Adriaan Basson

King Ace finally gets his comeuppance

2019-04-01 05:00
Ace Magashule (Gallo)

Ace Magashule (Gallo)

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When Zuma appointed Magashule as premier of the Free State in 2009, the doors to the provincial treasury were flung open and "King Ace", as some in the province refer to him, finally had unfettered access to the poor province's largesse, writes Adriaan Basson.

There is a reason why former presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki both side-lined Ace Magashule to become premier of the Free State during their presidencies.

Although Magashule was the most popular politician in that province, both Mandela and Mbeki knew enough about him to keep him away from the keys to the top office in the Free State and, by extension, the provincial fiscus.

Yes, this feels long ago, but there was a time in the ANC when having corruption clouds hanging over your head actually disqualified you from being promoted by the organisation.

READ: 'Mr Ten Percent': How Ace Magashule captured the Free State

All of this changed in December 2007 when Jacob Zuma was elected party president in Polokwane with the help of rogues like Magashule who saw Msholozi as a get-out-of-jail ticket. They were right.

When Zuma appointed Magashule as premier of the Free State in 2009, the doors to the provincial treasury were flung open and "King Ace", as some in the province refer to him, finally had unfettered access to the poor province's largesse.

He became untouchable and pulled-off what some call the first capture of a state – the Free State.

When I visited Bloemfontein over the years to interview sources about allegations that Magashule was robbing the province blind, I was met with complete unsurprise. Yes, nothing gets done in this place without Ace's approval or involvement, I was told.

Shortly after his appointment as premier, I received a tip-off that he demanded a R10m bribe to approve a transaction through the Free State Gambling Board. Although Magashule had no business involving himself in the transaction, the affected businessman was summoned to his office and had to elicit the assistance of Zuma ally Vivian Reddy to get his deal approved.

Opaque meetings at the Shell Ultra City in Kroonstad, bogus contracts typed on a laptop to formalise "facilitation fees"… it was all part of the reign of King Ace.

There was a tacit acceptance of the rotten state of affairs and a hopelessness that there was no chance for you to prosper as a businessperson or government official if you weren't prepared to have your palms greased or do the greasing.

And this was before the Guptas arrived on the scene.

One of the saddest aspects of Magashule's decade of Free State capture was the weak reporting on the province by the provincial and national media. Partly because of the declining media industry, including a weakened SABC, and partly because of Magashule's active and aggressive attempts to influence and even purchase journalists and publications in Bloemfontein, the full extent of his activities remained largely under the radar.

Was it not for the reporting of Volksblad, the Afrikaans daily newspaper in the city, much of what Magashule and his gang were up to would have remained completely unreported.

I am exceptionally glad that former News24 investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh took the time and effort to produce his excellent book Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture, that finally blows the lid off Magashule's reign of looting and deceit.

Read an extract from Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture

The book is a horror story of what happens to a province, particularly one in the rural parts of South Africa with little media attention, when a crooked politician takes the reins.

Coupled with evidence that is expected to be delivered to the Zondo Commission over the next few days and weeks, the truth about Magashule's term as premier of the Free State is finally coming out.

Ironically, Magashule's elevation to secretary-general of the ANC has weakened his grip on the Free State. He can no longer keep things under wraps from Luthuli House.

As the chief driver of the ANC's election machine, these revelations will further damage the governing party's chances to breach the 60% mark on May 8.

Voters would be justified to ask who exactly they are voting for if they put their crosses next to the ANC on the ballot paper. The "new dawn" of President Cyril Ramaphosa or the gangster state of Ace Magashule?

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