Mpumelelo Mkhabela

The ANC's problem with Ace

2018-01-24 14:11
Ace Magashule after the result announcement at the ANC 54th national conference . Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

Ace Magashule after the result announcement at the ANC 54th national conference . Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

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It was astonishing to watch Free State Premier Ace Magashule extol the virtues of anti-corruption, renewal and unity at his first press conference as newly elected secretary-general of the ANC.

His address to journalists on behalf of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) came a few days after the theft (or was it a gift to the Guptas?) of about R220 million in taxpayers’ money in the Free State was laid bare by the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

Magashule’s complicity in the scandal – at minimum by virtue of his position as premier at the time when the Vrede dairy farm project was conceived and executed, or more extraordinarily, as the father of a son who works for the beneficiaries of the proceeds of the theft – is incontrovertible. 

Yet, there he was, at Chief Albert Luthuli House, the headquarters of the ANC named after one of the party’s morally upright leaders, talking about the ANC fighting corruption. Magashule, like many leaders of the ANC who spend time in that building, have no sense of irony.

Luthuli was president-general during the first treason trial in the 1950s. Arrested and called to testify during the trial where many ANC leaders were charged for peaceful protest against apartheid laws and for adopting the Freedom Charter, Luthuli stood firm in his court testimony: The organisation demanded the right to vote for Africans as well as the improvement of their living conditions.

Like the rest of the country, the impoverished Vrede community is still shocked that a rug was pulled from under their feet as millions meant for them were snatched to the benefit of foreign nationals from India. These are the employers of Magashule’s son and business partners of President Jacob Zuma’s son.

Surely that’s not what Luthuli was harassed for by the apartheid regime. One wonders if Magashule would have heard Luthuli’s voice when he and the top six members of the ANC visited his grave in KwaZulu-Natal.

The elevation of Ace Magashule to the position of secretary-general, effectively the chief executive officer of the party, signified the crisis of representation in the ANC.

Party president Cyril Ramaphosa has been speaking a lot about party renewal and anti-corruption. The undertaking is not the problem. There’s nothing innovative about it. It’s very basic. And it is what people want to hear. Jacob Zuma also speaks the language of anti-corruption and if you asked him, he would be adamant that he is a leader who fights corruption! But no one believes him because he is also the epitome of the crisis of representation on corruption in government.

However noble the rhetoric on corruption, the problem is that the ANC has a dwindling number of leaders to articulate it in a manner that is in line with their actions. Many are swimming in the cesspool of corruption. This disqualifies them from being the advocates of good governance.

The anti-corruption and renewal messages are at odds with who and what they are. This is what we call the crisis of representation. Magashule is the epitome of this crisis.

Some of the people who epitomise the crisis of representation are the staunch defenders of Jacob Zuma. They don’t want him recalled. Their stance is understandable: in his conduct he represents their values of unethical conduct, corruption and bad governance.

In addition, Zuma’s supporters argue that his recall would divide the party at a time when it desperately needs to be united. Unity is one of the widely abused terms in the ANC.

Party supporters and members would do well to heed the advice of renowned writer Chinua Achebe. In his essay “The Trouble with Nigeria”, Achebe could have been writing about the ANC when he wrote: “How valid is this notion of unity as an absolute good? Quite clearly it is nonsense.”

He further states: “Unity can only be as good as the purpose for which it is desired. Obviously, it is good for a group of people to unite to build a school or a hospital or a nation. But supposing a group of other people get together in order to rob a bank. Their unity is deemed undesirable.”

The ANC is facing this dilemma. If it decides to unite around the good, what should happen to those among its ranks who represent the opposite? On the other hand, if it decides to unite around the evil, what happens to those who, however dwindling their number, represent the good?

The good and the bad cannot co-exist. The elective conference in December didn’t decisively resolve the problem although it elevated those fighting for the good. Now, how they exercise their power, how soon they frame their actions and discourse on unity around what is good and finally whether they triumph or not will determine the future – or lack of it – for the ANC.

The battle of values and interests is on. 

- Mkhabela is with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.

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Read more on:    cyril rama­phosa  |  ace maga­shule  |  anti-corruption  |  anc


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