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14 Jun 2019 00:00
David Mahlobo, Ace Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma await the outcome of the elections at the ANC’s narrowly-contested 2017 Nasrec conference. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)
ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is under pressure, with questions about the efficacy of his office as well as a probe into whether he and other senior leaders were complicit in setting up small parties to weaken the ANC. This marks the beginning of a move against the senior party boss.
A special national executive committee (NEC) has been called next week in Cape Town in which a final report from the ANC’s integrity commission will be discussed, as well as the upcoming State of the Nation address.
According to The Sunday Times, the commission report flagged “inefficiencies” in the office of the secretary general and called for a “review” of the functioning of the office described as the “engine room” of the organisation.
The special NEC discussion comes on the back of an announcement by the ANC this week of an independent investigation into whether members — including Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma — helped to set up and mobilise support for smaller parties in the 2019 general election in order to weaken President Cyril Ramaphosa.
It also comes after a public spat between Magashule and senior ANC leaders over his pronouncements on the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank, which hurt market sentiment and caused the rand to tumble.
It is not the first time Magashule has defied the others in the ANC top six, and Ramaphosa in particular.
Magashule directly contradicted the party’s head of elections Fikile Mbalula, who credited the president with the party’s election win, saying the electorate did not vote for an individual but for the party.
Magashule also came under fire for his comments to Western Cape voters not to cast their ballots for whites ahead of the election, as the ANC sought to woo minority voters to reassert itself as a non-racial party.
He was also accused of tampering with the list process, which he denied at the time, and then mishandling the process of providing the list of MPs to the integrity commission for scrutiny, after a special NEC decided that this would lend credibility to the party’s lists.
Magashule’s office was exposed when deputy president David Mabuza opted to postpone his swearing in.
But removing Magashule will not be an easy feat, given his track record of outsmarting his Free State opponents for more than two decades.
Magashule narrowly beat Senzo Mchunu, the former KwaZulu-Natal premier, for the post of general secretary at the ANC’s Nasrec 2017 conference. Before the conference Mbalula, who is also from the Free State, issued a stark warning about Magashule’s potential election to the post. “Ace Magashule is a definite no-no-no, the man will finish what is remaining of our movement. He will kill it,” Mbalula tweeted in June 2017.
Much will depend on whether his opponents can outwit him and win the support of the ANC’s rank and file membership in their move against him.
Magashule and his allies are unlikely to go down quietly — a strident pushback is expected at the meeting.
An NEC source this week said that there is a strong feeling that Magashule’s conduct cannot continue to go unchecked.
He also clashed with top officials when he issued a statement on the party’s behalf that denounced Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State, in which allegations of corruption were made against him during his tenure as Free State premier.
In the end Magashule said he would deal with the matter “as an individual” and announced that he would launch a court challenge against Myburgh, but he has not done so to date.
The 2019 elections saw a record number of political parties — 48 nationally — contesting the polls, with very few obtaining enough votes to win a seat in Parliament. But each vote for these parties meant votes were potentially lost by parties such as the ANC.
The investigation is set to be conducted by a team comprising party stalwarts Kgalema Motlanthe, Dr Frene Ginwala and advocate Fezeka Magano.
The Sunday Times reported last month on an affidavit in which the suspended general secretary of the Council of Messianic Churches in Christ, Buyisile Ngqulwana — who was behind the formation of opposition party the African Transformation Movement (ATM) —detailed Magashule’s involvement in the setting up of the party, as well as consultations with Zuma.
In the affidavit, from a now abandoned court application, Ngqulwana places Zuma and Magashule at the centre of establishing the party aimed at weakening Ramaphosa.
But the ATM is not the only party that Zuma has been linked to.
A meeting between him and Black First Land First in April raised eyebrows among ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal, as it was seen as an endorsement of the party in the run-up to the key polls. Another former Zuma ally, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, also formed a party that contested the 2019 polls. Neither party made it into Parliament.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa also formed its long-awaited party to contest the polls under the banner of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party.
Numsa’s leadership, including that of the powerful chief executive of its investment arm, Khandani Msibi, were also seen as sympathetic to the Zuma faction of the ANC.
According to the terms of reference of the independent probe — ironically signed off by Magashule — the outcome of the investigation could lead to disciplinary action against those implicated.
A report by the investigation team is due in 60 days and will be submitted to Magashule’s office. This is another pitfall on the horizon, since Magashule’s office was criticised for its handling of an integrity commission report on the ANC’s list of MPs to Parliament.
His office is also set to provide secretarial support to the independent team. Legal representation is not permitted, but any member implicated will be allowed to cross-examine witnesses, and all proceedings will be held in camera.
Evidence allowed by the team will include documents, affidavits, video or sound recordings as well as oral testimony.
It is still early days in the fight against Magashule, but the move to initiate a probe endorsed by the NEC marks a significant start.
Natasha Marrian is Mail & Guardian's politics editor. Read more from Natasha Marrian
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