A whimper that shook nothing and no one — Ace Magashule’s ANC expulsion a non-event
The expulsion of Ace Magashule, with a whimper rather than a bang, marks the end of a strange era in the ANC. Magashule is likely to find it very cold outside the ANC, and his mainstream political career is probably over.
Ace Magashule’s demise reveals the limitations of building a political career based on party machinery rather than on a personal constituency with people on the ground. Even if Magashule were to join another party he is unlikely to bring them a bump in support.
The ANC’s announcement, on behalf of its National Disciplinary Committee, that it had expelled Magashule is the consequence of his actions and his actions alone. It was he who attempted to suspend President Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC, based on some mythical but non-existent power to do so.
And it was Magashule who decided not to respond to the committee’s request that he write to them providing reasons he should not be expelled. This was a clear political decision — he has obviously decided he has had enough of the ANC.
This suggests that he may not appeal, despite the fact it may be possible for him to go to the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee of Appeal or even the National Executive Committee (NEC). In other words, Magashule appears to be well and truly out.
Roots in the ANC
It can sometimes be forgotten how many parties in our political spectrum have their roots in the ANC.
IFP founder Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi belonged to the ANC before forming his own party; Bantu Holomisa was expelled from the ANC before forming the UDM; Mosiuoa Lekota served the ANC his divorce papers on his way to forming Cope; and, perhaps most famously, Julius Malema was expelled before forming the EFF.
This obviously leads to the question of whether Magashule will follow in their footsteps.
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For some, he may have certain advantages.
He was the premier of the Free State for years and served as leader of the ANC in that province from 1998 until 2018.
This would surely have allowed him to build up his own constituency. And the detailed reporting about the alleged corruption he has indulged in over the years, from the asbestos tender, to a petrol station, to Estina, suggests that he must have access to immense resources.
However, most of his career success was due to his firm grip on Free State party structures. There appears to be little evidence that he has built up his own constituency of ordinary people prepared to fight for him.
This is partly through choice, in that he has simply not focused on doing this.
But it may also be because he is simply a different personality, a different type of politician than Malema, Holomisa or Buthelezi. Considering that the Free State ANC members were virtually guaranteed of being re-elected for decades, the route to power over the province’s resources was driven through power over the ANC structures.
But there is evidence that Magashule has made many mistakes in his politics and never quite mastered the art of managing the internal workings of a political party.
It is worth repeating that because of his actions, the entire Free State delegation of the ANC was not able to vote at the Mangaung conference in 2012. He repeated this remarkable feat of incompetence in 2017, when the entire provincial leadership was not able to vote in that election either.
This was entirely because of the processes that he oversaw.
The roots of his final expulsion also provide evidence of shortcomings in his political ability. He certainly made important mistakes.
He tried to oppose the decision taken by the NEC that those formally charged by the National Prosecuting Authority must step aside. Once he had lost the vote in the NEC, it was always the case that he would be suspended.
And yet he chose to fight on. When he came under intense pressure, he made his biggest mistake, the aforementioned decision to “suspend” Ramaphosa as leader of the ANC, a move that many saw as an expression of ultimate desperation.
Along the way, Magashule displayed multiple anti-democratic tendencies.
In 2019, just as Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State was released, members of the Free State ANC Youth League said they would disrupt its launch events and would hold a party to burn copies of the book.
They were clearly acting in Magashule’s name. And yet he said nothing to disavow their actions.
Later, in early 2021 he advised Newzroom Afrika reporter Pelane Phakgadi: “Don’t worry too much about the Constitution.” Despite his subsequent explanations, these actions showed that he did not respect the rule of law.
These are but a few examples. They were widely publicised, and many people saw and heard them and formed a clear idea of Magashule’s personality and obvious lack of fitness for the job of ANC secretary-general.
It was becoming obvious that political power was leaving him behind and that there was little that he could do about it.
His court appearances saw ever smaller “crowds”, and most ANC leaders appeared to stay away from him. Few ANC leaders rocked up to support him. Those that did, did not have large constituencies themselves.
It became clear that the only people who supported Magashule were motivated by their opposition to Ramaphosa and his agenda.
From today’s point of view, it appears very difficult for Magashule to eke out any kind of successful new political career.
While he may be able to negotiate an agreement with the ATM or the EFF, perhaps even follow the path of Mzwanele Manyi, it is not clear that he would bring anything to them. He does not have a personal constituency or a group of influential people around him.
He never really stood for any particular ideology or agenda. There is little evidence of him fighting for any policy that would benefit large numbers of people.
There is much to examine in Magashule’s demise. This is almost certainly the first time that the ANC has expelled a former secretary-general — and for actions they took while secretary-general.
It is, for the ANC, a historic moment.
And yet, Magashule’s complete lack of political power is revealed by the fact that his expulsion changes virtually nothing in our politics — not even causing a ripple. DM