On Monday, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule spent almost half of his maiden ANC national executive committee media briefing answering allegations of corruption in the Free State, where he doubles as head of the provincial government.
Five days earlier, the Free State High Court put a government dairy farm in Vrede under curatorship of the National Prosecuting Authority’s asset forfeiture unit in a corruption scheme that channelled up to R220 million of taxpayers’ money into the pockets of the Guptas – associates (and employers) of Magashule’s son.
As premier, the buck stops with Magashule, therefore the blurring of lines was unavoidable.
The ANC desperately tried to redirect questions from journalists but failed. Eventually, Magashule said his son, who works with the Guptas, was not involved in the dairy project.
At the end of the briefing, the dairy scandal had overshadowed the key message of renewal that the ANC wanted to put forward in a bid to reassure voters and investors that the party under the stewardship of Cyril Ramaphosa would do things differently.
On Friday the police’s elite crime-fighting unit, the Hawks, conducted a search and seizure at Magashule’s office at OR Tambo House in Bloemfontein and the provincial department of agriculture, which immediately escalated the matter into a criminal investigation separate from the civil case by the asset forfeiture unit.
The development effectively sucks Magashule deep into the whirlpool and he could no longer claim a distance between his premier’s office and the R220 million investigation, nor could he relegate it to a problem his son’s associates have to respond to.
At the ANC’s national conference last month, Magashule’s predecessor and now chairperson of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe identified “the perception of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and schemes associated with political leaders in the organisation” as “the main contributing factor to the tarnishing of the ANC image”.
President Jacob Zuma lamented, in his penultimate report as ANC president, that the reason the ANC lost significant electoral support – including three key metros in 2016 – was because of the “perceptions in society that we are soft on corruption, self-serving and arrogant”.
One of the ANC’s answers to this morass was to adopt the theme of renewal as its marching slogan into the new era with a new leadership that would become the face of a rejuvenated ANC that is untainted with corruption.
A more sympathetic view towards Magashule would be that he was democratically elected, which means the branch delegates who voted for him in Nasrec did not have any doubts about his credibility.
Furthermore, history is littered with a number of ANC leaders who have had allegations made against them, so Magashule is not the first and definitely not the last. That his son has worked for the Guptas is not a crime in itself.
But his election is still shrouded in controversy because of a number of votes that were not counted in his contest with Senzo Mchunu from KwaZulu-Natal.
During the conference, Mchunu's supporters abandoned their fight over the outcome only because they did not want to cast doubt over the election of Ramaphosa as president.
But on Friday, they celebrated when Magashule’s office was raided, believing these are the first steps to his eventual removal from office.