Little trace of Ace Magashule's tale of struggle, book finds
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule's struggle record places him at the forefront of the broader liberation movement's fight against apartheid during the 1980s, but a new book pours cold water on some of the former Free State premier's self-professed struggle achievements.
Gangster State - Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture debunks claims made by Magashule that he was arrested and tried for "high treason" in 1982, while studying at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape.
Magashule first made the claim in an ANC Oral History Project interview and subsequently made it often enough for it to be taken at face value.
An internet search leads to several sites and platforms that still tell Magashule's history as a struggle triallist. These include Wikipedia and the ANC's own website. Magashule - along with Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, as well as fellow Free Stater Mosiuoa Lekota - is in the ANC's hall of fame.
But Magashule was never arrested and never prosecuted for treason.
Old newspapers in an archive beneath the Johannesburg City Library, court records and source accounts reveal the truth of Magashule's "treason" fib. After a run-in with the entourage of then Ciskei president Charles Sebe at Fort Hare's main campus in Alice in early May 1982, the former homeland's security forces arrested a group of about 20 protesting students. Magashule was among them.
The students were charged with public violence, fined and given suspended sentences. However, the state appealed and the sentences were increased to prison time of between one and three years. The available records do not indicate whether Magashule ever spent time in jail.
Two people who attended Fort Hare with Magashule allege his struggle stories are at odds with his activities as a student. A former member of the Azanian Students' Organisation (Azaso) and another who was a contemporary of Magashule at Fort Hare say Magashule was not actively involved in campus politics.
"Ace was not among those I knew to be activists, and he certainly was not a member of Azaso. He definitely did not help plan the disruption of Sebe's visit," they said.
Magashule appears to have exaggerated the disruption of Sebe's visit. In an interview for the history project, Magashule said he had been part of an attempt to "assassinate the state president of Ciskei". Magashule's former classmates dispute this.
"We [Azaso] planned to disrupt the visit, [but] there was no plan to kill Sebe," they said.
After the death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 2018, statements by Magashule regarding his relationship with her led to a public spat over his struggle background. COPE member Dennis Bloem, a former UDF activist, accused Magashule of fabrication.
But public service & administration minister Ayanda Dlodlo came to Magashule's defence, saying: "There is more than enough evidence to prove that Magashule was indeed in the liberation struggle. All too often we tend to want to erase those that we do not like . in a quest to satisfy our hate."
Bloem told the Sunday Times this week that he knew Magashule "was a leader there in Parys, he led people but was never a leader of the United Democratic Front".
Gangster State also fact-checks claims by Magashule that he carried out tasks during the struggle that could have come from a spy thriller, like smuggling cash hidden in teddy bears past airport security. Magashule makes the claim in a 2014 edition of Public Sector Magazine. A source who spent time with Magashule in the 1980s said: "It's true that Ace worked with money for struggle operations, but that thing [the teddy bear] is not true. It did not work like that."
Several other ANC stalwarts and former MK operatives agreed that Magashule's teddy-bear tale sounded outlandish. ANC veteran Khulu Mbatha, who wrote Unmasked: Why the ANC Failed to Govern, said it was highly unlikely that an underground operative would have used such tactics to bring money into the country. "There was nothing like that in those days," Mbatha said.
During a visit to the late struggle figure Stompie Seipei's home in Parys in 2018, Magashule claimed he had helped train the young activist in handling AK47s and hand grenades at Madikizela-Mandela's house in Soweto.
But two sources who formed part of Magashule's group of "internal exiles" in Hillbrow in the late 1980s said Magashule never had military training. Magashule and a few activists from the northern Free State based themselves in Hillbrow after run-ins with the security police.
Asked for comment, Magashule referred questions to ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete, who said the attack on Magashule's struggle credentials were "baseless fabrications".
"His activism in the UDF, the underground and being the longest-serving provincial chairperson remain indisputable facts, which are well known and documented." - Additional reporting by Bongani Fuzile