/ 11 August 2021

Ace Magashule to appear for pre-trial hearings

South African Politician Ace Magashule Visits The Family Of Mama Rebecca Kotane In Soweto
Winding his neck in: Ace Magashule. (Photo by Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Supporters of suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule have a plan in place to go to the Bloemfontein high court in their numbers in a show of strength when the ANC heavyweight goes to the dock on Wednesday. 

Posters on some ANC social media groups have indicated party members and supporters are destined for the Free State for the hearing.

A Magashule supporter in the ANC Youth League in the province said at least 500 people were expected to gather near the court precinct in support of the suspended secretary general. 

Magashule and his co-accused will appear in court for pre-trial hearings. People close to him say Magashule’s lawyers will once again try to poke holes into the state’s case against him.

In July, Magashule applied to the court to force state prosecutors to release parts of the  docket of evidence against him in its case. This includes a statement by Magashule’s former assistant, Moroadi Cholota, on whom the state is said to be heavily relying. 

In his affidavit, Magashule challenged the state to prove the authenticity of its evidence against him, arguing that its chief witness was, in fact, a witness for the accused. 

The case against Magashule centres around 74 charges of fraud, theft, corruption and money-laundering relating to the R255-million Free State housing contract for replacing asbestos roofs.

Magashule, who has claimed his innocence, is arguing that Cholota provided a statement to his attorneys before being approached by the state. During Magashule’s bail hearings, the state argued that Cholota agreed to turn state witness. Magashule allegedly directed her to solicit proceeds from the asbestos tender for his personal needs.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said these solicited funds were sought from the late Phikolomzi Mpambani, who was an account holder with Magashule’s co-accused, Edwin Sodi, at Blackhead Consulting. Mpambani was gunned down in 2017 in Sandton while allegedly travelling with a wad of cash, which was not taken from him.

In Magashule’s application for sections of the state’s case involving Cholota’s testimony, he said her affidavit was consistent with all “our” previous encounters with state organs and “are supportive of each other”. 

“I knew that Cholota had not implicated me in any wrongdoing, because I was never involved in any. I thus thought her version would be changed, for it to be beneficial to the state. I was thus comforted by the thought that she would have to explain the basis upon which she recanted her previous version or stood a chance of being charged with perjury, having changed a version that she swore under oath,” Magashule stated.

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

The state added another 50 charges to the initial charges of corruption, fraud, theft and money-laundering in the Free State asbestos scandal. 

In February, the  accused appeared briefly in court for the matter to be transferred to the high court. During that appearance, Magashule said he was impatient at the courts for “wasting” his time with postponements.

“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.

The 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 were available. It 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.

Talks of expulsion from the ANC have heated up since the secretary general lost his application to have his suspension lifted and deemed unlawful by the Johannesburg high court. 

His suspension came as a result of the state charges against him. He refused an order by the ANC’s highest decision-making body between conferences — the national executive committee (NEC) — which instructed him to step aside. 

In a blistering judgment delivered by the full bench, the court said it was satisfied that the ANC’s constitution was consistent with that of the country, and that the decision to suspend Magashule was effected in terms of the ANC’s constitution, adding that it was precautionary in nature and complied with the relevant law.

Reading the ruling, Judge Jody Kollapen broke Magashule’s application into five categories: that the party’s rule 25.70 is unconstitutional and not in line with the constitution of the ANC and the country; that his suspension was in violation of section 9, and section 10 of the Bill of Rights; that his counter suspension of Ramaphosa remained valid until set aside; that deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte had no authority to suspend him; and that the principle of natural justice was not applied. 

“The presumption of innocence is a specified constitutional right that rises only in the context of an accused’s right to a fair trial … Rule 25.70 does not relate in any manner whatsoever to a trial and, therefore, the attempt to apply in the context of rule 25.70 is misplaced and not sustainable,” said Kollapen.

Magashule had asserted that the NEC lacked the power to rewrite the rules, as confirmed by the ANC’s 54th conference in December 2017, and, therefore, rule 27.50, which was invoked as the basis for his suspension, should be set aside.

The rule provides for the temporary suspension of an office bearer of the ANC who faces indictment to appear in court on charges where it is deemed that this will be in the best interest of the party.

Magashule has made an application to appeal the judgment, alleging unfair bias by the courts against him.