ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Picture: REUTERS/SIPHIWE SIBEKO

The ANC has finally adopted the guidelines on how to deal with members and leaders facing charges involving serious misdemeanours, but it has again kicked the proverbial can down the road by giving itself another month before these are implemented.

In the meantime, it is expecting members like its secretary-general, Ace Magashule, to do the right thing and act with “integrity and credibility” by voluntarily stepping aside. But it is unlikely that those in the firing line will do so, and it will in all likelihood be business as usual until the guidelines are formally implemented.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his closing remarks to the national executive committee at the weekend that with the finalisation of the guidelines, the officials will now process all the reports of the integrity commission and return in a month's time with a full report. In the meantime, those facing charges must step aside in line with recommendations of the integrity commission and the party’s resolution.

So will it be the end of the line for Magashule, in a month’s time and will the party have the stomach to remove him?

The ANC’s integrity commission, which few take seriously, in 2020 recommended that Magashule step down while he faces corruption charges, and if he doesn’t, it said the party should suspend him. Until now, nothing has happened.

It was not a surprise though, as the party faces the unprecedented situation of having to remove a top-six official. Even when former president Thabo Mbeki fired Jacob Zuma as deputy president of the country over corruption allegations that are still to be settled in court, he remained in his position as ANC deputy president, so there is no precedent.

And it is unlikely that Magashule will take such a decision lying down. When he first appeared in court in November, Magashule said he would not step down and that no-one can remove him. To no-one’s surprise he also stated that only a special conference of ANC branches could decide his fate.

This is going to be a huge test and fight that Ramaphosa, and the part of the ANC that he leads, will need to win if they are to have a chance to convince the broader society that they are serious about rooting out corruption. The party already has a former president who is blatantly defying everything it proclaims to stand for and yet it seems unable to take a stance.

The ANC resolution on dealing with members and leaders facing criminal charges should also apply to Zuma. He is facing corruption charges in relation to the multibillion-rand arms deal, two criminal charges laid by the state capture commission and on Monday deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo announced that it will file a contempt of court application against him and ask the Constitutional Court, if it finds the former president guilty, to send him to jail.

In terms of the ANC’s resolution, Zuma should be dealt with like any other party member or leader. But the party seems unable to do this.

Ramaphosa, who was Zuma’s deputy during the former’s second term, and the ANC are also expected to appear before the Zondo commission where they will have to explain how the country got to where it did under its watch.

Zondo made a salient remark on Monday when dealing with this exact point: “Having become aware of a lot of things that relate to allegations of state capture and corruption during Mr Zuma’s presidency they [the ANC] ought to come to the commission and say what do they have to say about the fact that they were the ruling party at the time and this was someone they presented to voters as president …”

In the end it will come down to whether the ANC’s leaders can conjure up a backbone.

The party will have to change tack on its strategy. It is time to move from the carrot to the stick, with all the risks entailed. Fear of the fate that befell Mbeki is understandable from Ramaphosa’s perspective. But not confronting it risks his being a lame-duck presidency from start to finish.

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