ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who, with his co-accused, has been charged with 74 counts of fraud and corruption over the R233-million asbestos roof audit in the Free State, is deemed by the ANC constitution to have committed an act of misconduct, senior party leaders resolved at the party’s nail-biting weekend National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting.
A motion was put forward that he should therefore step aside from his role in seven days or face suspension and a disciplinary inquiry, and this caused what News24 described as a “descent into chaos”. President Cyril Ramaphosa was forced to postpone a widely publicised closing address on Sunday, March 28, as the meeting goes into the fourth day.
Magashule’s supporters said he would refuse to step aside and reiterated their view that only a national conference of branches could make him do so. For two weeks now, Magashule has denied that any structure of the ANC has authority over him or the power to make key decisions like whether or not Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane should face an inquiry over her fitness to hold office. The party’s constitution is clear that the NEC has the power to make decisions between conferences.
The party’s weekend NEC meeting appears to be a breakpoint: the two factions that have tenuously co-existed since Ramaphosa was elected party leader in December 2017 are now in open political warfare. Outside the ANC HQ, Luthuli House, at the weekend, Magashule’s de facto private militia, a contingent of MK Military Veterans Association members, marched in camouflage uniforms in protest against any action on the secretary-general.
These two factions can be classified as a reform wing and a Radical Economic Transformation (RET) wing. Ramaphosa won with a wafer-thin majority in 2017, and his support on the NEC is a small majority, meaning that most meetings are battle zones. The weekend’s gathering appears to have been worse than usual, with City Press reporting that it was a bickering-fest as the two factions tried to score points against each other.
All of Ramaphosa’s allies who have also faced any corruption challenges were told that they too should step aside if Magashule were forced to do so. The meeting appears to have descended into a gigantic tit-for-tat session that did not deal with vaccines, the economy, joblessness, the stratospheric cost of electricity, or any other public affairs that have an impact on South Africa’s people.
What is likely to happen now?
Magashule runs his office with a coterie of his own lieutenants (rather than party officials), and he is unlikely to accept a suspension. Party political drama will be the template for the rest of 2021, while Rapport reported at the weekend that Luthuli House staff want to strike because their packages and conditions of service have been reduced.
The party can convene a disciplinary committee that can draw up a charge sheet against Magashule to include misconduct related to the criminal charges and bring charges of insubordination against him should he not stand aside.
Rule 25.17.4 of the party’s constitution defines an act of misconduct as: “Engaging in any unethical or immoral conduct which detracts from the character, values and the integrity of the ANC, as may be determined by the Integrity Commission, which brings or could bring or has the potential to bring or as a consequence thereof brings the ANC into disrepute.”
The Integrity Commission completed its report into Magashule in December 2020 and said that the NEC should make him step aside.
The ANC’s palace politics bears almost no resemblance to the issues that South Africa’s people care about, but they matter because the factional battles can destabilise government; delay the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, since the executive’s eye is on party politics rather than the public health emergency; and because there is now a developing view that a weakened Ramaphosa who cannot run his party will be a single-term president. DM