/ 11 November 2022

How things have changed, Ace Magashule

1ace Magashule 4419 Delwyn Verasamy
Former ANC secretary general, Ace Magashule. File photo by Delwyn Verasamy/M&G


There are 35 days to go until the governing party’s 55th national conference kicks off at the National Recreation Centre (Nasrec) in Johannesburg — God, the ANC’s integrity commission, disaffected branches and the courts willing.

The sense of dread — and resentment — that hits every five years over the idea of spending a week as a virtual prisoner of Khongolose while the rest of the country kicks off their Christmas holiday has, once again, dissipated.

Now that the accreditation form is in and the bookings are being made, there’s no more time to lament another lost jolly season. Like the comrades, or at least those who made it through the branch general meeting process that closed on Monday, I’m locked and loaded and ready to confer. 

The “five years” that suspended secretary general Ace Magashule told the comrades in Durban about in January 2018 is nearly over — albeit with a very different outcome to the one envisaged by the Kroonstad Crooner at the time.

Magashule was still laying it on ANC KwaZulu-Natal leaders Thanduxolo Sabelo and Kwazi Mshengu — key figures in the so-called radical economic transformation (RET) faction in KwaZulu-Natal going into the 2017 conference — at Coastlands on the beachfront when we walked in on them.

Mshengu and Sabelo looked pretty shocked, and embarrassed, when we stumbled into the boardroom — they were already in the process of crossing the floor to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction by then, so who can blame them — but Ace carried on, oblivious of — or undeterred by — our early arrival.

Five years, comrades, five years.

That went well.

Half a decade later, Magashule is not only facing 15 years in jail over an asbestos removal scam in the Free State during his time as premier, but is also suspended from the party and facing expulsion by its disciplinary commission, whose hearing he has been dodging for the past couple of weeks.

I’ve been to Luthuli House more recently than Magashule, who, for all his bravado, appears to have been thoroughly outmanoeuvred by Ramaphosa and dumped by his own faction, with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zweli Mkhize and even Lindiwe Sisulu getting their nod as presidential candidate ahead of him.

The way things are going, Ace is far more likely to be placarding with Carl Niehaus and the other “outside delegates” and “friends of the conference” at the Sasol garage up the road from the conference centre where the conference exclusion zone begins, than leading a fightback from the floor at Nasrec.

Five years, comrades.

By all accounts, even the media will be more welcome at Nasrec than Magashule, provided that we pay, of course.

The Holy Trinity — that’s treasurer, acting secretary general and acting deputy secretary general Paul Mashatile — announced this week that the ANC wants media houses to cough up, on a pro rata basis, according to their needs and number of representatives, for the privilege of covering inkomfa.

The party is broke, so it wants the media to go the route of the business community and sponsor the conference, like the progressive business forum, but different, sort of a cheque book journalism of a special type.

I’m shocked, but not surprised, by the ANC’s decision to charge the media an entry fee. Times are hard at Luthuli House, with the party battling to pay its staff and its creditors, under a radically transformed funding regime.

It’s amazing what a change to party funding legislation — and a commission of inquiry into state capture and a shake up at the South African Revenue Service and in the criminal justice system — can do.

New sugar daddies have to be found now the Guptas and the Watsons are gone and the party is left with the paper-only pledges of the Reddys of this fair republic to work with, so why not turn to the media?

Five years, comrades.

I’m wondering what the “conference packages” the ANC is offering the media houses will consist of.

Will they go the full spa route for the big spenders — nice nibbly bits and a glass of champers on arrival, foot massages by Gwede Mantashe and Enoch Godongwana, presidential pedicures from Ramaphosa, along with exclusive interviews in the VVIP section and the like?

One assumes things will be more austere, significantly more spartan for those of us from media houses lower down the money chain with less capacity to pay the Holy Trinity his due — skaftin sessions strictly; bring your own chair, electricity and water.

Perhaps the media contingent will be expected to push themselves around, tell themselves to wait, rather than the comrades in the PEP camouflage doing so, this time around.

Five years, comrades.