ANALYSIS: Magashule has an ace up his sleeve, and Cyril knows it
Because of a fateful decision at Nasrec in 2017, Magashule is firmly in control of the ANC, and is consolidating the fightback campaign against Ramaphosa
There were a few tense hours during the ANC’s Nasrec conference in December 2017 when Cyril Ramaphosa’s camp was considering challenging the vote count on the secretary-general position.
It was just 24 votes that stood between Ace Magashule and Senzo Mchunu and, because the position is so crucial, Mchunu and his supporters wanted to put up a fight.
There appeared to be grounds for a challenge. The second count of the votes was allegedly irregular and there was a claim that 63 ballots had gone missing during the election for the top six positions.
Ramaphosa’s camp eventually decided to drop the matter so as not to derail the conference. They had scored the big prize with the presidency and did not want to roll the dice with the secretary-general position.
The complication was that there was one ballot paper for all top six positions.
Challenging one position meant challenging all of them.
Although the vote margin on the top post was not as close as the secretary-general position – Ramaphosa beat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma by 179 votes – it would have been tempting fate to put everything in the balance.
Ramaphosa’s supporters rationalised that they just needed to sit tight because it was a matter of time before Magashule would be dealt with by the criminal justice system.
Once he was charged in connection with one or more of the corruption allegations against him, they would make him step aside, they reasoned. The problem of the ANC’s entire administration being in the hands of the leader of the Free State criminal enterprise as well as a central player in the state capture network would then be resolved.
The Ramaphosa faction also maintained that Magashule was completely out of his depth as the job of ANC secretary-general was way above his pay grade. They believed he could therefore be controlled.
It would be interesting to find out from Ramaphosa and Mchunu what they think now of that decision not to contest the result.
Magashule and his faction have outplayed them. He is firmly in control of the ANC, including the election lists, and is consolidating the fightback campaign against Ramaphosa.
As secretary-general, Magashule has legitimacy across all structures of the ANC. He could therefore dare to tell a rally in KwaZulu-Natal to stay focused on overturning the ANC leadership at the next ANC conference.
He has the power to publicly reprimand Ramaphosa’s chief lieutenants. Tito Mboweni and Pravin Gordhan have therefore found themselves in his crosshairs – without the president’s protection.
But the most problematic aspect of his position is that, as secretary-general, Magashule is the ANC’s chief spokesman and in charge of the party’s communications.
He is the voice while Ramaphosa is the face of the ANC. The president’s face beams at us from ANC election posters, but Magashule controls the messaging.
It was no surprise, therefore, that the ANC’s reaction to reports on Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s new book, Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture, were that they were lies, fake news, propaganda and part of a “carefully planned Stratcom operation” against Magashule and the ANC.
The party declared to the media: “Hands off our SG!”
Magashule has not answered to any of the allegations against him because he believes he does not need to.
The thunderclouds have been hovering over his head for years, but he has assumed an air of invincibility.
When the Hawks raided his office as premier of the Free State in January 2018 in connection with the Vrede dairy farm project, it seemed as if the game was finally up. But it is now well established that the Hawks were ensconced in the state capture project, to the point of sabotaging cases.
Myburgh says Magashule was tipped off well in advance of the raid and that “enough material to fill a small room” was removed from the office a few days before.
The information in Myburgh’s book should all be in a police docket but it is doubtful that Magashule would even be called in for questioning on the allegations.
The ANC secretary-general is also the person who initiates disciplinary action against errant party members. He is definitely not going to take any action against himself.
The ANC integrity commission still remains toothless and ineffective.
The ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting on Monday seems to have placed the onus on Magashule to deal with the allegations against him. Surely the ANC needs to protect itself from disrepute on the eve of a crucial election?
But the ANC’s track record in dealing with serious accusations against its senior leaders does not inspire confidence.
The stock response is to close ranks and profess that no court of law found anyone guilty.
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe has shattered the façade of Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” by saying that the governing party is “worse than it was in 2017”.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Motlanthe said: “The ANC is not in great shape ... I think to strengthen the ANC it needs a surgical overhaul from where it is now.”
He also said in a SAfm radio interview that despite all the revelations of wrongdoing and a contaminated election list the ANC would win the elections, only because there was no viable alternative.
Some ANC leaders say Motlanthe’s comments were ill-timed and that as a “disciplined leader” he should have raised these concerns with the party.
If Magashule’s name were not splashed across the front pages of the two main Sunday newspapers, he would probably have issued a statement reprimanding Motlanthe.
But the stories about Magashule prove Motlanthe’s point. The ANC is now rotten at the heart of its leadership. There is no way to perceive the organisation, particularly when you have to vote for it, without looking at the person who runs its entire operation.
As president, Motlanthe swore allegiance to the constitution. He obviously took that oath seriously and is dictated by his conscience to speak honestly.
Magashule’s ANC, however, wants the conspiracy of silence to continue so that he and others implicated in grand corruption and state capture can remain untouchable.
They want to keep deluding voters about the farce of Ramaphosa’s clean-up campaign while the masterminds of gangster activity and corruption are in the control room at the ANC headquarters.
While the secretary-general continues to plot the fightback against Ramaphosa, the president is stuck with him. He will probably have Magashule at his side when he appoints his new cabinet.
Handing over the ANC’s reins to Magashule was a terrible gamble that cannot be undone. Ramaphosa and the ANC are paying the price for this.