South Africa


The state fails and factional populism rises as the ANC bickers

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

Ace Magashule is unlikely to voluntarily step aside in 30 days.

If you think ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule is going to step aside in 30 days, as set out in the March 29 statement of the party’s national executive committee, think again. Today is 105 days since the Integrity Commission report found that the NEC should direct him to step aside after being charged with fraud and corruption 135 days ago.

Since then he has filibustered, huffed and puffed his way through three NEC meetings without stepping aside from his role despite a host of conference and other resolutions by the party that any member criminally charged should do so to protect the movement’s waning integrity. He will continue to do so after 30 days, which is an arbitrary deadline designed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to kick the can down the road. That number of days is not in the 14-page step-aside guidelines written by a team led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe. Nor is it in the party’s step-aside resolution passed at its 54th elective conference at Nasrec. Thereafter, the party can either discipline him for refusing to step aside or find another loophole or process.

My money is not on Ace going quietly into the night but raging against the dying of his political light. Instead, there will be heightened populism.  When Wits students protested earlier in March, Magashule joined their march to the Constitutional Court. It was a breathtaking act of a strongman populist when you consider the sums. Magashule is facing corruption and fraud charges with his co-accused in the Free State related to the misspending of R233-million on a still incomplete project to change dangerous asbestos roofs on township houses. 

That money could have funded 17,355 students with aid at the university, we calculated (see graphic). It’s the price of populism and the opportunity cost of corruption. While Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande may call student protests an annual “soap opera”, it is worth bearing in mind that if the ANC government had not squandered more than R1-trillion in time, money and opportunity on State Capture, we could have funded a proper tertiary plan for the 67% of young people who are not in education, employment or further training.  

If you do that calculation with every R1-million squandered, you plot the path to state failure we are now on due to the grand corruption gnawing at South Africa. And if such instrumentalist accounting does not prove the point, then a more prosaic explanation is that the constant factionalism distracts the country’s leaders from the important matters of state functionality. The vaccine strategy is a mess because there was no planning to buy stocks early or predict that inoculation would be the next required step. One of the reasons for this is that leaders are engaged in faction fighting or feathering their nests, as the Digital Vibes scandal shows.  

While the ANC NEC met for the past two days, large parts of Johannesburg’s economic capital was without power not because of load shedding, but because the infrastructure is buckling after years of neglect. Factionalism does not only cripple national government but all provinces and most municipalities, too. One of the City Power branches put out this statement as the NEC met on Monday, 29 March: “Power is off over a widespread area which includes most of the South as well as the northern suburbs.” Earlier in March, 30% of the city’s reservoirs ran so low that Johannesburg Water had to plan to get water tankers out to the streets. The biggest city in the country is a fast-approaching state failure. In the rural areas, the state has already failed. And as Estelle Ellis has tracked here and here, the Eastern Cape is already a provincial failed state.

As citizens, we tend to treat the ANC’s factionalism as spectacle, a political game of lights and shadows, like a boxing match of Ace vs Cyril. It is much more than the games of the next 30 days and much more dangerous to our beloved country’s future than that. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.


    30 days….ha ha. that can that is kicked down the road is now so battered, how much further can it roll.

  • Sergio CPT says:

    A brilliant piece, Ferial, which captures the devastation that theft, corruption and state capture has foisted on SA. Brought to you with compliments by the parasitic ANC! I agree, that obnoxious poor excuse of a human being wont step down. If only students and the masses would connect the dots!

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Another great article, thanks. Hope ANC supporters read it.

  • Vincent Baasch says:

    Horrible split infinitive in your subtitle!

    • Con Tester says:

      And there you have it. Much as expected, my previous comment has been consigned to silicon purgatory (instead of simply being deleted, it’s been put in the moderation queue from which it will very likely never be freed, even though it was automatically accepted when posted).

      • Red Howell says:

        Does that happen? Oh no… and what’s up with the 300 character max thing? Huh?

        • Scott Gordon says:

          Hmm I noticed that too , cogent tirades are not PC here ! smacks of censorship , why support that ? No comments allowed about ‘covid pieces ‘ yet they are allowed ?
          Enter lose a character . 109 left !

    • Michael Settas says:

      The split infinitive conjures (up) as much vociferous debate as the Oxford comma – with the brackets (being) intended. 🙂

  • Gerhard Pretorius says:

    1. 30 days grace means CR is not in charge. 2. One trillion has 12 naughts = R16 700 stolen from every citizen. 3. The cANCer is killing S.A. and even the best radiation treatment (Defend our Democracy) is fast becoming too late. 4. The cANCer is allowing its party politics to spill over to anarchy.

  • Bee Man says:

    Good article and I believe you’re spot on regards Ace’s failure to step down. Will be interesting to see what develops, but at least a decision was taken by whole NEC (…I think), so not easy to roll back.

  • Geoff Young says:

    The only real hope now for SA is that the ANC continues this absurd farce into self-destruction. But that will leave a political vacuum that risks being filled with the most opportunistic & populist band of thieves yet. No courage, let alone honour, among these thieves. I have zero respect for CR.

  • R S says:

    Glad I live in the Western Cape. And watch, Joburg will die and businesses will all flood into the WC while the ANC eats itself alive.

  • Tim Price says:

    The comedy of criminal errors never ends. #voetsekANC

  • Diablo DC says:

    Ace is going to start a mini civil war. I’m fetching the popcorn. He will have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. He ain’t leaving without a fight.
    Great article.

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Strategically, it is about more than Ace. It could be that the power balance has shifted, creating room for more tilting.

  • Stephen Kettlety says:

    What boggles my brain is the fact that soo many people still vote for the ANC. This leads me to only one conclusion, the national, flawed, education system has served its purpose and kept the average citizen uneducated. They cannot think for themselves.

    • Con Tester says:

      It goes further than that. Many SAn voters, especially in rural areas, are subordinated under a paternal/tribal/feudal social structure where they must follow the dictates of the king/chief/elders instead of being allowed to be individuals in their own right, a scheme the ANC actively fosters.

  • Andries Breytenbach says:

    Hello Ferial. Poignant article. Sadly it is the “factional populism” story that grabs the headline every time, not the failed state or Joburg’s power failure…

  • Johan Botha says:

    Ferial you are insightful and to the point. Great Journalism!

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    Ad nauseum the specifics of state failure is pointed out to us, with little consequence. They, for whom we are about to ‘die’, are comfortably ensconced in their luxury bubbles and SUV’s, mostly paid for with our tax rands. I am soooo gatvol of this, I am even prepared to vote for Mashaba. Strue.

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    What is this 30 day period for?The only purpose it serves is further procrastination on the part of the ANC so it can have a bit more time to do nothing!

    • Pet Bug says:

      Maybe it’s in the shysters employment contract that they are given 30 days notice of employment termination ….?
      Would be sooo embarrassing if the Labour court insists on reemployment.
      Sweet karma.

  • Scott Gordon says:

    Why 30 days ? The RET faction claim anyone suspected must also move , not quite what their rules say .
    Ace has been charged !
    Says ‘structures ‘ must decide , making his own rules up !
    Semantics really ! Will make little difference , all corrupt !

  • Johan Buys says:

    Ferial: so what is the plan?

    I like to think the Zuma Must Fall rallies with a rainbow of 50,000 helped.

    In a way there is already a tax revolt.

    If Zuptas call up their platoons they will certainly encounter resistance on a scale they cannot imagine.

    Time to draw a line come what may?

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