Secret visits to Saxonwold in Johannesburg and a brown envelope full of cash from Atul Gupta, ties to a businessman gunned down in Sandton after a controversial tender from the Free State government to the tune of R255 million, and even alleged cattle theft. These are some of the shocking revelations contained in a new book about ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule (pictured).
Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Gangster State – Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture reveals for the first time the questionable political career of one of South Africa’s most controversial political figures. Magashule ran the party’s Free State structures with an iron fist for 20 years before being elevated to national office. His stint as premier, which spanned from 2009 to last year, was characterised by centralisation, with former associates stating that “there wasn’t a contract in the Free State that Ace didn’t know about”.
The book reveals how Magashule, who was implicated last year in a plot to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa, had already faced allegations of abusing liberation struggle funds in the 1980s and throws serious doubt on some of his boasts about his role in the ANC underground during those times.
In his subsequent political career spanning nearly four decades, he has frequently landed in hot water as a result of allegations of corruption, political bullying and nepotism.
Magashule, who is now Ramaphosa’s most powerful foe within the ANC, has dealt ruthlessly with his opponents over the decades.
Gangster State reveals how the Scorpions, South Africa’s former elite crime fighting unit, was on the brink of arresting Magashule in 2008 in connection with a case of alleged stock theft. Magashule was one of the leading advocates for the Scorpions’ immediate dissolution following an ANC resolution to that effect at the party’s 2007 national conference.
In an exclusive interview, Beatrice Marshoff, Magashule’s predecessor as premier, said she fired Magashule as MEC for agriculture in 2005 because he allegedly had 32 cattle from the Glen Agricultural College slaughtered. The college, located outside Bloemfontein, was run by Magashule’s department. A former employee of the college
confirmed the incident. Marshoff said that Magashule had the meat divided into packets that were then transported to the ANC’s regional conference in Sasolburg. Shadrack Sibiya, the former head of the Scorpions in the Free State, confirmed that the unit was ready to arrest Magashule.
“Ace knows that. He was questioned by the Scorpions on various occasions,” said Sibiya, who now runs the City of Joburg’s anti-corruption unit.
The Scorpions were disbanded in 2009 and replaced with the Hawks, after which the investigation into Magashule apparently died a quiet death. Gangster State further reveals the allegedly corrupt relationship between Magashule when he was Free State premier and Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani, the businessperson who was gunned down in broad daylight while driving his Bentley in Sandton in 2017.
A hoard of emails, bank statements and other documents obtained show that, before his death, Mpambani was one of the beneficiaries of a R255 million contract from the Free State department of housing – a contract that never went out to tender.
One of these documents, an Excel spreadsheet, shows how Mpambani and his partner in the contract, Gauteng businessperson Edwin Sodi, planned to share payments the Free State government made to them with a group of third parties. One of these parties, identified as “AM”, was supposed to receive R10 million.
Sources familiar with the deal claim that “AM” was a reference to Ace Magashule. While these “Igo files” don’t contain direct evidence to prove the reference to Magashule, the leaked documents do show that Magashule’s former assistant was in direct contact with Mpambani after the department made payments to Mpambani and Sodi’s joint venture, Diamond Hill-Blackhead Consulting. In March 2015, for example, Diamond HillBlackhead received R25 million from the Free State department of housing. This was the third of eight payments that were supposed to be made for the asbestos audit. About two weeks later, Mpambani drew R300 000 in cash and drove from Sandton to Bloemfontein in his car. Later that day, Ipeleng Morake, an employee in Magashule’s office, sent an email to Mpambani, asking him to pay tuition fees for eight students at various universities.
The next day, Mpambani used about R240 000 of his contract profits to pay the university fees. It’s not clear for whom these fees were paid.
Another email from Moradi Cholota, Magashule’s personal assistant, a few weeks later reveals a further link between Mpambani and Magashule.
“The premier asked that you pay the full amount of R470 000 and the remaining amount of R30 000 to one of the student leaders in Cuba,” Cholota wrote to Mpambani in May 2015.
The timing of these requests to Mpambani shows that the premier’s office was well aware of when payments were being made to Diamond Hill-Blackhead by the provincial department of housing.
On January 28 2016, the department paid R10 million to Mpambani and Sodi’s company. It was the sixth payment for the asbestos audit.
Just hours after the payment, Mpambani received another email from Magashule’s personal assistant. Cholota’s email contains a bill for R250 000 to a travel agency for a certain “Cuba delegation”. Two days later, Mpambani paid the bill.
Later that year, it came to light that Tiisetso Makhele, Magashule’s former spokesperson, travelled to Cuba with 18 other government officials. In an article published in a local newspaper, Makhele thanks the provincial executive committee of the ANC, under the “visionary leadership of Comrade Ace Magashule”, for the trip.
The bank statements further show that during the period that payments were being made to Diamond HillBlackhead, Mpambani frequently made large cash withdrawals from an ATM located close to Free State House, the home of the premier.
In fact, when Mpambani was gunned down, about R1 million in cash was found in his possession. A source familiar with the investigation said that Mpambani was on his way to Bloemfontein at the time.
Magashule’s relationship with the Guptas also comes under the spotlight in the book.
In an interview with the author, Thabo Manyoni, Bloemfontein’s former mayor, said that he twice visited the Guptas with Magashule in 2013. Apparently, Atul Gupta wanted Magashule to be appointed minister of communications in then president Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet. Thereafter, Manyoni was supposed to take over from Magashule as premier of the Free State.
Manyoni, who was not in favour of the plan, also alleged that Magashule left the Guptas’ house in Saxonwold with a brown envelope full of cash.
The book details how Magashule moved to “capture” the media in the Free State using government’s advertising resources to reward friendly media and penalising those he perceived to be hostile. He also allegedly used his proximity to senior SABC figures, including former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, to influence what the public broadcaster covered.
Magashule was approached for comment on various issues raised in this book, but he did not respond.
Sodi’s attorneys denied that he or Blackhead made any donations or payments that could be viewed as “kickbacks” or “bribes” for government contracts.
“Blackhead is a reputable business operating fully within the law, is tax compliant and rejects allegations that its business benefited from any unlawful activity or political connections,” the attorneys said.