ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has come out in defence of Jacob Zuma’s legacy, claiming the former president is not solely responsible for the collapse of stateowned companies.
His comments come as the government scrambles to solve SA’s power crisis and takes bold steps to keep South African Airways afloat.
In an interview with the Sunday Times this week, Magashule said President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government should focus on finding competent people to fix parastatals instead of laying the blame on Zuma.
His broadside comes after a heated ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting this week at which Ramaphosa is said to have come under fire for his “unilateral” decision to put SAA under business rescue when the ANC and the tripartite alliance council had already resolved on a “radical restructuring” of SAA.
It was also a week in which Ramaphosa took flak from the public for failing to show he had a handle on the continuing power crisis, as Eskom implemented stage 6 loadshedding for the first time since the system of planned outages was introduced.
Ramaphosa and public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan have in the past blamed state capture under Zuma for the failing SOEs.
But Magashule, who is in charge of the day-to-day operations at Luthuli House, contradicted the president of his party.
“We have been in this mess for all these years … It’s not for the first time. It’s not the first time we have been in a mess in Eskom and we have bailed it out. We have bailed out SAA. So I don’t want anybody to be blamed.
“You can’t [lay] blame and you don’t fix. All of us have been there, by the way. When these things happened, all of us have been there. Who do you blame? You can’t blame Zuma. Zuma was not running SAA. Zuma was not running Eskom,” said Magashule.
His stance does not come as a surprise as he has been associated with helping the Guptas fleece the state of millions of rands through dodgy contracts when he was premier of the Free State. He has yet to come before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture to respond to the claims against him.
However, his comments on SOEs will sting Ramaphosa’s administration, which has made cleaning them up and rolling back state capture the centrepiece of his policies.
They also suggest that not all members of the NEC back Ramaphosa’s “cleanup” campaign, and the roles played by finance minister Tito Mboweni and Gordhan.
On a political level, Magashule’s comments point to division in the leadership of the ANC, and raise the prospect of a damaging showdown when the party holds its national general council (NGC) next year.
Since 1994, the government has given SAA more than R57bn in bailouts. In the past 10 years, Eskom has received R150bn in bailouts. Eskom and SAA have together had 21 CEOs in the past 10 years. Eskom has had 12 CEOs since 1994. The power crisis started in 2008, when Eskom introduced South Africans to load-shedding.
But it was during Zuma’s time that state entities such as Eskom were looted.
The state capture commission has heard that the Gupta family and their business associates looted SOEs by controlling their boards, pushing through controversial deals and wholesale looting.
Magashule insisted the SOEs were a mess before Zuma. He said only the deployment of professionals with expertise would resolve the problems facing them.
“Eskom will be resolved by competent people. I always listen to a lot of engineers at Eskom and you can hear that these people know their story.
“I’m not an engineer [so] I can’t fix Eskom. Eskom will be fixed by those people who have worked in dealing with electricity … technically,” said Magashule.
Asked if he felt Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza was competent to head the Eskom board,
Magashule paused before saying: “Well … the chairperson is there … If the collective has taken a decision … I’m sure when the minister appointed the interim board, the minister will know better if the person has the necessary capacity or what. That decision was taken by the minister.
“The ANC was not consulted. Remember it was an interim board. Indeed, the ANC was not consulted.”
Magashule is a staunch Zuma ally and is treated with suspicion by Ramaphosa’s followers. They fear he may be behind a campaign to undermine Ramaphosa’s leadership ahead of the NGC.
Those believed to be aligned to Magashule are said to have taken on Ramaphosa at the NEC meeting this week.
Insiders said convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni grilled him about his “unilateral” decision to put SAA under business rescue.
“The NWC [national working committee] had only spoken about the radical restructuring of SAA … Even at cabinet this was not discussed,” said an NEC member who attended the meeting.
Ramaphosa is said to have told the NEC he had no time to consult as he was abroad. “The president said that the board was going to liquidate SAA so he had to do something,” an NEC insider said.
In the interview, Magashule defended Ramaphosa’s decision, saying he “did touch base with us”.
He revealed that the ANC was looking at different options to save Eskom and SAA — saying the party cannot rule out partial privatisation that may include workers’ pension funds or the public buying a stake.
NEC members raised concern, insiders said, about the board of Eskom and whether or not it should be dissolved.
ANC insiders said there was a demand that Gordhan make a detailed presentation on the status of all SOEs at the party’s January lekgotla next year.
There is growing dissatisfaction in the ANC and its alliance partners about the manner in which SOEs are run. Some say ministers such as Gordhan and Mboweni are not being held accountable. At the recent tripartite alliance political council, the SACP is said to have asked Ramaphosa if Mboweni and Gordhan were running SA on his behalf. The SACP was unhappy about Mboweni’s recent discussion paper on the economy. Magashule confirmed this discussion. “I can say to you SACP has raised that. They were also not happy about the minister of finance. The fact is that they raised these matters internally. They were saying, ‘President, you are president, we don’t want any of the ministers to behave as if they are untouchable’. To the party and to all of us we said nobody is untouchable. There is no super minister.” SACP spokesperson Alex Mshilo declined to comment.
Due to a production error, the graphic with the article “You may be overestimating the retirement income you’ll have”, on page 6 of today’s Business Times, is incorrect. The headings “failure rates” and “drawdown rate” should be transposed.