The governing party’s secretary-general, Ace Magashule, ran out of runway when the ANC’s National Working Committee (NWC) decided on Monday, 3 May, that party members who face criminal charges had to step aside.
Magashule is the most prominent ANC leader who must step aside, but the decision affects about 30 other party members who also face criminal charges.
Magashule tried to stop the party from releasing the media statement which revealed that the party’s high command, its National Working Committee, had endorsed the March meeting where Magashule and others were given 30 days to step aside or face suspension. The 30 days are up.
The media release went ahead despite his protestations. Magashule, backed by his allies, including National Executive Committee (NEC) member Tony Yengeni, fought tooth and nail against the step-aside rule.
They argued that many other NEC members, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, national chairperson and Cabinet member Gwede Mantashe, treasurer-general Paul Mashatile and other members of the NEC also had allegations of corruption and poor governance hanging over them.
The first version of the step-aside rule, which was passed at the party’s 54th national conference at Nasrec, applied to any reports of corruption or actions that brought the ANC into disrepute. Since then, it has been amended to apply only to cadres who face criminal or serious civil charges.
Magashule’s supporters also argued for the constitutional principle that the accused are innocent until proven guilty, but in the end, the party’s integrity principle of stepping aside if you face a criminal charge won the day.
The party has an NEC meeting from 8-10 May where those who must step aside could launch a last-ditch attack, but several party leaders say it is unlikely to succeed.
Out of 86 NEC members at the March meeting, fewer than 20 supported Magashule’s position, a member told Daily Maverick.
The ANC has refined the step-aside guidelines to four pages from the lengthy and complex document drawn up by party elder Mathews Phosa and other lawyers and leaders.
It protects the positions and incomes of the members who step aside in case they are found not guilty, or if the cases against them do not go ahead, but it also stops them from being able to publicly represent the ANC.
It reads: “Stepping aside means that the participation and conduct of a member, office bearer or a public representative must be guided by the best interests of the organisation… This may include relinquishing, forgoing, or refraining from exercising, temporarily or permanently, in whole or part, his or her rights, duties and responsibilities as a member, office bearer, or public representative.”
A member who steps aside may not occupy any executive office, any legislative office or represent the organisation publicly or in any other forum, including speaking in the legislative body that s/he belongs to, other than being a member. The member may not “make public pronouncements on a matter related to the organisation” and “[may not engage in the mobilisation of ANC structures, any other organisations or individuals, including on her/his stepping aside and matters related thereto”, says the guidelines.
This means Magashule cannot campaign wearing ANC colours once he steps aside or is suspended. But the members who step aside will receive their pay and benefits, and the decision to step aside must be reviewed by the organisation every six months.
“We attempt to respect people’s rights and balance these with real public concerns regarding the accusations. The bottom line is, however, that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise,” said an NEC member.
News24 reported that Magashule, ANC MP Bongani Bongo and KwaZulu-Natal member of the provincial legislature Zandile Gumede had said they would either not step down or take the step-aside decision to court.
If they do not step aside this weekend, they will be suspended.
Magashule will be suspended by his deputy, Jessie Duarte, as he cannot suspend himself. The rules say that the secretary-general or provincial secretaries will invoke Rule 25.7 of the ANC constitution, which is the suspension-if-charged clause in the party’s constitution.
It reads: “Where a public representative, office-bearer or member has been indicted to appear in a court of law on any charge, the secretary-general or provincial secretary… if satisfied that the temporary suspension of such public representative, office bearer or member would be in the best interest of the organisation, may suspend such public representative, elected office-bearer or member and impose terms and conditions to regulate their participation and conduct during the suspension.”
If Magashule or any of the other party members facing charges do not accede to the rule, they will face a disciplinary hearing. The disciplinary committee is chaired by NEC member and former labour minister Mildred Oliphant. DM