South Africa

ANALYSIS: Inside the NEC: How Ramaphosa dealt Ace a double blow and scored a victory for ANC reform

President Cyril Ramaphosa has agreed to a new land expropriation party committee in return for high-level party support for his tough stance on the step-aside rule.

Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule became the party’s Icarus who flew too close to the sun when he was hit by a double whammy from the reform wing at the party’s national executive committee (NEC) weekend meeting.

His campaign to avoid stepping aside from his position not only failed, but he has also been instructed to publicly apologise to the ANC for his attempt to suspend President Cyril Ramaphosa on 4 May.  

He is the first ANC top six leader to be told to publicly apologise or face a misconduct charge, which could result in expulsion for bringing the party into disrepute.  

Magashule reached the apogee of his power when he was appointed party secretary-general in 2017, a top dog role he had coveted for years. But, like the Greek god Icarus, whose wings came apart when the wax keeping them together melted when he ignored advice to keep it humble and fly below the sun, Magashule has tumbled, too.

In return for the blow struck for reform, Ramaphosa has had to concede that the country’s land reform programme is taking too long. The party’s grandé and lawyer Mathews Phosa has been appointed to chair a task team to guide the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution, which provides for land expropriation without compensation. 

Land reform and its slow pace could become Ramaphosa’s sword of Damocles as he faces two big party events he must get through to win a second presidential term.

These are a national general council and an elective conference in 2022, where senior officials say he is likely to have to run off against other candidates. There is a groundswell of opinion in the party that land reform is too slow and the draft law on land expropriation is too anaemic. On the other hand, land expropriation is like a red flag to the business community, whose support Ramaphosa needs to drive economic recovery.

The constitutional amendment on expropriation is before Parliament and is one of the most contested pieces of law in South Africa’s history. It sets out the process under which expropriation can happen. 

The official NEC statement did not include Phosa’s task team but Ramaphosa announced it as he closed the keenly watched weekend NEC meeting. The team could recommend more robust measures than in current draft laws.

Magashule went on a media roadshow after his suspension on 3 May, saying that he was still the party’s secretary-general and that he would attend the weekend’s NEC meeting.

But he got booted off the Zoom call by the party’s IT team when he logged on along with others who were not part of the meeting on Saturday, 8 May.  That set the tone for a meeting that, in the end, had tough words for Magashule. 

“The NEC discussed the ‘letter of suspension’ written by the Secretary-General to the President for which (he) had no authority or mandate from any structure of the movement,” said Ramaphosa in his closing remarks.

“The NEC agreed that such conduct was completely unacceptable and a flagrant violation of the rules, norms and values of the ANC. The NEC furthermore instructed the officials to advise the Secretary-General to apologise publicly to ANC structures and members within a strict time frame. 

“If he fails to do so, the ANC will institute disciplinary procedures in accordance with the ANC constitution.” 

Ramaphosa has steadily built support for reform and for stronger action against corruption. At the weekend, the ANC Women’s League gainsaid its president Bathabile Dlamini’s efforts to throw its support behind Magashule’s campaign, as Qaanitah Hunter reported for News24. In addition, the party’s head of campaigns, Nomvula Mokonyane, has put her support behind Ramaphosa.

At the weekend meeting, she reportedly criticised fellow NEC member Tony Yengeni who publicly campaigned for Magashule across all major media ahead of the NEC meeting. The most decisive intervention came from the party’s chairperson and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe, who was angered by Magashule’s midnight letter. 

The suspended secretary-general has had his wings clipped by the terms of the step-aside rule. He has to step aside because he faces 74 counts of fraud, theft, corruption, money laundering and asbestos regulation contraventions, along with 15 co-accused, in the Bloemfontein High Court.   

While Magashule will receive his full pay and benefits while suspended, he cannot represent the organisation publicly or in any forum; can’t make public pronouncements about the ANC and can’t mobilise ANC structures, organisations or individuals.

In addition, former president Kgalema Motlanthe will continue to hammer out a “political solution” in the divided Free State province – Magashule’s stronghold. The party’s national working committee will establish an interim structure before an elective conference is held.

This puts the kibosh on Magashule’s lieutenants in the province who wanted to take a Supreme Court of Appeal judgment, which dissolved the provincial leadership structure on appeal, to the Constitutional Court.

Magashule can appeal the party’s decision to suspend him to a committee chaired by ANC veteran leader Barbara Masekela, who sits with Josiah Jele, Daphney Nkosi, Johnny de Lange and Vusi Khanyile. They are all party veterans who are no-nonsense individuals. Or he can go to court to argue that his right to presumptive innocence is violated by the step-aside rule. 

The ANC statement implied that its MP Bongani Bongo had also been suspended. The former state security minister told News24 last week that he would take the party to court if he was suspended. The principle applies to about 30 other party leaders and members who are also facing corruption or other serious charges.

Some had stepped aside while others would now receive suspension letters, said Ramaphosa. 

“We must remember that the trust and support of the South African people should never be taken for granted,” said Ramaphosa as he closed the NEC meeting. 

“For as long as we are divided as leadership, for as long as we fail to act against corruption, and unless we put the needs of our people first, we will struggle to restore the credibility of the ANC.” DM

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