/ 17 April 2021

Anger as Ace alters step-aside rules

Ret Forces Free State Press Conference On Ace Magashule?s Case
Shoring up: The ‘radical economic transformation’ faction in the Free State shows its support for Ace Magashule. (Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images)

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule’s attempt last week to get provincial secretaries to back his revolt against the step-aside process has backfired.

Instead of backing Magashule’s attempt to broaden the step-aside list to include ANC members accused of — but not charged with — corruption, secretaries of key provinces pushed back, calling for an urgent meeting of the party secretariat to confront him over his actions.

Three provincial leaders who spoke to the Mail & Guardian said Magashule’s gambit was rejected by most provinces, including the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. 

The provincial secretaries then demanded  a meeting with Magashule and deputy secretary general Jesse Duarte. They withdrew the demand after the party’s national working committee shut Magashule down, issuing a statement contradicting him and placing ANC treasurer Paul Mashatile in charge of the step-aside process.

Two well placed sources also told the M&G that Duarte was blindsided by Magashule’s letter, having only known that he would remind the secretaries of the Thursday deadline. 

The two sources say Duarte told the national working committee that she had no idea Magashule had widened the scope of the step aside resolution, adding that she was “irate”. 

The secretary general is facing corruption charges over the R250-million Free State asbestos roofing scandal and is out on R200 000 bail pending the matter going to trial in the high court in Bloemfontein.

In his closing address during a NEC meeting late last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa said provincial secretaries had been given 30 days to effect the step-aside resolution. Party leaders would have to be informed before the end of April to step aside or face suspension. 

The decision came during a chaotic meeting when Magashule’s loyalists threatened to resign. 

In a letter last week, Magashule pointed to the December 2017 Nasrec resolution that reaffirmed the 2015 national general council resolution that “ANC leaders alleged to be involved in corrupt activities should, where necessary, step aside until their names are cleared”. 

The resolutions also state that cadres accused of, or reported to be involved in corruption, immediately step aside or face a disciplinary committee. 

One provincial leader told the M&G they had asked to meet Magashule about the letter.

“Push-back is very mischievous because they are deliberately making allegations and opening frivolous cases against us,” said the leader, who asked to remain anonymous. 

He said Magashule was “clouding issues and distorting the real issue”.

“All those in the Zondo commission [into state capture] must resign, according to him, and must step aside. The president must step aside because of conference money allegations. He [Magashule] is mad.” 

The president has been the target of corruption allegations from witnesses at the commission, at which he is due to appear later this month.

A provincial leader in the Eastern Cape, who also asked to remain anony­mous, said the letter was rejected by the provincial executive committee.  “The secretaries are mad [angry]. There needs to be clarity immediately, which is why they are calling for an urgent secretariat meeting.” 

The M&G previously reported that Magashule also called on party branches to stand their ground and resist attempts to dissolve them ahead of crucial regional and provincial conferences, and the branch general meetings which precede them.

One ANC secretary said that Magashule told provincial secretaries during the NEC meeting 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 in an attempt to contain growing frustration during the NEC meeting.

One KwaZulu-Natal regional ANC leader said their view was that Magashule had strayed from the NEC resolution in his letter.

“We are clear that the integrity commission is mandated to deal with those comrades who are facing allegations, and [it is] those who are actually facing charges that will have to stand aside. That is what the resolutions say,” said the regional leader, who also asked to remain anonymous. “There is a process that the NEC has agreed to and that is the process we need to follow.”

In a second apparent act of defiance aimed at the NEC, Magashule  told ANC regional and provincial secretaries that no party structures are to be disbanded ahead of the branch general meetings, which began last weekend.

The branch general meetings have been called to elect delegates to impending regional and provincial conferences and to nominate candidates for leadership posts. The meetings are crucial in terms of who leads the party going into the local government elections later this year. 

The same delegates will also attend the party’s mid-term national general council later in the year and will also form the core of those who attend the ANC’s next elective conference, at which Magashule’s supporters hope to field him as their presidential candidate.

In a letter written on 9 April, Magashule “reminded” regional and provincial ANC secretaries that the NEC had earlier decided that no more structures should be collapsed ahead of the branch general meetings and conferences. “We wish to remind you once more about the decisions of the previous NECs from 2018 to date, that no structures must be disbanded or dissolved.”

Magashule aims to stop the dissolution of branches supporting his faction in North West, Free State and other provinces ahead of the conferences.

The interim provincial committee running North West has disbanded its regions and has started a process of disbanding branches ahead of the regional and provincial conferences. The bulk of the branches support Magashule and his ally, former chairperson Supra Mahumapelo, who has come under fire from the interim provincial committee for allegedly running parallel structures and for orchestrating a campaign to force the committee out of office.

Former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo is a Magashule ally.

It also comes in response to the supreme court of appeal ruling that the 2018 Free State conference, which saw Magashule’s supporters make a clean sweep in the provincial executive committee elections, was unlawful.

The ANC leadership is still considering how to deal with the situation in the Free State — Magashule’s strongest support base where he was premier and ANC chairperson. 

The national leadership favours collapsing the provincial executive committee and replacing it with a joint task team to run the ANC in the Free State until a new leadership is elected.

The provincial executive committee wants to appeal the ruling, but has been told not to do so by the ANC top six. Branches in the Free State backing the faction led by former MEC Mxolisi Dukwana want the order enforced immediately. The national working committee this week endorsed proposals that a “political solution” would be sought, an indication that a joint task team is on the cards.

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe did not respond to calls from the M&G

But a statement by the national working committee on Wednesday said it “noted” that provinces had been asked to submit names of “those members who have been charged with corruption or other serious crimes”. 

It made no mention of those who had been accused of crimes but not charged, saying only that the report of the integrity commission, which had been dealing with ANC members accused of corruption, was being “processed”.

The national working committee said a team of officials led by Mashatile would take over the process of coordinating recommendations from provinces about the implementation of the step-aside guidelines and report back to it.