Magashule maintains innocence, refuses to step aside as state adds more charges

In the barricaded streets outside the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Friday, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule maintained both his innocence and his refusal to relinquish his position.

The state had just added a further 50 charges to those of corruption, fraud, theft and money laundering in the Free State asbestos scandal. 

The accused appeared briefly in court for the matter to be transferred to the high court on 11 August, as about a thousand Magashule supporters camped out in the street.

The prosecution added another three accused to the charge sheet, all of whom served as senior officials in Magashule’s administration when he was the Free State premier.

Magashule said he was impatient at the courts for “wasting” his time with postponements in the matter.

“You guys said we must have our day in court. I’m waiting for the courts and they keep postponing,” he told reporters as his supporters demanded that he be left alone.

He was accompanied by ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe when he headed into court, while his supporters chanted for a special conference — a reminder of Magashule’s expressed views on the ANC’s “step aside” resolution, which he has said he would only heed if a special conference demanded it.

But the calls were also code for a bid by Magashule’s faction to snatch control of the ruling party from President Cyril Ramaphosa. Some supporters hailed him as “the future president” of the party and said they wanted the ANC to elect new leaders. 

His allies in the national executive committee, ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, ANC Mpumalanga secretary Lindiwe Ntshalintshali and NEC member Dakota Legoete, were denied entry to the court, which was restricted to 50 people according to the Covid-19 rules.

This led Legoete to complain that the pandemic was being used to turn the country into “a dictatorship”. But disgraced Eastern Cape politician Andile Lungisa countered: “The regulations are binding on all of us.”

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said it could have taken the R255-million corruption case to trial in May but August was the earliest that the defence teams of all 16 accused are available.

The three new accused were arrested on Thursday, and granted bail of R50 000 each.

They are the former chief financial officer of the Free State department of human settlements, Nozipho Molokoe; the former chief engineer of the department, Thabiso Makepe; and the head of the legal department in the office of the Free State premier, Albertus Venter.

Molokoe, Makepe and Venter face charges of failing to report corrupt transactions. Magashule faces several counts of corruption for authorising or accepting “gratifications” totalling more than R1-million on behalf of others, including R53 550 towards his daughter’s tuition from companies involved in the asbestos scam.

De Nysschen handed each of the accused a copy of the new indictment. It adds a raft of money-laundering counts and three of contravening asbestos regulations, as promulgated in the Occupational Health and Safety Act, against all accused.

The NPA on Friday stressed that all 16 accused now face more than 70 charges. When Magashule was first indicted on November 13 last year, only 21 charges were put to him.

NPA spokesman Sipho Ngwema told reporters that more than 40 witnesses are to testify in perhaps the biggest graft case of the post-apartheid era.

Among them is Magashule’s former private assistant, whose cooperation is believed to be key for the state as it seeks to jail him for up to 15 years for the R255-million asbestos audit scandal that played out on his watch as premier.

Before heading to his car in the barricaded streets Magashule commented to the media: “We hope for a speedy trial because justice delayed, you know, it’s something else.”

Asked whether he would address his supporters, he replied that he did not see any.

When he was asked whether he would heed mounting pressure in the top ranks of the ANC to step down as secretary general, he responded: “As you know we prove our innocence in a court of law.”

The asbestos scandal goes back to 2014 when a joint venture between Edwin Sodi’s Blackhead Consulting and Igo Mpambani’s Diamond Hill Trading 74 clinched lucrative deals to perform an asbestos audit and replace asbestos roofs in houses in the province. 

In the end, not a single roof was replaced, and the state lost R255-million, leading to the state’s fraud and theft charges against the legal entities, their directors and accomplices.

The court heard on Friday that somebody has been found to appear as a representative of Diamond Hill, in the place of Mpambani, who was murdered in Sandton in 2017.

The representative does not count as an accused but was advised to find legal counsel.

Accused number one, Nthimotse Mokhesi, the former head of the Free State human settlements department, was absent from court after undergoing surgery this week. He admitted before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture that Sodi had paid more than R600 000 into a family trust to help him qualify for a housing bond.

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.

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