South Africa

ANALYSIS

Ace Magashule has 30 days to bend reality in his direction – not an easy task

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Magashule is likely to refuse to step aside. That will lead to a process of suspension. And he is likely to challenge that in court. This would create a situation in which the legal representative of the ANC, the secretary-general, is taken to court by the secretary-general of the ANC. It would look like legal nonsense, which may well be Magashule’s aim.

The decision of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) that those in the party who face criminal charges must step aside “within 30 days” or “should be suspended” is the strongest indication yet that Ace Magashule may yet be forced out of his position as secretary-general of the party. While he still has several “fightback” options, it seems that the process is moving against him. 

However, there is still much turmoil to come, and there is a high risk it could affect the future of the party and possibly South Africa. And it may be that Magashule’s decision to use the services of a liar and a fraudster, Carl Niehaus, has backfired against him.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was dressed as presidentially and as clothed in the movement as he could possibly be on Monday night after four days of massive infighting. In his closing address to the NEC, live-streamed for the pleasure of the public, he wore a suit, an ANC tie, an ANC lapel pin and stood alongside an ANC flag.

It was good political theatre – Ramaphosa was the epitome of “ANC” and of “president” at the same time.

It appeared to also symbolise the outcome of the meeting. As other analysts have already noted, it appears that Ramaphosa won all of the key points that were discussed.

Not only was there a condemnation of the use of ANC resources for an “RET” grouping, there was also the condemnation of “fake news” about the president himself (obviously a reference to the many claims published by Dr Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media group), and then the key announcement, that “all members who have been charged with corruption or other serious crimes must step aside within 30 days, failing which they should be suspended in terms of Rule 25.70 of the ANC constitution”.

While there are several people holding leadership positions in the ANC who face criminal charges (including, but not limited to Zandile Gumede and Bongani Bongo), the key figure is of course Magashule.

It is he who holds the balance of power and the power of the office of secretary-general, and who faces criminal charges relating to the Free State asbestos roofs project.

There are many options that are now open to him, and 30 days could turn out to be a long time.

For a start, the ANC’s statement talks about Magashule now choosing to seek counsel with former leaders of the movement about the resolution, as well as talking to stakeholders about the NEC decisions, the latter being in his role as secretary-general, not in terms of his personal situation.

It is unlikely that Magashule would enjoy consulting with former president Thabo Mbeki or former secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe.

Reports at the weekend suggested that Mbeki had told the NEC the secretary-general’s office was very weak at this time. Mbeki and Magashule have a long history, and very little of it is pleasant. Mbeki ensured that Magashule did not become premier of the Free State until 2009 despite being elected leader of the Free State ANC nearly 20 years ago.

However, Magashule will be much more comfortable in any consultation involving another former president, one Jacob Zuma.

Considering Zuma himself faces corruption charges, and is standing in defiance of the Constitutional Court, his advice is likely to be that the resolution should not be implemented.

But this NEC meeting also resolved, again, to support the Zondo Commission, and to insist that ANC members must testify before it if called, as well as to call out what appears to be the spate of the attacks on the judiciary. Thus Zuma himself, by fighting Zondo and singling out judges of the Constitutional Court, is also disregarding his own party (again).

Magashule’s big question now is whether, in fact, he steps aside, or whether he will dare the NEC to suspend him.

It is clear that there is no way for Magashule or his allies to create their own party and contest the ANC for power in free and open elections. Also, the threats of a mass resignation of his allies as a result of this meeting were always going to be empty.

For Magashule & Co to have any power at all, they have to stay in the ANC.

But the main threat to Magashule’s future freedom may well be a coherent central political authority. Without that, he will find it easier to fight the corruption charges.

As a result, on a very cynical reading of the situation, any turbulence within the ANC would be good for Magashule.

In turn, it is possible that any court challenges against decisions of the NEC could be very damaging to the party.

This means that Magashule is likely to refuse to step aside. That will lead to a process of suspension. And that decision, to suspend him, would be the decision challenged in court.

This would create a situation in which the legal representative of the ANC, the secretary-general, is being taken to court by the secretary-general of the ANC. It would look like legal nonsense, which may well be part of Magashule’s aim.

In the process, this could help render the ANC itself as ungovernable.

While the NEC statement on the “step aside” resolution is fairly clear, there are still questions around the meeting itself.

On Monday night sound clips of what had happened at the NEC meeting the night before emerged, in particular the voice of Magashule refusing to accept the resolution as it was being originally presented.

This meeting took four days and overran its original schedule to come to the decision that those facing criminal charges must step aside within 30 days.

But this is the same NEC, the same group of people, who took the original decision in August 2020 that those charged must step aside.

So why did this meeting last so long? 

The answer must lie in the fact that the decision is hitting close to home; it is becoming personal.

In August, it was hard to oppose the principle that those charged with corruption must step aside, particularly because the main thrust of this principle had already been agreed to by delegates at the 2017 Nasrec conference.

But now it appears that a group of people attempted to disrupt the virtual NEC meeting on Sunday when it came time for Ramaphosa to read the public statement.

Obviously, that same group of people refused to accept the outcome of the meeting, which could indicate an important change in the ANC. A political party, and the movement as a whole, is nothing without the principle of “democratic centralism”, when members accept a decision even if they disagree with it.

There is no organisation involving more than one person in which everyone agrees on everything. But political parties exist through having people who agree on most things, but not everything, and accepting when they lose out.

If some members of the NEC now won’t accept a decision, this could be the beginning of the end of the 2017-elected NEC as a functional body.

If the NEC can no longer function, the only way to resolve that problem would be through a special conference of the ANC.

However, holding such an event could be a massive risk.

If it is true that members of the NEC were raising their voices at each other during this virtual meeting of less than 100 individuals (and some recordings have emerged of this), then how high would tempers be in a physical (or still possibly virtual) conference of nearly 5,000 people?

Such a conference could collapse, leaving a vacuum where the seeming ANC monolith once stood.

Such a conference could end with the same result as it did at Nasrec, with a split leadership.

It could also result in the same split as at Nasrec around corruption. As Sunday Times editor S’thembiso Msomi once suggested, the problems in the ANC are likely to remain for as long as conference delegates vote both that people charged with corruption must step down, and to elect Magashule to the position of secretary-general.

This clear inconsistency is what has led to this current situation.

On Monday night sound clips of what had happened at the NEC meeting the night before emerged, in particular the voice of Magashule refusing to accept the resolution as it was being originally presented.

This leak was always going to happen, as it is impossible to keep what happens in a virtual meeting secret (how do you know if someone is recording the entire thing on a device, while joining the meeting on a tablet?). And this could change the way the NEC has to operate in the future.

Then there is the situation around what the NEC statement refers to as the “RET Forces”, and the alleged use of ANC resources to help this faction.

Here, the NEC (speaking through Ramaphosa) agreed “that no ANC member should associate themselves with or be involved in the so-called ‘RET Forces’. Furthermore, the NEC will not allow any member of the ANC staff to use the resources and premises of the ANC to hold meetings of the RET or any other faction.”

This is a crucial move, which reveals the NEC formally disapproving of the behaviour of those who have been trying to help Magashule, in an attempt to render him powerless.

The reference to “any member of the ANC staff” is most likely a reference to Niehaus.

He has been working in the secretary-general’s office at Luthuli House, but refuses to say what he actually does.

In public, Niehaus has strongly supported Magashule, and is also the spokesperson of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association.

Now the NEC appears to be publicly disavowing his actions, and suggesting that he could be punished should he continue.

While Niehaus has undoubted gifts in the communications space (he is a former ANC spokesperson) he can go too far. Recently he made accusations against the Deputy Secretary-General, Jessie Duarte. She is unlikely to take such a thing lying down.

For Magashule to lose a battle over a liar and a fraud is surely humiliating, and an example of a massive, unforced strategic error.

This was also an unnecessary error, though Magashule’s apparent embrace of Niehaus shows how desperate he was in the first place. It also demonstrates how few non-desperate people there were who would openly represent his position in public.

Of course, there is still much to come.

This victory, if it is a victory, is being ground out, slowly, but possibly now very effectively.

It is taking as long, and is as slow as the process to expel Julius Malema from the ANC 10 years ago.

A process that was in the end, overseen by the chair of the ANC Disciplinary Appeals Panel at the time, and who is now the president. Maybe that’s a sign. DM

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All Comments 13

  • We’re dreaming if we think that anything constructive will happen. And we can’t expect any leadership either because there is none. Unfortunately the criminals will hold sway for a long time.

  • A prominent trait of cANCer is that it eventually self-destructs. It cannot protect itself. No leadership required. It is going to be extremely hard to get into remission, if at all. Just look at the names of the seriously ill elsewhere in this edition. The cancer runs deep.

  • QUOTE:”….Also, the threats of a mass resignation of his allies as a result of this meeting were always going to be empty.”

    I find this hilarious! Let them go. This bunfight is only about money, primarily ill-gotten.
    So where’s their next salary cheque going to come from when they leave the ANC?

  • The easiest way to ensure Ace walks the plank is to fire Carl Niehaus from his job at Luthuli House. He’s the scriptwriter of the RET drama. He lives beyond his means and so, without a salary to keep his revolving credit cards spinning, he will have to devote all his energy to dreaming up scams.

  • Bring it on! At some point, too long in coming, there has to be a reckoning with these evil thieves and degenerates. They need to hit a brick wall in terms of steely resolve and no mercy. Enough of this sick charade – SA needs to get back on the right track now!

  • I’d like to hear legal opinions on ‘a situation in which the legal representative of the ANC, the secretary-general, is taken to court by the secretary-general of the ANC. It would look like legal nonsense…’. There must be other routes/arguments.

  • The fabled broad “tent” of the ANC, which previously gave protective cover to so many corrupt and incompetent cadres, seems to be increasingly riddled with holes. Whether it will rip completely apart, still remains to be seen in the coming days and weeks and even months.

  • Hi, How much was the change to 30 days to leave vs their original week to do with …
    1) Will I get full pay and same benefits whilst suspended vs stepping down and going quietly?
    2) Do I maintain all my other perks like Private Security?
    To me this smells like 30 days to negotiate personal deals.