Tensions are rising in the corridors of Luthuli House. As ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and others now face the prospect of criminal prosecution, the political fightback by the faction aligned to President Jacob Zuma is intensifying — with Magashule at the heart of the revolt.

Magashule, who is also the Free State premier, awoke last Friday to the Hawks raiding his Bloemfontein office in connection with the Vrede dairy farm project, which allegedly benefited the Gupta family and bankrolled their 2013 Sun City wedding. Poor farmers, the intended beneficiaries of the dairy project, were diddled out of cash.

But on Sunday Magashule had the audacity to come out swinging as he addressed an ANC Youth League event in KwaZulu Natal, labelling those who want Zuma removed from the Union Buildings as "factionalists" and "populists".

It was a clear dig at ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and his deputy David Mabuza who, the Financial Mail understands, was the first to raise Zuma’s removal with the party’s officials.

"Stay focused, it is just a matter of five years, comrades," Magashule told the ANC Youth League. "Conference happens after each and every five years, so let’s work hard."

It was nothing less than a call to arms for Nasrec’s fallen. Magashule’s address was preceded by a message of support from the ANC Women’s League, delivered by the would-be first female president, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Magashule, who controls the ANC’s engine room as secretary-general, is openly bucking against Ramaphosa. While the ANC is seeking to change perceptions that it is decaying, his message is one of open revolt. In a putative era of renewal, there is toxicity in the heart of the ANC.

Magashule is either bold or desperate. But his actions are typical of his faction: years of unchecked power and intolerance have been entrenched. They reject accountability.

Accountability will come anyway. The Hawks are apparently closing in, spurred more likely by progress in international investigations than by Ramaphosa’s election. The FBI is investigating because the Guptas’ nephews, Amol and Ashish Gupta, are US citizens who have allegedly helped the family score an estimated R140m.

And the Hawks’ statement that they’re about to make an announcement that will "shake the country" is welcome.

Still, as Magashule’s tirade this weekend illustrated, this faction isn’t going to go quietly. The Zupta propaganda machine is kicking into gear, with ANN7’s owner Mzwanele Manyi reporting from the Vrede farm on the multitude of cattle on display — to counter the allegations of looting.

From Luthuli House, Magashule and his deputy Jessie Duarte are resisting. In the Union Buildings, Zuma is also digging in his heels.

On the ground, Zuma-aligned structures are pushing ahead with conferences aimed at isolating Ramaphosa’s new leadership. There is even talk within this group of calling an early national general council to deal with Ramaphosa — to suspend or remove him.

Ramaphosa backers are unlikely to take it lying down. The Eastern Cape provincial executive committee has called for Zuma’s speedy removal as president, while Cosatu in Mpumalanga has accused Zuma of treason and has urged the ANC’s leaders to act against him.

Ramaphosa had better act fast or lose the momentum he gained a mere month ago. But what is clear is that talk of unity is a farce.

Ramaphosa is pushing renewal, while the Zuma-ites are intent on the continuation of his legacy of division, factionalism, corruption and patronage. It is about to get even messier.

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