OVER AND OUT
While ANC expulsion looms for Ace Magashule, SIU opens investigation into his Free State bursary scheme
Ace Magashule is likely to be expelled from the ANC after he missed the deadline to oppose disciplinary findings against him. The Special Investigating Unit, meanwhile, will probe a bursary scheme dating from his time as Free State premier.
Former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, whose future with the party hangs in the balance after he was found guilty of misconduct and faces expulsion, could face new legal challenges after President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised a fresh investigation into transactions during his premiership in the Free State.
On Friday, Ramaphosa signed a proclamation that gives the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) the green light to investigate several allegations, including those of serious maladministration and causes of fruitless and wasteful expenditure in the affairs of the Office of the Free State Premier when Magashule was at the helm.
The SIU’s Kaizer Kganyago said the probe would also focus on the Office of the Premier’s annual report for the 2017/2018 financial year “concerning the approval, allocation, or payment of bursaries, including travel, accommodation and stipends to persons who were not entitled or were given in a manner that contradict the applicable manuals, policies, procedures, prescripts, instructions, or practices of the Office of the Premier”.
“The probe will also look into payments made in respect of student accommodation, including the causes of such maladministration and any related unauthorised, irregular or fruitless and wasteful expenditure incurred by the Office of the Premier or losses suffered by the Office of the Premier or the State.”
In 2021, City Press reported that a director of intergovernmental relations in Magashule’s office, Sheila Goldinah Mazibuko, requested exorbitant scholarships for herself, a “private individual” and two government officials to study in the US in 2017. Each recipient was awarded close to R1-million a year to study towards a two-year executive master’s in business administration (MBA) programme at a Washington DC university.
Magashule allegedly approved the request, despite a comparison with other local universities showing that the University of Cape Town offered the same programme for R328,000 a year per student at the time. According to the report, each recipient received $79,913, which translated to R926,741 a year.
The premier’s 2017/18 annual report by Magashule’s successor, Sisi Ntombela, states that the department had not disclosed prepayments relating to bursaries in accordance with National Treasury’s accounting guidelines.
“The bursary function was transferred to the department during the year, but the balance of the prepayments transferred over was not accounted for by the department. Consequently, prepayments and advances were understated by R34,536,000 in the financial statements,” the annual report read.
Kganyago said:“Furthermore, the SIU will investigate any irregular, improper or unlawful conduct by officials or employees of the Office of the Premier or any other person or entity, relating to the matters that fall within this investigation.”
The SIU can institute civil action in the courts and Kganyago said it will refer any evidence pointing to criminal conduct it uncovers to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for further action.
Allegations of corruption in relation to a student bursary programme were also revealed at the Zondo Commission in 2021. There was suspicion that the international scholarship programme run out of the premier’s office was being used to take money out of the country.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Case against Ace Magashule’s Free State DG over bursary scheme corruption falls short
The then Free State economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC, Mxolisi Dukwana, who’s now premier, alleged that there was no verification done on whether the students being paid actually existed. It also alleged that children of politically connected people in the Free State were benefiting and that no proper due diligence was done on the institutions students were being sent to.
Magashule is currently facing criminal charges relating to a R255-million Free State asbestos tender, one of the many questionable deals under his premiership in the province. The tender allegedly saw multiple high-ranking government officials receive kickbacks from funding that was meant to pay for the removal of harmful asbestos from the homes of the province’s poorest residents.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Ace Magashule’s graft trial shifted to 2024, but in the meantime he’s ‘thinking about’ starting a political party
His arrest in connection with the asbestos matter saw him suspended by the party in May 2021 when he refused to step aside voluntarily.
Ramaphosa’s SIU proclamation comes a week after the ANC National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) gave Magashule seven days to provide reasons in writing on why he should not be expelled from the party after he was found guilty on two charges of misconduct.
The seven-day deadline expired without Magashule’s having made any submissions. He could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Speaking to The Citizen last week, he said he was not aware of the NDC’s deadline as he had not been served with the outcome of the hearing, but had learnt of it through the media.
It remains unclear whether Magashule will furnish reasons to oppose his expulsion. 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). Finally, he could make his case at a party conference, only due to be held in 2027, which would be unlikely to overrule the NEC.
Political analyst Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast said the latest development meant Magashule’s “political career in the ANC has come to an end”.
“He might be expelled and there are some possible legal charges against him … I think he needs to find a life outside the ANC, in my opinion.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Ace with no base – Magashule is staring at permanent exile from ANC
While Magashule’s next move is unknown, there is speculation that he is planning to start his own political party ahead of the 2024 national elections. Breakfast, however, said this would be a miscalculation as it would fragment opposition voters.
Speaking to journalists earlier this month, Magashule did not rule out the possibility of forming a political party in the near future, saying he had been approached to do so.
“I don’t know if I will form another party. Time will tell, but for now, I am still a member of the ANC. The people of South Africa have approached me … It’s not only people from KZN, but all over South Africa. I spend a lot of time in Gauteng, the Free State and KZN, the North West and the Northern Cape, doing community service,” he said. DM