voted for the motion, weakening a Secretary-General aligned with the faction against it.
And, by contradicting Mantashe, he has stirred The Tiger, the nom de guerre of the party’s national chairperson, who is also the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.
By going against the Top Six, Magashule has isolated himself, opening himself to attack at this weekend’s NEC meeting, where the final guidelines of the Motlanthe integrity panel will be debated. The ANC’s NEC already adopted the guidelines at its February 2021 meeting. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his closing address, at the February meeting said officials would “process all the reports of the Integrity Committee … before the NEC” and return with a full report within a month.
“In the meantime, the NEC calls on affected members to act in the interest of protecting and enhancing the integrity and credibility of the organisation and to step aside voluntarily in line with the recommendations of the Integrity Commission and the conference resolution.”
This weekend will be a day of reckoning for Magashule and other ANC members – like Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo – who have been asked to step aside by the Commission.
“The man is on his own among the officials and even in the NEC … Obviously the likes of Bongani Bongo remain loyal. They support him because they know that his situation is tied to theirs – if he goes, then they are exposed,” said an NEC member who did not wish to be named.
Magashule has argued it would be up to the ANC branches to decide his fate, but this has been rubbished by party leaders. “The constitution of the ANC is very clear that the NEC is the highest decision-making body in between conferences. So there is no other structure that can change an NEC decision,” said the NEC member.
In a sign of growing impatience, the party’s leading public intellectual and NEC member Joel Netshitenzhe warned about the meaning of Magashule’s actions in an essay in Daily Maverick this week. “Many party members questioned, do we still have an organisation?” Netshitenzhe wrote. “The National Chairperson of the ANC communicated the Top Six’s decision to the parliamentary caucus. Yet, according to the secretary-general, this could be defied as ‘officials of the ANC are not a structure in terms of our constitution’ … There are moments when any leader can miss the point or misspeak. What is concerning is that this has become a hallmark of the secretary-general’s public pronouncements on difficult matters facing the movement,” read Netshitenzhe’s essay.
Mantashe, along with NEC members Netshitenzhe, Mondli Gungubele and Enoch Godongwana, could be the posse of party tigers to land the punch – the resolution that Magashule should face disciplinary action for refusing to step aside after an Integrity Commission finding issued in December that he should do so.
He faces 74 corruption and fraud charges in the Free State R230-million asbestos roof audit case.
He is likely to continue to dig in his heels and use a loophole in the guidelines set up by a panel led by President Kgalema Motlanthe, assisted by former ANC Treasurer-General Mathews Phosa. Motlanthe was roped in to develop the step-aside guidelines and also to recast the Integrity Commission’s terms of reference.
Its terms of reference were simple: it was a body of moral suasion rather than legal judgment. It has no enforcement power, so individuals can ignore its recommendations. Magashule has gone furthest in defying the Commission.
If he still refuses to step aside, after this weekend’s NEC review of the integrity reports, Rule 25.70 is applied. “That’s a disciplinary hearing… The Integrity Commission will submit all their reports … case by case. The NEC will then consider those reports. If it adopts them wholly then all people implicated will be asked to step aside. If not the ANC must institute a disciplinary hearing,” said another NEC member. The guidelines also deal with an issue Magashule supporters have raised: it’s unfair to have to step aside when legal processes can take years to conclude.
The guidelines say the NEC or a Provincial Executive Committee will review the suspensions annually. Hence they place the power in the hands of the Secretary-General or a provincial secretary to carry out the recommendations. But this does not preclude the NEC from taking action: “The guidelines say the SG carries out the implementation of the ‘step aside’ recommendation on behalf of the NEC… There’s no confusion there, as the SG and provincial secretaries are the heads of administration. So in this case it’s the NEC that will ask the SG to step aside,” said an NEC member.
Magashule’s party filibuster may have worked a month ago to buy more time for him, but his defiance could now be his undoing.
“Magashule defines himself outside the leadership collective. We’ve got to agree not to talk about unity in the abstract,” said Godongwana in an interview on 702 this week. He said that the Defend Our Democracy movement had to be supported. Voters would desert the ANC if it was seen to undermine the Constitution.
Defend Our Democracy, a successor to Save SA, includes ANC veterans, civil society and leading individuals. It opposes the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction aligned with Zuma and Magashule.
The fightback is now known as a counter-revolution
Magashule, along with the ANC MPs Supra Mahumapelo and Bongani Bongo, MKMVA leader Kebby Maphatsoe, Eastern Cape regional leader Andile Lungisa and others associated with former president Jacob Zuma have long been regarded as a “fightback”, but the language to define them has now changed into warning of a “counter-revolution”.
In his essay, Netshitenzhe linked them to Jonas Savimbi and Afonso Dhlakama, “who destabilised Angola and Mozambique, with the support of the erstwhile SA Defence Force”, concluding that “South Africans, including the mass of ANC members cannot allow the advances since 2017 [Ramaphosa’s reform era] to be squandered, and for the constitutional order to be subverted. The campaign against this assault on our democracy should be intensified.”
Magashule is now seen by senior leaders as not simply as errant but as dangerous to the stability of the ANC in government.
If suspended, Magashule will have time to mobilise support, though he will not be able to use ANC platforms. At the same time it would weaken his faction considerably, because his office is in charge of the audits of all of the party’s branches across the country. Without his hands on the levers of power, the Magashule faction could be neutralised.
His close relationship with Zuma is unlikely to assist him.
Brothers in arms
On Thursday, the Constitutional Court reserved judgment in an application by the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture to jail Zuma to two years for contempt of court.
“This is an extreme case of contempt – we have not come across something like this,” counsel for the Commission, Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi told the court.
Asked by Judge Nonkosi Mhlantla if a directive to comply with the order to appear before the Commission was not a more pragmatic option, Ngcukaitobi said, “It simply allows the abuse of this court to continue. A custodial sentence is the only solution.”
Whichever way the court decides, Zuma will campaign against its decision. After the hearing, he issued an eight-page statement on his social media. He threatened insurrection and once again lobbed insults at the judiciary, notably at Constitutional Court judge Dhaya Pillay, who was part of the bench this week.
In the statement, he almost goaded the judges: “I will serve the term of imprisonment imposed by the Constitutional Court [judgment is still reserved] that has already become the focal point of the Defend Our Democracy campaign.”
He said the campaign, started last week by ANC veterans and other leaders, is “dangerous to democracy”.
“I do not see any constitutional crisis when I accept the statutory sanction that may accompany my conscientious objection to the conduct of certain judges,” wrote Zuma.
His campaign is flagging as only a handful of supporters turned out in the rain in a demonstration organised by Niehaus at the court precinct on Thursday, and the imposition of a jail term will give it fire.
And now, the former president’s campaign will be joined with Magashule’s against any attempts to discipline him or make him step down from his role until his trial is completed.
The two together will organise under the banner of radical economic transformation and take their twin campaign into the party’s national general council meeting, which is still set down for this year. The midterm meeting between electoral conferences is meant to assess ANC progress in implementing its resolutions, but it could turn into a huge political headache for the country.
To counter Zuma’s defiance of the courts, Ramaphosa is expected to reaffirm the ANC’s support for the judiciary at the NEC meeting.
Said an NEC member who supports Ramaphosa: “The President will reaffirm our support for the Constitution and for the rule of law. Also out belief and support for an independent judiciary”. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.
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