It is the responsibility of the ANC’s secretary-general and spokesperson to communicate the party’s message to the country’s electorate.

In the wake of the ANC’s December elective conference and serious state-capture allegations, the party has worked hard to make this an anti-corruption message, and to focus on fighting graft inside its ranks and in government.

However, the two people responsible for delivering the message — Ace Magashule and Pule Mabe — have themselves faced, or are facing, allegations of corruption.

Magashule was elected secretary-general in December as part of a mixed bag of leaders, while Mabe was appointed ANC spokesperson in February this year.

Last month, Mabe featured in a number of Mail & Guardian articles linking him to dodgy tenders. The publication implicated him in a multimillion-rand tender linked to North West’s government and another in Gauteng.

Mabe does not want to comment on the allegations and the effect they will have on his position as ANC spokesperson. He says he has lodged a complaint against the Mail & Guardian with the press ombudsman and will not comment further on the matter.

In his complaint, seen by the FM, Mabe accuses the Mail & Guardian of sensational and unbalanced reporting. He also calls the articles about him defamatory.

Mabe says in his complaint that associating him with unlawful behaviour serves "to lower [his] esteem" as a public figure, politician and senior member of the ANC in the eyes of the public.

"The complainant [Mabe] is an active citizen entrusted with playing a role in the political and socioeconomic development of the country.

"Accordingly, his integrity and virtue in the political arena and wider society in general are of paramount importance," he says in the ombudsman complaint.

"Therefore, the reckless publication by the Mail & Guardian of the allegations contained in the defamatory articles has lowered the complainant’s and by extension the ANC’s esteem in the minds of the public and severely damaged his reputation and good name."

Mabe is a former ANC Youth League treasurer, who served with Julius Malema, and a former MP.

He is no stranger to controversy. In September 2014, shortly after Mabe was elected to parliament, R2.2m worth of assets were seized from him and two others accused of defrauding the SA Social Security Agency.

Later that year he and his co-accused were cleared of the charges.

It is alleged in ANC circles that the only reason Mabe was appointed party spokesperson was no-one else was willing to work with secretary-general Magashule. Magashule, Free State premier since 2009, has also been linked to allegations of corruption and been drawn into allegations of state capture involving the Gupta family.

In June 2017, the Sunday Times reported that the Guptas had paid for Magashule’s sons, Thato and Tshepiso Gift Magashule, to enjoy an eight-day holiday at the Oberoi hotel in Dubai in December 2015.

What it means

The credibility of the ANC’s bid to eradicate graft could be harmed by Mabe and Magashule

Magashule also visited the Guptas at their Saxonwold compound in October 2012, according to a tranche of leaked Gupta e-mails.

According to an electronic diary entry created by Tony Gupta for October 2 2012, there was a scheduled meeting between "Gift Father" (thought to be a reference to Magashule) and Tony Gupta.

This year, the premier’s office in the Free State was raided by the Hawks in relation to the Estina dairy farm matter.

No formal charges have been laid against Magashule, however.

But Magashule is in a different role now. While he previously had a firm grip on the Free State, where he had been provincial leader for almost two decades, he is now part of the party’s national leadership. It’s something he seems to be finding difficult: Business Day has reported that Magashule has been criticised on a number of occasions for not fully carrying out instructions from the ANC’s top brass.

This, while he must communicate what the ANC is doing to the wider public, and present its message ahead of the 2019 elections.

Some in the party believe that persistent allegations of corruption against people such as Mabe and Magashule are part of the deeper factional battles still playing out in the ANC. They say some party members are trying to portray those who supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the run-up to the ANC’s Nasrec conference as corrupt.

With a year to go to the general elections, the ANC is focusing on cleaning up. But there are doubts about how credible these efforts will be while Magashule and Mabe are in their present positions.