OPINIONISTA: Power politics: Ace Magashule’s theatrics are just the opening salvo in a long and dirty war

The political games have not ended and Ace Magashule and his compatriots will be working hard to reclaim ground by securing branches and manoeuvring across the country to solidify their base to wage further factional battles. The ANC will need to confront quite specifically and directly the culture of corrupt practices, dishonesty and malfeasance within the party.

Elias Sekgobelo “Ace” Magashule might be missing the late-night missives from former president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma and the dramatics that Zuma preferred over governance, service to the people and abidance to the Constitution and the rule of law. Magashule represents as much of the lost decade as does Zuma, his acolytes and apparatchiks (some who still sit in Cabinet and of course in the leadership ranks of the African National Congress) and those trough-focused comrades enabled by the shadow state and their State Capture agenda.

It seems true to form that Magashule would spend his last-ditch moments in creating some momentary drama, flux, and confusion by attempting to unilaterally (it seems) backdate a letter of suspension addressed to comrade Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa. The internal factional warfare and posturing will not end with the governing party issuing a late-night statement clarifying that the decisions of the ANC’s National Working Committee (NWC) and National Executive Committee (NEC) remain binding or the reassurance by party man Gwede Mantashe that Magashule has no such unilateral powers in the first place.

The facts in the public domain and the charges against Magashule and his role in the R255-million Free State asbestos tender are staggering, not simply because of the loss of millions, but rather the impact this continues to play out against the supposed beneficiaries and communities in the Free State. However, Magashule wants to suggest to the public and to the internal members of the ANC’s NWC and NEC that these charges in the criminal court are simply not relevant for purposes of fulfilling the ANC’s 54th National Conference or the decisions of the NWC and NEC that compel members to step aside or face the consequences of their recalcitrant behaviour.

Magashule was reminded on Wednesday evening that he needs to behave like a disciplined member of the movement, but the theatrics from Magashule and his supporters will play out over the weekend at the NEC meeting and beyond as the ANC prepares internally for the local government elections and its 55th National Conference in 2022. The gerrymandering and antics of malfeasance are sure to have been entrenched on the first day Magashule took hold of the secretary-general’s office, and it will be important that the issue around Magashule must be managed effectively by Ramaphosa. The stakes are not simply about reform and renewal within the ANC but will continue to have a profound impact on how our governments across the country function, and our response to corruption, incompetence and malfeasance that continue to take root.

Magashule not only has an affinity for late-night theatrics like Zuma, but also is remarkably familiar with the playbook of victimhood, conspiracy, polarising rhetoric and a cohort of misfits and desperadoes all trying to hold on to their positions within the ANC, government and society at large. The issues at play for these comrades are not about equitable access to the economy or to confront social injustice or even to confront the staggering joblessness, poverty or inequality. Rather the focus here for Magashule, and all that he represents, is to hold onto power, to manoeuvre and use their position and office to entrench their positions and to avoid accountability.

The last time South Africa was at risk was in the early 2000s when Zuma was able to mobilise internal party dynamics, supported by many outside the ANC, to ensure that his return at the ANC’s electoral conference was assured, culminating in a lost decade and malfeasance that continues to surface at every level across South Africa. Ramaphosa has carefully worked with allies to confront the factional dynamics within the ANC but in particular, within the Top Six, the NWC and NEC, and the outcomes this past week by the NWC have played strongly in favour of the Thuma Mina faction. However, Ramaphosa will need to move carefully to avoid the mistakes that Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki made leading up to the 52nd ANC National Conference.

The ANC has many interesting twists and turns that it will undergo over the next few weeks and months centred on and positioned around the politics represented by a figure such as Ramaphosa versus Magashule. The issues confronting South Africans are far more serious and dire as a result of the relentless party allegiance within the ANC and the posturing that the ANC embraced instead of confronting strongmen such as Zuma and Magashule.

The Zondo Commission continues to highlight how fractious and fraught our body politic and governance is, and how for many this has become a way of life. We will need to do a great deal more as citizens to demand the dismantling of these systematic flaws and seek to proof our democracy against the whims and fancies of politicians, regardless of their promise or party paraphernalia.

The theatrics from Magashule on Wednesday evening may have caused some interesting memes, clarifications in various newsrooms and media releases by the ANC. But unfortunately, the political games have not ended and Magashule and his compatriots will be working hard to reclaim the ground by securing branches and manoeuvring across the country in order to solidify their base and wage further factional battles. The ANC will need to do a great deal of further soul searching beyond the step aside and suspension mechanism outlined by its NWC and NEC structures, and will need to confront quite specifically and directly the culture of corrupt practices, dishonesty and malfeasance within the party.

Ramaphosa, in his capacity as the ANC’s president in his appearances at the Zondo Commission, may have reaffirmed that his role is very much that of a party man and the interest of his own party requires that he works with decisive commitment to consolidate efforts within the NWC and NEC to commit to the reform agenda of the governing party. This reform will need to expand beyond the leadership structures and will need to strongly weave itself into the structures of the branches of the governing party.

The agenda of reform cannot simply be about confronting the consequences of the past lost decade but must extend far beyond to hold all those accountable and to ensure consequences are both visible and real for derailing the South African project. DM

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