Magashule ‘ready’ for key ANC role

No more regrets: Free State Premier Ace Magashule laments the slow pace of economic transformation, and says he misses working for the ANC full-time. (Photo: Oupa Nkosi)

No more regrets: Free State Premier Ace Magashule laments the slow pace of economic transformation, and says he misses working for the ANC full-time. (Photo: Oupa Nkosi)

Free State Premier Elias “Ace” Magashule believes the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) is stifling radical economic transformation.

Magashule, who has been in charge of the province for 10 years, also blames leaders who are unwilling to implement ANC policy for the slow pace of change.

“The problem is bureaucracy, generally, of government, and as early as we came into power, we came with the PFMA, [which has] long, tedious processes before you can actually achieve anything,” Magashule told the Mail & Guardian this week.

“I think we operated like we are not in a developing country. We wanted to copy the Western powers, and came with laws which really disadvantaged speedy implementation,” he added.

But the problem is not only one of red tape. Magashule says ANC members who are government employees and are meant to implement the party’s policy have become preoccupied with processes rather than with results.

“They take four years to decide something that can actually happen tomorrow. The implementers, at times, interpret the law as if the law doesn’t want us to do things. These types of people are not real agents of change; they delay things,” he said.

Business would be conducted differently if it were up to him. “In government, because of bureaucracy, you can’t do anything. And you end up doing things which by law are wrong. If I had my power, I would just do things tomorrow,” he said.

This week, Magashule met with his provincial government directors and heads of department ahead of the state of the province address and budget vote.

Taking a break for lunch at the Maccauvlei Golf Club in Sasolburg, the premier moved rapidly across the room, conducting short meetings with individual businesspeople, community organisations and representatives from the Chinese embassy. Magashule wants to help black entrepreneurs enter the provincial economy, according to his director general, Kopung Ralikontsane.

Speaking to the M&G, Magashule was candid about moves to unseatinged his view that Cabinet ministers such as Derek Hanekom and Aaron Motsoaledi, who called for Zuma to step down at the ANC’s last national executive committee (NEC) meeting of 2016, should themselves resign.

“If you make such a call, it means that you yourself are saying you can’t serve under this person. So the best way [forward] will be to say: ‘Well, I can’t serve; let me resign,’ ” Magashule said.

The veteran ANC leader justified his defence of Zuma by saying he had done the same for Zuma’s predecessors.

“All my life I defended the leadership of the ANC, particularly its president,” he said. “Because the president is the father figure of the organisation. You can’t say to a person who is elected: ‘Get out.’ ”

But Magashule is not surprised by the growing chorus of senior ANC members who have turned against Zuma.

“At times we take for granted that people are still revolutionary and still cling to the same objectives and policies,” Magashule said.

“At times you realise that because we are in an open democracy, people are no more dedicated, committed, and sometimes people no longer care about the ANC, even if they are members and leaders,” he added.

As far as his own political ambitions go, Magashule is playing his cards close to his chest. But he suggested that he is ready for a bigger role within the party.

Former president Nelson Mandela told him in 1993 that he would regret declining a nomination to serve as premier of the Free State, he said. Instead, his decision handed the post to Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota — for the sake of “unity”.

“I took an individual decision to decline and Nelson Mandela said to me: ‘You are committing a mistake, which you will actually regret by not accepting what the branches have decided.’ Later on, we did regret,” he said. Lekota left the ANC to form the Congress of the People in 2008.

This time around, Magashule does not intend making the same mistake. He said he would not decline a nomination for any position and has hinted that he is ready to return to full-time ANC party work.

“I just regret the day when I had to leave working for the ANC full-time. I think if the ANC had chairpersons and secretaries [who were full-time], the ANC was still going to be a strong organisation. I have always preferred working for the ANC full-time,” he said.

Factors such as the premier’s close alliance with Zuma and long-serving record in the ANC have earned him support for a senior position at the ANC’s elective conference in December.

It is understood that members of the ANC Youth League and regional structures in his province, the North West, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape are considering the possibility of nominating him to replace secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

He is also known to be part of the so-called premier league: an informal grouping of ANC chairs in the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga provinces allied to Zuma and lobbying for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed the president. This affiliation is expected to bolster his likely candidature.

Magashule has already hinted that a position in the ANC secretariat would be acceptable.

Referring to the slow implementation of ANC policy in government, he said: “The secretary general of the ANC and the secretaries in provinces shall have to make us in government do what we are meant to do.”

Magashule’s support in the succession battle for the ANC’s presidency would significantly boost the campaign of any presidential candidate. But he is scathing about candidates putting up their hands for president at this stage.

“That is a foreign tendency in the ANC, for me to say: ‘Please, I want to be president.’ I will never support somebody who stands up himself and says: ‘I can do it. I am available.’ It must be structures who [nominate] … How do you want it when we have not nominated you?” Magashule said.

Asked about Cyril Ramaphosa, who indicated his availability to stand for the position in a radio interview last year, Magashule said: “I haven’t heard the deputy president and didn’t know what he said. But I respect any leader of the ANC to have their views.”

Despite escalating tensions among the party’s senior leaders, Magashule denies that the NEC is split over loyalty to Zuma. “There is no division within the NEC. I only see ill discipline by some members.”

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