President Cyril Ramaphosa moved decisively this week to head off an apparent plot by ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule to engineer a “parliamentary coup”.
Magashule’s move could have seen crucial parliamentary committee posts going to loyalists — many of them supporters of former president Jacob Zuma.
Committee chairs wield enormous legislative and oversight powers, controlling how parliamentary committees conduct oversight over ministers and senior government officials.
If successful, the anti-Ramaphosa figures, many of them implicated in state capture and corruption, would have held sway in parliament, potentially frustrating any legislation Ramaphosa might have proposed in his ongoing reform and clean-up drive.
The “coup” attempt is the latest chapter in a saga of defiance in which Magashule has emerged as the principal ANC obstruction to Ramaphosa’s New Dawn.
It comes in the same week that the ANC national working committee (NWC) appointed an investigation into claims that some party leaders, including Magashule, had a hand in forming smaller parties to contest last month’s elections with the aim of reducing the ANC’s majority.
Among Magashule’s choices for top posts in parliament were notorious figures from the Zuma era, including former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, former communications minister Faith Muthambi and former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
The Sunday Times can disclose that Ramaphosa and other senior party leaders were left stunned when they learnt that Magashule had travelled to Cape Town on Wednesday, planning to announce new portfolio committee chairs, largely drawn from his camp, the next day.
The timing of Magashule’s ANC caucus meeting raised eyebrows as Ramaphosa, his ministers and their deputies were attending a cabinet lekgotla in Pretoria on Thursday.
Well-placed sources said Ramaphosa stopped Magashule in his tracks after his office was alerted by his parliamentary counsellor, Gerhard Koornhof, on Wednesday. He apparently told Ramaphosa that Magashule was set to announce the new chairs of portfolio committees and the whippery on Thursday — even though they had not been endorsed by the national leadership.
The move was seen as part of a fightback by Magashule and his supporters after some of them were overlooked for ministerial and deputy minister positions. In retaliation for their exclusion, Magashule’s supporters in the ANC vowed to “capture parliament”.
Insiders said the proposed list of portfolio chairs was discussed at an ANC top six officials’ meeting on Thursday last week. However, insiders said, the top six had other ideas, and rejected some names on the list.
The top six further decided that consultations with alliance partners should take place before the list was finalised.
However, lobbying for positions continued after the top six meeting. Talk in parliamentary corridors was that even outgoing ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader Collen Maine had convinced Magashule to include his name.
When Koornhof sounded the alarm on the planned caucus meeting, Ramaphosa’s allies feared Magashule might have tampered with the list proposed by the top six and would table the original names drafted by his allies.
Two sources close to the president and parliamentary insiders said his office ordered ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina to halt the caucus meeting scheduled for 10am on Thursday.
Some MPs were in buses transporting them to parliament when they received notice of the cancellation.
“There was an impression that he wanted to force through certain names that were not yet agreed upon. Yes, there was a concern people would be slipped in by the secretarygeneral while the president and his deputy
focused on the lekgotla,” said one source.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, said she cannot comment on ANC internal party matters.
Parliamentary insiders said National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise, who also serves on the NWC, was one of the senior figures who cautioned Magashule about proceeding with the announcement.
Modise is also said to have told Magashule that some of the candidates he was pushing were not suitable to lead committees. Modise did not respond to requests for comment.
The Magashule list included Muthambi (justice committee), Zwane (transport) and Mahumapelo (cooperative governance). Also on the list were national executive committee (NEC) member Tandi Mahambehlala as the new chair of chairs, former security minister Bongani Bongo (international relations) and Joe Maswanganyi (public enterprises).
Former deputy finance minister Sfiso Buthelezi was set to head the finance committee, and known Magashule ally Madala Ntombela was to chair the state security committee. The police committee was to be led by Zuma cheerleader Mervyn Dirks.
The Magashule grouping also planned to take over the ANC caucus’s influential political and strategy committees, which give political direction and marching orders to the party’s MPs.
The intention was to populate the political committee with Zuma allies such as Sdumo Dlamini, Bathabile Dlamini and ANCYL secretary-general Njabulo Nzuza. Dlamini quit as an MP this week.
In the previous parliament, the political committee was chaired by Ramaphosa and included prominent figures such as Naledi Pandor, former speaker Baleka Mbete and her successor Modise.
Insiders say instead of Mahambehlala, top ANC leaders had preferred senior MP Cedric Frolick to return as chair of chairs. Mahambehlala’s name was shifted to international relations, Muthambi removed from justice and Zwane placed as the next labour committee chair. The Ramaphosa camp feared that Magashule would not make these changes.
An MP who is also member of the ANC’s NEC said there was a huge fight over who to deploy to lead powerful structures such as the justice committee and the joint standing committee on intelligence.
The source said the Magashule faction wants control of those committees because they fear that the Ramaphosa camp wants to use the state security apparatus to deal with their rivals.
The other reason the Magashule group wants to control the justice committee is to shield public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane from possible impeachment. The plan also includes taking over the finance committee to push for the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank and a change in the Bank’s mandate.
The group wants control of the public enterprises committee to frustrate Ramaphosa’s Eskom plans.
Asked about the cancellation of Thursday’s caucus meeting, Magashule said it was because he had not been ready to make his presentation despite travelling to Cape Town the night before.
“Here, today, there was nothing. I was just consulting because I was not ready. I had to consult the whips,” he said in reference to Majodina and National Council of Provinces chief whip and caucus chair Seiso Mohai.
However, a memo sent to MPs on Tuesday, seen by the Sunday Times, lists the “deployment to portfolio committees and whippery” on the meeting’s agenda.
Majodina denied that she was instructed by Ramaphosa to cancel the meeting. She blamed the postponement on the mass resignations of former ministers. She said these had “disorganised the setup” because some of the people who resigned were chairs, whips and committee members.
“Therefore we could not go ahead when we were supposed to revisit all that was done in the past. We had to manage that properly.” She said the meeting was postponed because they “could not go to caucus with a half-cooked list”.
The matter is expected to be finalised at a special NEC meeting sitting in Cape Town on Tuesday.
Source: Sunday Times