/ 13 November 2020

‘Stand aside’ rule fails the Ace test

Ace Magushule Embarks On Door To Door Campaign In Kagiso
Cool customer: ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who is implicated in several cases of corruption, talks to opposition voters before the by-election in Krugersdorp. Photo: Christopher Moagi/Gallo Images/Daily Sun

The ANC’s resolve to cleanse itself failed a major test this week, with corruption-accused secretary general Ace Magashule remaining in office despite the party’s resolution that leaders charged with serious offences should stand aside from their state and party posts.

Instead, the party appears to be soft-pedalling on implementing the resolution of its 54th national conference in December 2017 — and the decision taken by its national executive committee (NEC) in July.

Now a legal opinion on implementing the “stand aside” rule, which was meant to have been submitted to the party’s national working committee on Monday, will instead return to   the NEC for discussion before any further action is taken.

The disclosure was made by ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte on Wednesday at a media briefing on the party’s response to the news that the Hawks had issued an arrest warrant for Magashule. 

Magashule is due to appear in court on Friday in connection with the R255-million Free State asbestos scandal, over which seven other people, including former housing MEC Olly Mlamleli and businessman Edwin Sodi, were arrested last month. They appeared in court again on Wednesday and will be joined by Magashule and two other accused, who have not yet been served with arrest warrants, in court on 19  February next year.

Duarte said the “stand aside” rule had been reviewed because of potential legal issues with its implementation. A “serious” legal opinion was now being sought by party’s officials, who would present this to the NEC. No NEC meeting had been scheduled to deal with the matter, she said.

“The NEC has reviewed that decision. It has taken the view that we need to take serious legal counsel based on the fact that some comrades were charged, but charges were withdrawn after they were asked to stand aside from office,” she said. “We are still seized with this. The next NEC will discuss the matter.” 

Duarte said the meeting of the party’s top six had received a briefing from Magashule on the arrest warrant and his planned court appearance. Magashule had not offered to stand aside, nor had he been asked to do so by his colleagues.

Magashule, the former Free State premier, has previously publicly stated that he would not stand aside over corruption allegations, or charges, in response to the furore over the award of tenders for Covid-19 personal protective equipment by the provincial government valued at R2.4-million to companies owned by his sons.

The apparent impasse over Magashule’s arrest comes as his supporters in the Free State and ANC structures elsewhere have started mobilising in his defence.

Duarte said Magashule had told the top six that he did not want ANC members marching and printing T-shirts for when he appeared in court. The top six officials would not attend as they could not divorce themselves from their office.

“There are huge tensions in the Free State and other parts of the country. We cannot be party to creating any further division. We have to respect the NEC decisions,” she said.

The go-slow on providing the ANC’s provincial structures and its parliamentary caucus with guidelines as to how to implement the “stand aside” rule has already resulted in its uneven implementation in the provinces and regions.

In September, ANC provinces submitted initial lists of those who were facing charges or allegations to the NEC as part of the process to ensure they would appeared before the party’s integrity committees. Some provinces are waiting for further direction from above and others have pressed forward, in some cases hitting obstacles.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the integrity commission recommended that the province reinstate its deputy chairperson, Mike Mabuyakhulu, who had stood aside over the R28-million corruption case he still faces from his time as economic development MEC. The case has not been concluded, but the provincial executive committee (PEC) agreed to reinstate Mabuyakhulu, who co-ordinated the KwaZulu-Natal leg of Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC presidency in 2017.

Another 12 leaders in the province, including MPL Zandile Gumede, have been told to stand aside from their party and state roles by the PEC and are still awaiting a final ruling on their fate.

It is also unlikely to assist in breaking the impasse in North West, where the leadership troikas of five municipalities have defied an instruction from the ANC’s interim provincial leadership to vacate office over the collapse of the municipalities.

The ANC parliamentary caucus is also waiting for direction as to the fate of MP Bongani Bongo, who is out on bail on two different sets of charges of corruption. 

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe had not responded to calls from Mail & Guardian at the time of publication.