‘We are ready to pull the trigger”, say ANC national executive committee (NEC) members who are part of the anti-corruption faction backing President Cyril Ramaphosa in anticipation of the possible removal of party secretary general Ace Magashule.
The ANC’S NEC is planning to hold workshops with its integrity committee this weekend ahead of the much-awaited national general council. It is expected to strengthen the committee’s decision-making powers by including the integrity committee in the party’s constitution.
This would mean that the remedial action recommended by the otherwise toothless committee of elders would be binding.
As part of the agenda, recommendations by the structure of party elders will be considered, which may mean an all-out war against those in support of Magashule.
Magashule sent out a communiqué three weeks ago that a special NEC meeting would be held on 13 March for workshops with the commission of elders and a discussion on the integrity commission’s reports. He then postponed the meeting without explanation, a source said.
The NEC source said Magashule has been using postponements of scheduled meetings as a delaying tactic to mobilise NEC members in his defence.
“He did the same thing when the top six wanted an urgent meeting with the parliamentary caucus on the public protector [Busisiwe Mkhwebane]. The president had to intervene and call for the chair [Gwede Mantashe] to take over. When a person has no other plan, their best strategy is to delay,” the source said.
The process to investigate Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office has been considered as a bellwether in the party’s proxy war.
With Magashule having taken a loss in parliament when the ANC voted with the DA to establish a committee to investigate Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office, this could mean that the party is edging closer towards implementing its “stepaside” resolutions.
Magashule, who faces criminal charges relating to his tenure as Free State premier, has been made the central figure of the step-aside resolution, which calls for party members to exit their respective positions when faced with allegations of wrongdoing and criminal charges and corruption.
The ANC in the Eastern Cape set a precedent by removing six of its provincial executive committee members, two of whom voluntarily stepped aside, with provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukayitobi calling this a “revolutionary act”.
Magashule, who is arguably the most powerful ANC leader after Ramaphosa, was hauled before the integrity commission late last year after being charged with corruption, money laundering and fraud related to the beleaguered R255-million asbestos project in the Free State.
In their damning ruling, the elders recommended that Magashule step aside while facing these charges or face suspension if he refused.
However, some in the governing party have said that while the media has taken a keen interest in Magashule, the committee has also made findings against other senior ANC members, including Deputy President David Mabuza, party chair Gwede Mantashe and Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo.
In 2019, shortly before the election, the party elders were tasked with reviewing the party’s provincial and national lists. This created a storm when the committee recommended that among others, Mantashe and Mabuza, two of the ANC’S senior leaders, should step aside from the parliamentary list.
The commission has also recommended that Masondo step aside from his government post after he was accused of using his influence to set the Hawks against his former girlfriend. He has appealed the recommendation.
An NEC member and ally of Magashule said that, while the knives will be out for the secretary general, NEC members who have rulings against them by the commission must also account.
The NEC’S workshops will discuss the terms and reference of the commission to bolster its powers by recommending that the national general council and its next policy conference add the elders to the party constitution to give it teeth.
In the party’s national general council discussion document released in November, the ANC stated that, while the NEC adopted terms of reference for the committee to be strengthened, “matters which the IC [integrity commission] has pronounced on to date [in] its recommendations to the NEC [have] been difficult”. Most notable is the commission’s review of the list for national and provincial public representatives in 2019 and the VBS matter, the document states.
To aid the elders in this work, the NEC appointed former president Kgalema Motlanthe and former treasurer general Mathews Phosa.
The Mail & Guardian recently reported that former state security minister and NEC member Bongani Bongo, who was also told to step down by the integrity commission, had been acquitted by the Western Cape high court on charges of corruption.
Bongo, a staunch Magashule ally, refused to step aside when he was prompted to do so — much like the ANC secretary general.
His acquittal, although he faces further allegations of corruption, and theft and fraud charges, was the ace that Magashule and others needed to fight back against those calling for their heads.
Magashule’s allies are also hedging their bets on the guidelines set by Phosa and Motlanthe, which state that the committee of elders is best suited to deal with matters requiring clarity about whether a party member has committed an offence, whether external to the organisation or not. The guidelines also state that it is not inappropriate for the integrity commission to provide terms and conditions that apply to a member’s suspension.
“We can amend the step-aside [rule]. Indeed, we can do that, or we have to take it back to the national general council and subsequent to that, we have to take it to the policy conference, saying that we could not implement, so that we don’t leave a vacuum. In the meantime, all ethics and morality issues will go to committee,” the NEC member and Magashule ally said.
– Mail n Guardian