OPINION | Magashule’s portfolio puts ANC in a right tangle

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule
Image: File

What did the ANC think would happen when it elected one of the principal enablers of state capture to run the organisation?

The organisation is now in a tangle to explain what its secretary-general Ace Magashule was doing with former president Jacob Zuma and former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo at a clandestine meeting in Durban last week.

Did the ANC really believe that after being a facilitator of the Gupta looting spree, Magashule would suddenly change sides in the glow of the “New Dawn” and abandon Zuma and the Guptas?

Magashule himself proclaimed in Pietermaritzburg in January that “the ANC that we know” would return after five years – meaning that the organisation in its current form was alien.

Magashule’s election as secretary-general was undeniably the most disastrous outcome for the ANC out of its 54th national conference in December. It was however symptomatic of the bizarre voting pattern of delegates.

Despite there being two distinct factions in the buildup to the conference, the outcome of the top six and national executive committee (NEC) elections reflected delegates voting wildly across slates, not at all mindful of the Frankenstein’s monster that would emerge at the end. There is no rational explanation as to why some delegates voted for Ramaphosa, who advocated a break from the Zuma era, as president and Magashule, the embodiment of the Zuma-Gupta contagion, as secretary-general.

The fact that the two have such conflicting plans for the ANC means that they were on a collision course from the get-go. Magashule won his position by just 24 votes and had Ramaphosa’s camp any option that did not involve overturning the whole top six election, they would have challenged the count.

Magashule had been the ANC’s chairperson in the Free State since 1992 and provincial premier since 2009. Part of the reason he was nominated for a national position was to free his grip on the province, which he ran like a fiefdom.

Under Magashule’s stewardship, the Free State provincial executive committee was disqualified from voting in the ANC’s 2012 and 2017 national conferences, and riven by factional battles. How anyone thought he would be the best candidate to run the ANC’s entire administration, oversee the functioning of structures across the country, mediate disputes, and supervise the elections machinery, beggars belief.

It is no secret that alongside Zuma, Magashule was a key enabler of the Guptas’ access to the state. Like with Duduzane Zuma, Magashule’s son Tshepiso was taken under the wing of the Gupta brothers and used to open doors to state coffers.

As business partners of the brothers, Duduzane and Tshepiso were direct beneficiaries of their fathers’ magnanimity towards the Guptas.

On Monday the state capture inquiry heard how the Free State government was the top contributor to Gupta-owned media companies, The New Age and Infinity Media, which operated ANN7 television. Magashule’s government paid R79.3m to the two media outlets, just one of the channels to siphon money from the state to the Guptas.

After his election, Magashule swatted away questions about his connection to the Guptas, saying at an ANC media briefing in January: “No person is guilty until proven otherwise”.

Three days later, the Hawks raided the offices of the Free State premier, which Magashule still occupied, in connection with the Vrede dairy project. The Free State government paid over R220m to the Estina project but only R2m of this was spent on the farm. The rest was funnelled to the Guptas and their associates, part of which was allegedly laundered to fund the garish Gupta wedding at Sun City in 2013.

Magashule has never bothered to explain this issue.

“My son is not involved in the Vrede dairy, so let the law take its own place in relation to Vrede dairy and any acts of corruption, unlawfulness and all that,” was all he had to say on the matter in January.

As secretary-general, Magashule is the chief spokesperson of the ANC. Communications has been a veritable shambles since he took over. The ANC’s messaging is incoherent, it has failed to lead the national discourse to maximise on the goodwill around Ramaphosa in the early days after his election, it struggled to communicate its position on land, and its spokesperson Pule Mabe is at the best of times incomprehensible.

But most glaring is the ANC’s paralysis on the issue of state capture as the commission of inquiry continues to hear damning testimony of the systematic plunder of taxpayers’ money. The ANC has been unable to speak on this matter because Magashule, his deputy Jessie Duarte, as well as other NEC leaders, are likely to be compromised for their part in aiding state capture. The ANC’s head of the presidency Zizi Kodwa is trying to articulate a principled position on state capture but is singing solo.

Those who will face heat in the course of the commission know there is no way to shut it down. The only option therefore is to ensure that absolutely nothing comes of the inquiry.

The scheme to nullify the outcome of the Nasrec conference is designed to create chaos in the ANC and upend Ramaphosa’s presidency, returning the Zuma faction to power.

It seems peculiar that Magashule would work to nullify his own election as secretary-general. That signals how untenable the relationship is between him and Ramaphosa.

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