ANALYSIS | Ace Magashule: How Cyril Ramaphosa responds has ramifications on his legacy

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Ace Magashule appearing in court earlier this year.
Ace Magashule appearing in court earlier this year.
Frikkie Kapp, Gallo Images

Mashupye H. Maserumule questions whether Cyril Ramaphsoa is likely to emerge from the Ace Magashule matter as a strategically decisive president for the integrity of the ANC. 

Has the African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Ace Magashule's day of reckoning finally arrived?

That's the question many ask, in the wake of the integrity commission's recommendation that he should immediately step aside, following his indictment for fraud, corruption and money laundering related to asbestos project in the Free State. This was at the time when he was the premier of the province.

In its 54th National Congress, which took place from 16 to 20 December 2017 in Johannesburg at Nasrec, the ANC resolved that: 

"Every cadre accused of, or reported to be involved in, corrupt practices accounts to the Integrity Committee immediately or faces [disciplinary] processes".

The integrity commission's take on Magashule and the ANC's stance on corruption

The integrity commission has invoked this in deciding on the Magashule matter, which in many ways was about reminding the ANC to apply this resolution. A particularly important aspect of this, which sets the cat among the pigeons, is that in the case where an explanation for alleged aberrations is not acceptable by the commission, an implicated member is to step down voluntarily or must be summarily suspended while disciplinary, investigative or prosecutorial procedures are underway.

As the secretary-general of the ANC, Magashule is the custodian of this resolution. This places a moral obligation on him for exemplary obedience. He has not stepped down, and does not seem intent on doing so any time soon.

Anarchist exaltation is gathering pace to defend him, labelling the integrity commission's recommendation as populist posturing. Because of this, the question is, would the NEC summarily suspend him pending the finalisation of the criminal charges he is facing?

The NEC has been forthright on this resolution.

In the wake of surging corruption of the state's Covid-19 interventions, which implicated leaders and members of the ANC, it had hurriedly convened a meeting between 6-8 August 2020 to reiterate the resolution on corruption the ANC took in 2017.

President Cyril Ramaphosa followed up on this with a scathing letter to its members appalled by the heartlessness of those stealing from the state while Covid-19 was wreaking havoc in the lives and livelihoods of especially those who are on society's margins, and therefore largely depend on the state's largesse to survive. He reminded them again of the resolution the ANC took two years ago, on corruption, including the NEC's decision to give effect to it. 

All this is consistent with Rule 25.70 of the ANC's constitution which states: 

"Where a public representative, office bearer or member has been indicted to appear in a court of law on any charge, the Secretary General or Provincial Secretary, acting on the authority of the NEC, NWC, the PEC or the PWC, is satisfied that the temporary suspension of such public representative, office bearer or member would be in the best interest of the organisation, may suspend such public representative, elected office bearer or member and impose terms of conditions to regulate their participation and conduct during the suspension."

Actions, not words, speak louder

This consistency of words against corruption and regularity of public statements calling out this immoral and wicked act are laudable, but duplicitous if not acted upon. The ANC has been prevaricating on its resolution that its members facing criminal charges should step aside. The reason for this cannot simply be, as many aver, that talk is cheap.

At play here is what the ANC has become a sham of the edifice that had shaped its ethical disposition. That its moral compass dissipated after it came into power is a travesty of its glorious history, which had consigned to it the task of the agency for the good of society, not only as a political party, but a heritage of the struggle for freedom.

READ | Analysis: ANC leaders will have to ask Ace Magashule to step aside but will he?

Much of this is linked to fetishism of power to dispel any arraigning of the gluttony of the political elites, and the affluence of their sanctuary in the midst of poverty, unemployment and inequality. This is the paradox of the post-apartheid South Africa, and is inextricably linked to surging corruption.

The ANC's resolution on this villainy is dead in the water.

The anti-corruption talk by the ANC sans concomitant action. In other words, how many of its members have been criminally charged, but did not step aside?

Earlier this year, Magashule scorned at this ANC resolution on corruption. He said:

'I will never step aside due corruption allegations."

In so many ways, he repeated the same later, following his appearance in court in Bloemfontein. He said he would only step aside if only branches, which had voted him into power, said so.

This veiled political threat to Ramaphosa that, should his leadership dare act against him, following the Nasrec resolution on corruption, the wrath of the branches would be unleashed against him. 

What does Magashule's belligerence portend for Ramaphosa's leadership of the ANC?

As the secretary-general, Magashule is in charge of the branches of the ANC, which he could easily sway with incendiary rhetoric, invoking revolutionary shibboleths to short shrift any move to displace him. Linked to this, is his grip on the internal processes of the ANC, to which, as he said, the report of the integrity commission should be subjected to, for consideration by the NEC - the motley crew permutations of the Nasrec contestation of the leadership of the ANC. 

Magashule's tentacles of power makes him no mean feat to rein over. This puts Ramaphosa's leadership of the ANC to the ultimate test.

The integrity commission has thrown the ball into his court; that if Magashule does not step aside voluntarily, the NEC should instruct him to do so, or even suspend him. After all, the integrity commission is not as toothless as many had made it to be. For, it has managed to, as simply the advisory body on the integrity matters, sharply challenge the NEC to take the resolutions of the ANC seriously. It cannot ignore this.


All eyes are now on Ramaphosa, and the question is: would his leadership have the courage to rock the boat? Magashule's allies in the NEC are as many as Ramaphosa's.

When the integrity commission's report is finally tabled in the NEC, the showdown is set to turn internecine. Those aligned to Magashule are going to deflect the attention from the recommendation by attacking the integrity of the integrity commission for leaking the report. Ramaphosa allies ensuring that the substance of the recommendation gets adequate attention, are going to be vehemently opposed.

In other words, the discussion on the report is going to be a slugfest, also venturing into rehashing legal opinions on the legality of the resolution, which Ramaphosa poured cold water on in the last NEC meeting.

READ | Analysis: How the ANC NEC can force Magashule out and why they can't

A much bandied about principle that a person remains innocent until proven guilty by the competent court of law is to dominate the machination to fudge the resolution with unnecessary legalese to obfuscate its simplicity. This all misses a very important point that, despite being inextricably linked, legal questions are not moral questions.

By stepping aside when facing a criminal charge is an act of assuming a moral stand . It is a matter of conscience. The ANC resolved on this to reclaim its moral authority in society. That this is conflated with the process of determining the innocence or guilt of a person, which is the function of law, shows how those assigned the responsibility of being the sentinels of ethical acumen could go to stymie attempts at the ANC's moral reinvention.

As legal philosophy warns, 'to turn all moral obligations into legal obligations [is to destroy] morality".

Can the ANC redeem itself?

Lurking in whether Magashule's day of reckoning has arrived is yet another inevitable question, which has been doing the rounds in the discussion about the state of the party: Can the ANC redeem itself?

The integrity commission placed this question in the consciousness of the ANC, and it directly implicates Ramaphosa as the president of the party.

In other words, out of the Magashule matter, is Ramaphosa to emerge as a strategically decisive president for the integrity of the organisation; or is he again going to obfuscate pandering to the illusion of the unity of the ANC in the Magashule matter? History is beckoning.

How Ramaphosa responds to this, as part of its exigency, is important for his legacy. South Africans are watching.

Mashupye H. Maserumule is professor of public affairs at the Tshwane University of Technology. 

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