/ 1 September 2023

Acing the one-election wonder

Ace Magashule
ACT-istic: Expelled ANC secretary general Ace Magashule puts on a T-shirt with the logo of his new party, the African Congress for Transformation, at its launch. Photo: Guillem Sartorio/Getty Images


It’s dark, but the lights are on.

A return to the Kingdom after a two-week absence means missing the launch of Ace Magashule’s new political party in Johannesburg — and the earth tremor that took place on Wednesday evening.

It’s a touch disappointing, actually, although there’s not a lot to miss about a city built on the rapacious greed for another continent’s mineral resources, instead of on a river, or next to the ocean, or some other source of life.

That said, there is a genuine sense of loss at having missed both events. Earth tremors are pretty uncommon in eThekwini’s ward 33 and Ace is always good for a laugh.

It would have been lovely to watch Magashule finally discard the title of expelled ANC secretary general, an awkward honorific if ever there was one, and to feel the earth move under one’s feet.

One wonders what Magashule will do with the pile of ANC leather jackets and golf shirts he amassed during his time with the governing party — and the eleventy seven skipas with Jacob Zuma’s head on them he stashed on the 6th floor at Luthuli House.

That was back in the days of “five years, comrades”, in 2018, when Magashule and the rest of Zuma’s supporters believed they could take back control of the ANC through the office of the secretary general.

They were right — at least about the five years part.

Half a decade later Magashule, Carl Niehaus and other exponents of “Radical Economic Transformation” (RET) with the party are all firmly in control, but of their own one- and two-member parties, and not the ANC.

Five years, indeed.

The launch of Magashule’s freshly minted African Congress for Transformation isn’t exactly seismic activity, politically speaking, but it would have been fun to watch Ace become president of something live — even if he had to start his own party to do so.

Ace should have come up with a more original name though, rather than vibing Free State Frankenstein and cannibalising the ANC and the African Transformation Movement, creating a twisted hybrid in his own image out of the leftover parts of both.

Magashule has been talking up his next political move since the ANC threw him out and — despite some flirtation with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) — has decided to add to South Africa’s more than 330 registered political parties.

We’re already spoiled for choice when it comes to political parties  — just not for ones with workable solutions for Mzansi’s many problems — and Ace has decided to add himself and whoever decides to follow him to the mix.

It’s not really a surprise that Ace became a Transformer, rather than a Fighter.

It’s not just the Frankenstein tendencies.

Magashule presided over the transformation of the Free State in general — and Mangaung in particular — into the disaster it is today while he was still in the ANC’s premier league and running the province, so he has a long background in transformation, just not in any positive sense.

Magashule also tried to fire President Cyril Ramaphosa for suspending him, so it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine EFF leader Julius Malema letting Ace anywhere near Winnie Madikizela-Mandela House, let alone giving him a job in the party.

Malema doesn’t exactly have a reputation for tolerating dissent from within the ranks, so why bring on board somebody who is going to fire you when you fire him for not making his bus quota?

Accused number 13 was always going to have to go solo — or at least with former Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza in tow — rather than joining up with Juju or any of the other established political outfits already plying their trade.

The move places Magashule in direct competition with his former friends on the RET side of the ANC street who have set up their own parties to fish in the same pool come 2024; all with their eyes on the same thing — that single seat in the National Assembly.

ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula will be well pleased by the further fragmentation of the opposition, only too happy to see Magashule join the list of those dividing, rather than uniting, the forces of the alleged left.

With eight months to go to the elections and a corruption trial hanging over his head — and no organisational muscle behind him —  Magashule doesn’t represent much of a threat to the ANC.

Another political sideshow with the potential to achieve little beyond getting Magashule a seat in parliament — another head on the ballot paper, another one-election wonder.