Ace with no base — Magashule is staring at permanent exile from ANC
The decision by the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee to consider expelling Ace Magashule from the party is the biggest possible humiliation for someone who was elected as secretary-general just 5½ years ago. It appears that, through a series of mistakes and his own possibly criminal conduct, Magashule has sown some of the seeds of his own destruction. This political, and very public, demise is also symbolic of the sunset of the Premier League, the three premiers who at one point appeared to hold in their hands the balance of power in South Africa.
This may be a cautionary tale for those interested only in extraction, and who have no coherent political ideology. Later this week, the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) is due to consider Ace Magashule’s response to its finding that he must explain why he should not be expelled from the party.
Should the NDC decide to expel him, he could still go to the National Disciplinary Committee of Appeal, and after that to the National Executive Committee (NEC) itself. Finally, he would be able to make a case at a conference, only due to be held in 2027, which would be unlikely to overrule the NEC.
The main reason for the NDC’s findings against Magashule is that what he tried to do was so serious, it had to impose a serious sanction. In 2021 Magashule claimed to be suspending President Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC, without having the authority to do so.
This is an existential matter for any political party. Not acting against such an egregious act would extend an open invitation to any future disgruntled official to attempt a similar stunt.
The possible decision to expel Magashule is the culmination of a process that started in December 2017, when he was elected secretary-general of the ANC by a famously narrow 24-vote margin.
Since then, he has probably lost more political power, and more quickly, than any other politician in democratic South Africa.
Contrast his position now with that of the person who lost the 2017 election for the position of ANC secretary-general. Senzo Mchunu is still playing an important role in government as water affairs and sanitation minister, and was elected again to the NEC and the National Working Committee last December.
Seeds of his own destruction
While Magashule and his supporters may claim that he is a victim of a faction or a cabal, it is much more likely that the seeds of his demise were sown by himself, both in his actions in purporting to suspend Ramaphosa, and in how he himself wielded power many years ago. He has a track record of failing to act according to the basic principles of the democratic process.
In 2012, it was the Free State ANC under his leadership which failed to hold a proper provincial conference. He suffered the humiliation of watching his delegates not being able to vote at the national ANC conference his own province was hosting.
He learnt nothing from that experience.
In 2017, members of the provincial executive committee of the Free State were again unable to vote after he allowed the same thing to happen, again.
It is important to note that other missteps played a very real role in reducing him to this current position.
He fired Mxolisi Dukwana as an MEC in 2012. Dukwana is now Free State premier, the same job that allowed Magashule to wield so much power. Dukwana bided his time and told the Zondo Commission that he was originally removed from the provincial Cabinet for refusing to work with the Guptas.
Dukwana’s testimony, and that of many others, together with the information published by Pieter-Louis Myburgh in his book Gangster State and in Daily Maverick articles, has landed Magashule in much trouble, including criminal charges.
When asked to step aside, Magashule refused to do so and found himself on a collision course with the NEC of the ANC.
In essence, he was pitting himself against Ramaphosa. Except this time, he was on his own.
Funnily enough, Magashule may have sown the seeds of his own destruction. It was he who first asked Ramaphosa to return to frontline politics, and requested him to accept the nomination as ANC deputy leader in 2012. In the years since that conference, Ramaphosa played a bigger role than anyone in reducing Magashule’s political power.
It is important to note that Magashule is not alone in having his perceived political power melt so quickly.
Demise of the Premier League
From 2015 to 2017 it appeared that what was called the Premier League would play a dominant role in the future of the country. Magashule, the then North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo and the then Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza all appeared to back Jacob Zuma as President. All appeared to be in opposition to Ramaphosa.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ANC’s leadership race: The rise of the ‘premier league’
Now, all are out of power.
There is much to learn from this.
First, all three failed to transform a provincial constituency into a national constituency.
Perhaps an even bigger mistake was that they could not work together. The key decision here was probably the one made by Mabuza to switch his support to Ramaphosa at Nasrec, a decision which was possibly decisive for the result of that conference.
Meanwhile, Mahumapelo tried to govern North West the way Magashule ruled the Free State. The breathtaking incompetence he reigned over led to violent protests by people demanding his resignation.
As a bonus, Mahumapelo’s rule ended in a strange scene, where Magashule hosted a press conference ex officio in which his secretary-general job was to ensure that Mahumapelo would indeed resign.
At the same time, Ramaphosa himself stated that governance in North West had collapsed.
A cautionary tale
For optimists, the demise of Magashule, Mabuza and Mahumapelo is a cautionary tale showing the limits of the politics of extraction. It reveals that there are limits to how far politicians can go if they do not espouse any coherent ideology.
Mabuza hardly ever spoke in public and answered questions perhaps only three times in the past six years. Magashule and Mahumapelo certainly spoke in public more often, but did not appear to promote any policies or actions aimed at improving the lives of ordinary people.
Considering how difficult it is to keep anything secret in our politics, this may suggest that public evidence of wrongdoing imposes an important ceiling on how far a politician can go.
It would probably be fruitless for any of these three to try to create their own party. Certainly, it seems unlikely that such a party would garner widespread support. It is cold outside the ANC, even when the party is suffering from an unprecedented loss of national support. All these years later, it appears that Magashule enjoys energetic support only from a few voices. And plenty of Twitter trolls and bots.
That said, the Free State has already produced two seats for councillors from Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s African Content Movement in Maluti-a-Phofung, enough to hold the balance of power there.
While Magashule may still escape expulsion, it seems impossible to see how he could play an important political role in the future. Rather, he is likely to now have to concentrate on his defence in his criminal trial.
This is important as it suggests that someone elected to high office in the governing party can still be held accountable by the criminal justice system and their own party.
And this may be the most important lesson from the downfall of Magashule: that despite everything that happened during the Zuma era, there is a link between public evidence of wrongdoing and political support. And that if there is proof of wrongdoing against a politician, there will be consequences in the political arena. Eventually. DM