Ace Magashule. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Ace Magashule. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Controversial ANC Free State chairman Ace Magashule has risen to the position of national secretary-general in the party following the outcome of the 54th national elective conference. Magashule took the post by a whisker, winning 2,360 votes against Senzo Mchunu's 2,336.

Magashule is a seasoned politician who has been active since the late 1970s, and has had a firm grip on his province for the past 25 years.

A blight on his recent career has been his and his family’s involvement with the controversial Gupta family — he is potentially among the most implicated senior ANC leaders in allegations of state capture, second to President Jacob Zuma.

His grip on his province started slipping in 2012 when the Constitutional Court upheld a Bloemfontein High Court decision to dissolve the Free State provincial executive committee under Magashule’s leadership and nullified its elective conference.

This happened again in the run-up to this year’s conference when again the Free State elective conference was challenged in court and nullified.

The Free State provincial executive committee (PEC) was not able to vote at the Nasrec conference.

Magashule is part of what is called the premier league, a once powerful lobby group backing Zuma. Magashule also became entangled in the Gupta family web — almost to the same extent as his president.

His campaign for a ANC top-six position started with the premier league. He has become the master of conference-rigging, along with ANC Free State secretary William Bulwane, and was re-elected after a challenge by longstanding deputy chairman Thabo Manyoni.

Manyoni boycotted the Free State ANC conference and is challenging its outcomes in court.

Magashule, who is also Free State premier, is something of a political chameleon who has been able to remain in power for more than two decades, adapting to the ever-changing political landscape.

In his profile on the Free State government website, he claims to have been mentored by SACP leader Chris Hani and ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

He was a founding member of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) in 1979 and participated in the founding of the United Democratic Front in the 1980s.

After democracy, Magashule served in the Free State government as the economic affairs and tourism MEC.

He was then a member of Parliament, and returned to the provincial legislature after the 2004 general elections.

He has been premier of the Free State since 2009.

This is his second and last term, and he needs to find a new political position to contest in the 2019 general elections — which was why he and his backers were lobbying hard for him to be ANC secretary-general.

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