ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. PICTURE: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. PICTURE: SUNDAY TIMES/ESA ALEXANDER

Law-enforcement agencies have in the past few months been applauded for finally making arrests relating to corruption and state capture, but questions have been raised about when they will tackle the “big fish”.

That moment seemed to come on Tuesday when news broke that the Hawks had issued a warrant of arrest for ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, who has been linked to corruption in the Free State, where he was premier for almost a decade.

The allegations were reported widely in the media and in Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State.

How can we forget that under Magashule’s reign in the Free State the Gupta family was alleged to have been able to loot the agriculture department at the expense of emerging black farmers in Vrede, using some of the proceeds to pay for a lavish wedding at Sun City.

It was widely expected that Magashule would find himself in the dock regarding the Estina dairy farm scandal, but the warrant of arrest was for another case — a controversial R255m asbestos contract.

Magashule is now expected to make his first appearance in court on Friday.

While this can be seen as a win for law-enforcement agencies, it has also come with its issues. The clumsy way in which the Hawks confirmed that the arrest warrant had been issued and named him highlighted the continued weakness in law-enforcement institutions.

A decision by the national executive committee that any member facing formal charges should step aside has not been implemented

What the Hawks and NPA also need to ensure now is that despite the clumsy communication on the warrant of arrest, the case against the ANC secretary-general is watertight, more so given the broader implications and the political attacks it will unleash on organisations.

We already saw in 2018 how the Estina case was taken to trial by the NPA and then dropped. Magashule will probably also face charges in this matter.

But if the asbestos case is a flop, it gives him more ammunition to cry foul.

His arrest also has implications for the ANC, which has come under heavy criticism for the involvement of its members and leaders in corruption — not only during the state-capture years but even now with alleged tender fraud that marred the country’s efforts to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The governing party has tried to tell South Africans that it is taking allegations of corruption seriously, and that it will take action against those found to be on the wrong side of the law. But until now, we have seen very little evidence of this.

A decision by the national executive committee that any member facing formal charges should step aside has not been implemented. So it is quite unlikely that we will see the party force its secretary-general to comply.

What does this say about the ANC and Ramaphosa’s ability to turn the tide and show SA that it is serious about cleaning up?

The country is heading for a local government election in 2021 and issues such as this could once again put the ANC in a precarious position. Let us not forget how voters punished the party in 2016 because of the sins of its former president Jacob Zuma.

ANC supporters stayed away from the polls leaving a gap for a coalition of opposition parties to take control of some of the country’s biggest metros. The ANC managed to claw back support in the 2019 general elections largely because of Ramaphosa’s anticorruption ticket.

This matter is a big test for the ANC, law-enforcement agencies and SA as a whole. It will show if we really can clean up and ensure those responsible for the state our country are being, and will be, held accountable.

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