/ 31 March 2021

Magashule’s plan to weasel out of a tight step-aside corner

Ace Magashule And Co Accused Return To Court In Bloemfontein
The ANC national working committee (NWC) has thrown suspended secretary general Ace Magashule one more lifeline after the structure opted not to seek his expulsion, and instead to engage with him. (Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images)

ANC secretary general (SG) Ace Magashule has hedged all his bets on the party’s branches advocating for a special conference, which he hopes will exempt him from the step-aside resolution

Magashule is taking a page out of the playbook of his ally, former president Jacob Zuma, by hopping from region to region and from one branch to the next in the hope of gaining enough support to force the ANC’s leadership to back off. 

When Zuma was removed as ANC deputy president, he was reinstated in a national general council (NGC) meeting, humiliating former president Thabo Mbeki and paving the way for his own presidency. 

Mbeki subsequently lost his bid to be re-elected for a third term in Polokwane in 2007. 

Sources in the ANC say Magashule is planning to tour some of the regions, including the Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, to mobilise support. “He wants to mobilise support from branches, who will, in turn, put pressure on national office bearers to reverse their decision. It’s a play from Zuma’s book,” one national executive committee (NEC) member said. 

If he gains enough traction in provinces that have the biggest numbers, it might work, the source said. Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal are two of the biggest provinces in terms of ANC membership. 

According to the latest figures, Limpopo has 234 663 members, taking up the second spot, which was held by Mpumalanga in the lead-up to the ANC’s watershed 2017 Nasrec conference. The Eastern Cape, the third-biggest province, has 212 205 members and Mpumalanga has 181 761.  

The Mail & Guardian understands that Magashule’s allies are expecting to have enough numbers to swing the step-aside decision in their favour. “If this strategy fails, ANC branches will call for a special conference where they can appeal the decision,” a source high up in the radical economic transformation (RET) faction said.

EWN reported that Magashule had told provincial secretaries during a meeting that he would not be suspended. One ANC secretary corroborated this, saying that Magashule told provincial secretaries during the NEC meeting last weekend that he was prepared to continue running ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg, adding that he would not be suspended or taken to a disciplinary process. 

The ANC’s secretariat held a meeting on Monday in an attempt to contain growing frustration during the weekend’s NEC. 

“He said he would not leave. He said he has enough support from branches to turn this around and that no one had a right to remove him except for ANC branches,” a provincial leader said. “It was [deputy secretary general] Jessie [Duarte] who tried to reason with him. She tried to calm the situation. No one supported him. He knows that if he attempts to do this, it has the potential of destroying the ANC.” 

Another NEC member, one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lieutenants, said Magashule might also use his “most tried and tested strategy” for those who support him in the NEC to resign, which would force the party to a special conference. 

“In 2005-6 and 2011, the REC [regional executive committee] of Thabo Mofutsanyana [in the Free State] had to be disbanded because a group supporting Ace had resigned. They were following Ace’s instructions to resign because he could not get things his way,” the source said.

“All provinces should know that this man uses tactics that he tested in the Free State. Many people with good struggle credentials should refuse to be victims of this preschool politics, lest they find their legacies destroyed,” the NEC member added.

Branches in the Free State, where the province’s former premier enjoys most of his support, have already penned letters to the top officials relaying their disagreement with the step-aside decision as it pertains to the secretary general. 

In a letter written by regions in the Free State, they say that ANC branches of the ANC “want to state it categorically … that we disagree with the intent by the ANC NEC to remove the SG by any means necessary. We call on the NEC to take branches of the ANC seriously and value the input we make towards building a strong ANC.”

In a separate statement, the Thabo Mofutsanyana region said its regional task team does not support any attempt to “destabilise the organisation, particularly Magashule’s office”, adding that it called on the NEC to work towards building unity.

However, a provincial chair, who spoke to the M&G, said that although Magashule might gain the sympathy of some regions and branches, should he be forced to vacate his office, he would be left vulnerable in the lead-up to the NGC. This council is the ANC’s mid-term policy review conference, with powers to reverse NEC decisions. 

“If you look at provinces, he doesn’t have the support of those secretaries. Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Limpopo and Gauteng secretaries are the ones he needs to reverse the decision in the NGC. 

“It’s the secretaries that collate the numbers in terms of conferences and if he loses his power as SG, he loses influence with those secretaries,” the provincial leader said. “It’s the perfect time for Ramaphosa to kick him out. If he stayed longer, and he was in charge of the branch audits ahead of the NGC, then it would be a disaster for Ramaphosa and his people.”  

Magashule and several other ANC leaders facing criminal charges received a red card on Monday when the NEC resolved that all those facing court charges should step aside from their roles in the party. 

The decision came during a fierce meeting, which turned chaotic as Magashule’s loyalists threatened to resign. In his closing address, Ramaphosa said that those who refused to step aside after 30 days would be suspended. 

Initially, sources told the M&G, the decision was that members had to step aside within seven days and then “it was extended to 14 days”. 

It was at the tail-end of the meeting on Sunday that Magashule refused to sign off on the minutes, saying that no agreement had been reached by members for the step-aside resolution to be effected within the indicated days. 

In a leaked email, ANC general manager Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, who is in charge of co-ordinating NEC meetings and their decisions, said the draft decisions on the step-aside rule were added to the final NEC decision document without Magashule and Duarte’s okay. 

On Monday, the top six officials then decided for secretaries and Magashule’s office to be given 30 days to write to affected members informing them to step aside. Magashule said he would need to consult with party elders on the matter. On Wednesday, he said he would consult former treasurer general Mathews Phosa and Zuma. Phosa was one of the architects of the step-aside guideline.