ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule with Jessie Duarte and Pule Mabe. Picture: ALON SKUY​
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule with Jessie Duarte and Pule Mabe. Picture: ALON SKUY​

The ANC is being represented in public by denialists firmly in the Jacob Zuma camp. New spokesman Pule Mabe, secretary-general Ace Magashule and deputy Jessie Duarte do not appear to have seen the writing on the wall.

Their press briefing on Tuesday was a frustrating affair, in which hardly a question was answered clearly. Magashule makes many yearn for former secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who at least spoke to issues of the day more or less.

Magashule and Duarte have been facing the press since the new top six leaders of the party were elected in December. Of his first appearance after an ANC national executive meeting in January, a journalist reported that Magashule "said a whole lotta nothing". He did say, when asked about the Estina dairy deal, that no one was guilty until proven otherwise.

At Tuesday’s presser, Magashule pretended that the recall of President Jacob Zuma was simply a game of musical chairs and had nothing to do with corruption, state capture, the Guptas or bad governance.

As Magashule is embroiled in state capture he has no interest in discussing the issue.

Duarte said not one word, but they conferred with each other and she appeared to be backing him to the hilt as he again said a whole lotta nothing.

Magashule reluctantly admitted that his man in the Union Buildings had been recalled, but refused to say if action would be taken against Zuma if he delayed his exit.

He has been downplaying the victory of the Cyril Ramaphosa camp since December. As secretary-general, he is ideally placed to frustrate his rivals. His pronouncements are calculated to diminish Ramaphosa and pretend that the slim anti-Zuma majority does not exist.

When he did acknowledge the actual state of play in the ruling party a few weeks ago, it was to announce to his faction that they should wait five years to retake the ANC and advise them to work towards a future victory. His agenda is exactly the same as it was since his tie-up to the Guptas, who employ his son. He has described them as "good business people".

Magashule insisted on Tuesday that Zuma had not been found guilty of any wrongdoing. He is defending the man who defended him and boosted his political career after he was first accused of corruption.

Some activists became suspicious of Magashule in the 1980s, when he bought a Mercedes-Benz while he was a United Democratic Front activist.

In 1996, when Magashule was MEC for economics and tourism in the Free State, the director-general of the province found that he illegally established two companies and irregularly siphoned almost R6m to them. The money was spent on overseas trips, staff loans, meals, a loan to the liquor board and music.

Magashule was accused of purging party members who opposed his re-election as the ANC Free State chairman at a conference in Parys in 2012 and of excluding his opponents from attending the conference

The then premier of the Free State, Mosiuoa Lekota, dismissed him and charges were laid at the SAPS commercial branch. The only outcome was the ANC removing Lekota as premier. In 1997 Magashule was accused by the ANC of "failing to provide good leadership" — he had played an active role in stoking factionalism, a game other ANC leaders learned to play — and his attempts to become premier of the Free State were checked. But he secured the position in 2009 when Zuma came to power.

Magashule was accused of purging party members who opposed his re-election as the ANC Free State chairman at a conference in Parys in 2012 and of excluding his opponents from attending the conference.

In 2015, the DA accused him of turning the Free State into a banana republic. The Vrede dairy-farm affair reinforces this "perception" — a word Magashule used on Tuesday.

Magashule has backed Zuma since his rise to the position of ANC president in 2007. Recently, he defended the upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla home at taxpayers’ expense as part of government plans for "rural development".

He faced a revolt after trying to oust people who booed Zuma at a May Day rally in Bloemfontein last year. His victims formed a WhatsApp group in which they accused Magashule of supporting state capture. The result has been a dysfunctional ANC in the province.

Duarte has been firmly in the Zupta camp for many years. She sidelined many ANC members opposed to the Gupta family’s agenda and moved against former Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi in 2013 by accusing him of sexual misconduct.

She met the Guptas with Zuma when they were planning to establish their newspaper, The New Age, and has complained ever since that it is being vilified for supporting Zuma’s government. She gave the Guptas’ ANN7 channel hour-long interviews in which she denied state capture existed.

Her son-in-law Ian Whitley was one of the "advisers" who accompanied Des van Rooyen into his office for a weekend special as finance minister after Nhlanhla Nene was fired. She reportedly repeated the offer of the finance ministry to Mcebisi Jonas after the Guptas offered him the Treasury.

She praised Van Rooyen as the most qualified finance minister SA had ever had, echoing her master’s words.

When Whitley approached her for advice about working in Treasury, she told him it was "an area of government reserved for an elite few and he was likely to be disadvantaged", revealing the master’s plan to capture the Treasury.

She also defended the Guptas’ supply of coal to Eskom, claiming they were cheaper than other suppliers, yet she continues to deny her allegiance to the family, saying she has been tarred simply for "sitting next to the Guptas".

She said the Guptas had created jobs and invested money in the country, and defended the family’s attempts to secure government money for advertising. She effectively sabotaged the ANC’s probe into state capture.

Duarte continues to be a denialist about Zuma’s exit. She contradicted reports that a sizeable number of national executive members wanted Zuma gone, insisting only six or eight had made the call. At the end of January, she insisted Zuma would step down only in 2019.

She claimed Zuma should be given credit for the National Development Plan, which everyone knows was the work of Trevor Manuel. It was a pet project of Ramaphosa, and was studiously ignored by Zuma.

Duarte also defended Zuma’s role in the Nkandla debacle, saying he had not asked for upgrades to his home.

Mabe, a former journalist, was elected the treasurer of the ANC Youth League in April 2008, when Julius Malema was president.

In 2014 he made a bid to become the league’ s president, backed by the so-called premier league faction – Supra Mahumapelo, David Mabuza and Magashule. His bid failed and he was part of the league’s leadership disbanded by the ANC in 2013.

The Anti-Corruption Task Team and the Special Investigating Unit found in 2014 that Mabe and two friends spent more than R2.2m from a South African Social Security Agency fund on expensive clothing and luxuries.

Out on bail after being charged, he said, echoing his mentor Magashule, that he was glad the ANC believed that individuals were innocent until proven guilty. He was acquitted.

He went to Parliament in 2014, but was soon embroiled in a corruption allegation after then public protector Thuli Madonsela found that Mabe’s company had improperly received a R33m contract from Prasa. Mabe tried to block an investigation into the deal.

In 2017, he rallied behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in her failed bid to become ANC president. He quit Parliament the same year and his recent appointment as ANC spokesman might be his reward from the premier league.

This trio will represent the ANC at press conferences. No doubt long after Zuma is gone, they will insist that he is still in the Union Buildings.

The ANC will have to find other means to communicate to the public if it wants to avoid perceptions that it is lost in a time warp.

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