/ 13 June 2023

The axing of Ace is the start of what the ANC needs

Anc Executive Committee Meeting At St George Hotel
Former ANC secretary general Ace Magashule.

There are a few images that stand out for me in the decline of the ANC over the past two decades. The first being the celebrations of people such as Fikile Mbalula when Jacob Zuma had finally managed to topple Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane as we — the lowly journalists — sat on the floor of that 2007 conference.

It was quite a show, and sadly many of those men and women in that building remain today as stewards of our political discourse. The whisky and high-end champagne flowed that entire weekend as the guillotines were sharpened. 

I was working for an international news agency at the time and was stationed at the small Holiday Inn in the middle of the Limpopo town during the rain-soaked weekend in December. In the bar at the end of that evening when the impossible had happened — the ousting of Mbeki and his inner sanctum — whisky also flowed as some of his key lieutenants drowned their sorrows. It marked the end of something, we all knew that, even though it also showed that democracy, no matter how uncomfortable, was working in the old liberation movement.

The other image of this transitory stage that comes to the ANC every five years was that of the victors in December 2017 at Nasrec. After the voting results were announced and after a sullen face of Zuma broadcast to all, there was the image of incoming president, Cyril Ramaphosa, next to a bewildered looking face of Ace Magashule — the new secretary general of the ANC. It was so abundantly clear from that image alone that the ANC stood no chance of renewal or that it would see a “New Dawn”. The party was broken, right?

This week, Ace, who represented the “Premier League” — remember that term — was finally kicked out of the party.  Having long been suspended as secretary general and de facto chief-executive of the party, he has long been a non entity. But as long as he remained an aggrieved member and a high profile one at that, his presence in whatever form would continue to drag the party lower.

He is out today, but we know that there are many more Ace-like figures in the party that need to leave if it’s ever, ever to renew itself. It’s a long and an impossible list to consider — think of the 80 members in the ANC’s national executive council.

Reading Paul Holden’s latest book, Zondo at your fingertips, over the past week, my memory was refreshed of all the key political players in the Gupta-inspired state capture project. I was reminded of names such as Malusi Gigaba, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, David Masondo and Faith Muthambi. They sadly are still players, joined by the likes of Zweli Mkhize — who has his own scandal over PPE. Remember that.

Then there’s the ever changing coalition of the wounded that stay in the party’s decision making ranks, seething at the state of the party and its unfairness of leadership which is their birthright, like Lindiwe Sisulu.

Ace’s departure is just a drop in the ocean of what’s needed for the party to renew itself and be relevant to a country that is drifting away.