South Africa

ACE vs CYRIL: EXPLAINER

What the hell’s going on at the ANC NEC – and why you should care

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

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. 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.      

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

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All Comments 30

  • It would be amusing if not so sad, pathetic and juvenile. These so called ‘leaders’ just can’t get past the ongoing and repetitive saga of debating the repeated recommended step aside motions from their very own integrity committee. They’re dealing with a narcissist in all his full blown glory…

  • Whilst this in fighting happens, the people suffer, the country stalls, we wait for vaccines and economic recovery. It is a most damning judgement on this government and shows starkly its indifference to the fate of South Africans everywhere

  • SA burns. Few jobs, vaccines, schools, hospitals, too few of most necessities, and the ANCs only agenda is whether criminals who have stolen billions remain senior ANC officials. The last regime set whites against the rest of SA. This ANC sets ANC insiders against the rest of SA. What’s changed?

  • The courts have no power over Zuma the ANC has no power over Ace who has power over this RET faction it appears that they are beholden only to themselves??? Can we all also have the reality apply to us, I also want to dictate what is good or justice for me and be the sole determinant of this.

    • quite so! The ludicrous of the juncture we find ourselves at! Let’s hope it is loud and clear enough that all South Africans stop and think…and choose common sense and order and actions that will move us all into a worthwhile future. There can still be a “South African dream”: a great country!

    • Indeed, if we can’t beat them why not play the game? Except first we need to build a solid network of patronage funded by shameless corruption which we can then just decriminalise with a campaign of outrageous lies. This strategy worked for Donald Trump so it’s tried and tested!

    • I would take my chances with the DA. They can only be better. Far from perfect but 100 times better than what we currently have, and sadly our only formidable option. Our choices are limited. Much like the USA having to choose between Biden and Trump. Nuts.

      • Agreed. I grew up in KZN but moved to the WC in my mid 20s to study and work and have never looked back. Every time I visit KZN it’s sad to see what my home town has turned into.

        • They can only pay salaries from Membership fees, which cannot possibly support all the buffoons “working” for the ANC. Hence the need to continue with corruption. They have no choice really.

    • Very valid question, but I think you actually know the answer deep down. Honest, moral and ethical political leadership is virtually non-existent.

    • Like banking and cellphone companies – you just have to choose the best of the worst. You know they’re useless and bottom of the barrel, but for parties, I’ll have to say at least the DA (who lives on a cloud) is the best of the worst. But the bar is so low to be the “best of the worst” I despair!

  • We have disney-world in government! The only way out of this is for The People to vote all factions of the anc out! Viva democracy!

    • No, it’s definitely not Disney World in government – DW works fantastically well despite huge crowds while nothing works here.

  • With this deeply arcane, self-serving ANC fandango alongside Zuma giving Zondo and the Con Court the finger, we step closer and closer to anarchy.
    Sadly.

    • The only party that is honest enough to speak out against race based policies is the DA but finds itself slagged off in the media for its honesty.

    • You are close. S.A. is doing well in the official gangster world, but we are still learning. Just pay a visit to our BRICS colleagues. The cANCer got all its tips from them.

  • For those who have not moved assetts offsure, now is the time to do so, as time is running out.
    The slippery slope to the bottom is getting steeper for South Africa. The Rand cannot hold out much longer and it will become more and more expensive to move. Very sad.

  • This is only happening because we have a bunch of criminals who are desperate to avoid facing justice. The rest of the country is the very last thing on their minds.

  • Worst of all is this feeling of helpless futility, that no matter what you do, the ship will keep taking water, and eventually sink, taking all of us down with her, bubbles and all. The people’s anger is palpable, and yet, we cannot direct it properly at the ones causing this political disaster.

  • Absolutely sickening what is going on with the “ government”.Where is the concern for Covid, poverty, the economy, hospitals?It is evident that all the ANC cares about are its own disgraceful self inflicted wounds.And the country has to put up with this?

  • It is the feeling of helplessness and impotence that enrages me – we can see this happening before our very eyes and cannot do a darn thing about it. This is democracy – like it or lump it!

  • Ace and Jacob long ago captured the branch structures. A million or so branch members (however acquired and managed) run this country. Not the 25m voters.

    If there are decent ANC voters out there : take back your branches, PLEASE!