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Unlawful payments and a solid state witness could sink Ace Magashule

“Unlawful” payments of R873 550, allegedly distributed on Ace Magashule’s instruction as part of the R255-million asbestos tender, form part of the state’s case against the ANC secretary general (SG). 

It has also been revealed that Magashule’s former personal assistant, who worked for the former Free State premier, has been secured as a state witness because of her knowledge in how the alleged money was distributed. 

Magashule, who was the premier of the Free State between 2009 and 2018, appeared on Friday at the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on 13 charges of fraud, corruption and money-laundering. 

Magashule’s appearance, as the 13th accused, is related to the contentious R255-million October 2014 tender to audit and replace hazardous asbestos roofs in the Free State. These roofs were an egregious legacy of the repressive apartheid regime. 

This is an arrest that has the potential to fracture the ANC further as pressure mounts for the removal of President Cyril Ramaphosa as party leader. All the mudslinging is happening in the lead-up to the ANC’s national general council, which is expected to take place next year. 

The council, which was meant to be held this year, is the party’s mid-term review gathering and is expected to be the stage for the fight for the ANC’s soul. 

Already, on Friday in Bloemfontein, Magashule’s supporters were singing and showing placards, some even burning ANC T-shirts bearing Ramaphosa’s face on them. They were calling for him to step down as party leader.

Magashule’s co-accused are Edwin Sodi, the Johannesburg business owner of Blackhead Consulting, which received the main contract; head of the Free State department human settlements, Nthimotse Mokhesi; director of supply-chain management at the department, Mahlomola John Matlakala; businessman Sello Joseph Radebe; businessman Abel Kgotso Manyeki; former director-general of the national department of human settlements, Thabane Wiseman Zulu; and former Free State MEC for human settlements, Sarah Matawana “Olly” Mlamleli, who was also the mayor of Mangaung. 

Prosecutor Johan De Nysschen revealed that Magashule’s personal assistant, Moroadi Cholota, who is studying in the United States and appeared at the Zondo commission of inquiry in December last year, agreed to turn state witness. She was allegedly directed by her former boss to solicit proceeds from the asbestos tender for the ANC secretary-general’s personal needs. 

The NPA’s claims

These solicited funds, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said, were sought from the late Phikolomzi Mpambani, who was an account holder with Sodi at Blackhead Consulting. 

In 2017, Mpambani was brutally shot dead in broad daylight in Sandton, while allegedly travelling with a wad of cash.

The NPA stated that it is alleged that:

  • In August 2015, Magashule corruptly accepted a payment of R53 550, paid on his request towards the tuition fees of the daughter of a then acting judge, from Mpambani; 
  • In June 2015, Magashule, accepted payment of R 470 000, paid on his request to M-Tag Systems for the acquisition of 200 electronic tablets, from Mpambani;
  • In June 2015, Magashule accepted a payment of R 30 000, paid on his request to SWC Nkate, from Mpambani. 
  • Between November 2015 and January 2016, a payment of R 250 000, on his request, was made by Mpambani to Astra Travel towards travel expenses of a delegation to Cuba; and
  • Magashule failed to report corrupt transactions in contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act.

Magashule indicated that he would plead not guilty to all charges against him, in an affidavit read out in court.

Meanwhile, before the court proceedings scores of ANC supporters and members chanted outside the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court to show their solidarity with Magashule.

Democratic Alliance members in the Free State were also present, lauding the arrest of the secretary-general.

They held placards saying, “Ace must fall” and “Free the free state, jail Ace”. 

Police had erected barbed wire to bar people from flowing into the court precinct, but it was removed in no time.

Magashule’s supporters stand by him

ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Tony Yengeni said they had a permit to be there and they will not be stopped. 

“I am a member of the NEC of the ANC. I am here in my right as a member of the ANC, not as an individual, and nobody is going to deny me the right to be here … wearing ANC colours. I fought for these colours,” Yengeni said. 

“I took up arms for these colours, and went to prison for these colours. So no one, no one is going to stop me from supporting the [secretary general] in my ANC colours”, he said.  

Former finance minister Malusi Gigaba said that they were at the court to emphasise that Magashule is innocent until proven guilty and to show their support for him. 

He said their support is aimed at emphasising the unity of the ANC, adding that whatever happens now and after, their “unity must remain sacrosanct”. 

Other NEC members who showed their support for Magashule include corruption-accused and former state security minister Bongani Bongo, musician and former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, and ANC spokespeople Pule Mabe and Dakota Legoete.  

Fees Must Fall activist Mcebo Dlamini was also there. He said that comrades in Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters, are fighting with each other. 

[Comrades are using] state machinery to deal with each other, because I cannot come to you and say all is nice in Luthuli House. These old people are fighting each other. It’s a matter of who is close to which machinery to deal with each other,” he said.

When Magashule entered the court, Yengeni led the chanting, singing, “Viva SG of the ANC, Ace Magashule. Viva Ace.”

Magashule was warned by magistrate Amos Moos that he should not, whether directly or indirectly, contact his former assistant. 

‘Nobody can remove us’

Magashule was released on R200 000 bail and will return to court in February next year when the state said three more people would be arrested. 

After his bail appearance, Magashule addressed his supporters outside the court, saying that he will step down from his position as secretary general only if his party tells him to do so. 

He said that he has never seen one individual in the ANC deciding who should step down, and this will never happen while he is there. 

The “ANC is an organisation of branches”, emphasised Magashule, adding that it is the branches’ “voice” he respects.

“I was elected by branches at a conference; I will go back to a special conference and the branches must say to me: ‘Comrade Ace Magashule, step aside.’ I will then do so, because it will be coming from the basic unit of the ANC: the branches, which voted for us at the conference. Nobody and nobody can remove us.”

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.
Khaya Koko
Khaya Koko is a journalist with a penchant for reading through legal documents braving the ravages of cold court benches to expose the crooked. He writes about social justice and human-interest stories. Most importantly, he is a card-carrying member of the Mighty Orlando Pirates.

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