EDITORIAL: Only the naive believe the ANC has solved its Ace Magashule problem
The NEC has given him 30 days — a lifetime in SA politics — to step aside from his post
After months of vacillating on the issue of whether ANC members facing criminal charges should step aside, the party’s highest decision-making body finally decided to implement its own rules.
As a result, after a meeting said to be marked by chaos, it gave the likes of its secretary-general Ace Magashule 30 days to do so. At the same time, some of his supporters, such as Carl Niehaus, were read the riot act for their factional activities, often using the name of the ANC’s armed wing.
According to the national executive committee (NEC) statement read by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, if Magashule and others fail to comply, the party will suspend them. So far, so good — and a decisive win for the reform wing of the party. But there’s always a catch.
A month is a long time in politics, and only the extremely naive will believe that Magashule will simply walk away when that deadline arrives. That he’s been given that long can be seen as a minor victory for him, even though Ramaphosa said the period was not so the decision could be reviewed, but for it to be put into practice.
It also leaves Magashule in charge of the process of implementing the step-aside rule, which affects him directly as it’s his office that has been tasked with working with the provinces to identify all people affected and inform them of the decision. Bizarrely, the party accepted Magashule’s wish to use the time to “seek the counsel of past leaders of the movement”. No need to place bets on what Thabo Mbeki would say. Or Jacob Zuma, for that matter.
Former president Zuma and Magashule ally, who sees himself as above the law, is unlikely to advise him to respect the word and processes of the NEC. Zuma has it in for Ramaphosa and those who supported his recall in 2018, so he will, in all likelihood, recommend defiance. His actions and words have suggested that for him, civil war for SA will be a price worth paying in furthering his self-preservation, so the unity and strength of the ANC is unlikely to be top of mind.
All the ANC did at the past weekend’s meeting was to is give the belligerent Magashule and his “radical economic transformation” faction time to hatch a defence. It’s quite possible that Magashule will force the ANC to suspend him, a scenario that could stir up his supporters and, at the very least, leave the ANC in open internal political warfare.
Whether there is a plan on how to handle such a scenario remains to be seen. It is not game over and the real fight is yet to come. And it might also be that Magashule is exposed as having overestimated his level of support, so in some ways it’s better that the fight starts sooner than later.
What is concerning is how the factional ANC battles have turned the government’s attention from major issues facing the country. Snippets of the chaotic meeting started doing the rounds on various WhatsApp and social media groups, exposing childish bickering among people who are supposed to be governing SA.
In the meantime, business was waiting with bated breath to see what new Covid-19 regulations were coming ahead of the Easter weekend. Efforts to procure vaccines ahead of the winter, and the crisis in higher education, were relegated to the periphery.
Ramaphosa’s visit to Aspen’s manufacturing facility in Gqeberha on Monday, where he announced that Johnson & Johnson would provide SA about 30-million vaccines, with the first batch ready in April, at least showed that in between the ANC infighting he was doing some governing.
Not enough, unfortunately. And this is unlikely to change as the end of April approaches. Who’s to bet against Magashule bamboozling the NEC all over again, so much so that he’ll find himself one of the figures leading the ANC’s May Day celebrations?
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