Gone Guy: The suspension of Ace Magashule is Ramaphosa’s biggest reform win to date
Ace Magashule is the first ANC secretary-general to be suspended. President Cyril Ramaphosa won his biggest reform gambit yet when the party’s deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, suspended Magashule from his role on Wednesday, May 5.
The two-page letter suspending ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule is a historic one for the ANC and a big-ticket reform win for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption efforts. The party has not suspended a secretary-general before, and it marks a turning point in the president’s stuttering efforts to curb corruption.
Ramaphosa has fought a long step-aside war since August 2020 when Magashule was first charged with 74 counts of corruption alongside 15 co-accused. When he refused to step aside this week after getting a grace period of 30 days to consult party elders, he got the boot.
Magashule is suspended until his court case is over.
The secretary-general engaged in a loud political fightback, refusing to toe the line, and he filibustered on the step-aside rule for seven months. But Ramaphosa’s long game worked, and by the March National Executive Committee meeting, he had mustered enough support to defeat the pushback by at least 60 votes in the 84-person body of party leaders.
This is a significant shift in the balance of power in the party. When Ramaphosa was elected party president in December 2017, he won by a sliver, with 179 votes.
Magashule is one of about 30 ANC members and representatives facing criminal or serious civil charges and must now step aside or be suspended.
Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte steps into the role of acting secretary-general, and with her onside Magashule’s ability to manipulate branch formation and membership has been curtailed. Duarte has been in the secretary-general’s office for much longer than Magashule, who must now move out with the full entourage of officials he used to turn the secretary-general’s office into a fiefdom.
His taps of patronage are also running dry as the National Prosecuting Authority cracks down. For example, the asbestos magnate Edwin Sodi of Blackhead Consulting has had his assets seized. This reduces Magashule’s ability to foment strife, although there is likely to be much social media noise in the coming weeks.
Analysts will argue that Magashule’s suspension will bedevil the local government election for the ANC in the Free State. That may be so, but the years of corruption have taken a toll on social delivery. The Estina dairy farm corruption, in which Magashule and then Free State Agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane gave the Guptas a sweetheart deal, has cost Magashule’s faction support.
The suspension letter constrains Magashule’s actions significantly. It reads: “During the period that you are temporarily suspended, you may not carry out the duties and responsibilities of your office as Secretary-General; may not represent the organisation publicly or in any other forum; may not make public pronouncements on matters related to the organisation and may not engage in the mobilisation of ANC structures, any other organisations or individuals, including on your stepping aside and matters related thereto.”
This must come like a hammer blow to Magashule, who often projects the view that he is the ANC and the ANC is him. At party conferences, he encourages a cult of personality where branch or other supporters address him as “Aaaaacccce…” and take a position that is almost supplicant.
Magashule’s suspension and the fact that former president Jacob Zuma is on the backfoot as he awaits the twin prospects of a Constitutional Court judgment for his truancy from the Zondo Commission of Inquiry and a corruption court date in May, give Ramaphosa space to entrench his reform programme.
Magashule is due back in court on August 11. DM