'Look, Ace is a ladies' man': why Magashule was kicked out of Chris Hani's exile house
If some of his comrades are to be believed, Magashule exaggerated his struggle credentials. Then, Pieter-Louis Myburgh writes in this extract from his book, Gangster State, there was Magashule's controversial support for Winnie in the Stompie case - and the behaviour that him kicked out of Chris Hani's house in exile
Of the late 1980s, Ace Magashule had this to say: "I was a high profile person during those times in the UDF. In '86, '87 I was part when other leaders were arrested and became part of the National Executive Committee of the UDF."
The term "high profile" may be a bit of a stretch. While it is true that Magashule did begin to take a more active leadership role in the UDF in the second half of the decade, his ascendancy needs to be assessed against the backdrop of the crisis facing the organisation after 1985.
After Mosiuoa Lekota, Popo Molefe and other members of the core leadership were detained, the UDF was forced to form interim leadership structures.
"Ace only rose in the UDF ranks after the second state of emergency [in June 1986] and after the UDF was listed as an affected organisation," said one of Magashule's struggle-era contemporaries from the Free State.
"There were co-ordinators from the various provinces who formed something like an NEC, but unlike the earlier NEC, the leaders weren't elected to this structure."
There may have been some resentment in the Lekota camp about the fact that Magashule's group had wriggled into more prominent positions within the movement while the likes of Lekota had been rendered politically inactive because of the Delmas Treason Trial.
Apart from his role as a point of contact for incoming underground operatives, Magashule has also claimed that he helped to take MK recruits out of the country.
"We made sure that a lot of people left after '84 . up to '90," he said in his ANC Oral History Project interview.
The former MK member from around Parys claimed this was an "absolute lie". "There is no-one who would be able to corroborate that claim," he insisted.
DISPUTED VERSION OF HISTORY
After Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's death, Magashule visited the mother of slain struggle activist Stompie Seipei, who also hailed from Tumahole.
The event received a fair amount of media coverage, and Magashule spoke about his involvement with Madikizela-Mandela during the late 1980s.
Dennis Bloem took umbrage at Magashule's claims. "Yesterday I listened . while he [Magashule] sat with Stompie Seipei's mother, telling the nation how he took more than 100 young comrades out of the country for military training with Mama Winnie," an angry Bloem said in a statement.
"He knows that he did not do this, only Mama Winnie did."
According to one of Magashule's former associates from the time of their "internal exile" in Hillbrow, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
"Our unit in Johannesburg did assist people to get out of the country, and Winnie did help us to get people out, but it wasn't anywhere near 100 people," said this source. "I can only think of about 20 people that we helped to get out."
In an apparent attempt to latch onto the renewed popularity of Madikizela-Mandela in the days after her death, Magashule used his visit with Seipei's mother to reiterate a widely circulated view that Madikizela-Mandela had not been responsible for Seipei's death in the late 1980s, and the apartheid government's security and intelligence apparatus had instead fabricated her involvement as part of a smear campaign. In doing so, he made claims about his activities during the struggle that appear to be untrue.
"We knew [she did not kill Seipei], because we had been working with Mama Winnie, we have been there all the time," Magashule told journalists.
"We all ran away from the Free State and we were there, we trained Stompie and the others how to use an AK-47, how to use a hand grenade, at Mama Winnie's place."
Two of Magashule's struggle compatriots from the Hillbrow days, one a former MK operative from the Free State and a former UDF leader, both said Magashule was talking nonsense.
"Is he saying he trained a child to be a soldier? If that is the case, whatever they were doing there was not an MK operation," said the former UDF leader, whose proximity to Madikizela-Mandela was such that she visited the hospital when one of his children was born.
Previously, Magashule claimed to have received his own military training "inside the country. When I left [SA] I had already received a lot of thorough training," he said.
But the former MK member from the Parys area insisted that Magashule was not trained by anyone from MK. "If he learnt how to use an assault rifle or hand grenades, he needs to tell us who taught him that."
One of the sources from the Hillbrow crew said Magashule never underwent any military training and that he was in no way capable of handling an AK-47 or a hand grenade, never mind instructing anyone else how to use them.
"We once received a bag full of firearms and ammunition that we needed to get to actual MK operatives, and Ace wanted to check them out and handle them," recalled this source. "We were in a hotel, and I told him to leave the things, he was going to get himself killed or he was going to expose us."
In his public statement, Bloem accused Magashule of abusing Madikizela-Mandela's legacy for his own political gain.
"It is very painful for me to see and listen [to] how some people are using Mama Winnie's passing to promote their own names and egos," he fumed. "It is very sad that people such as Mr Ace Magashule can stoop so low."
Bloem later told me that he had been in regular contact with Caleb Motshabi, an MK operative who established and oversaw the primary network through which the Free State's underground recruits were transported from Thaba 'Nchu, near Bloemfontein, to Lesotho. According to Bloem, Motshabi never mentioned that Magashule was in any way involved in the process. "After I exposed Ace, many ANC comrades contacted me and told me someone needed to say this, this thing needed to come out," Bloem told me.
As expected, Bloem's public accusations drew criticism from people sympathetic to Magashule. In a letter to the Sunday Independent, former MK member and public service and administration minister Ayanda Dlodlo came to his aid. "There is more than enough evidence to prove that Magashule was indeed in the liberation struggle not as a planted enemy, but as a freedom fighter," she wrote. "All too often, we tend to want to erase those that we do not like for whatever reason, in a quest to satisfy our hate."
It is also worth noting that Stompie Seipei's mother, Mananki, does not share Magashule's view that Madikizela-Mandela was not involved in her son's death.
I went to her home in Tumahole several months after Magashule's visit.
LAST SEEN GOING TO WINNIE'S HOUSE
Mananki's daughter translated her heartbreaking recollection of Stompo, which is the original nickname his family gave him because of his diminutive figure. His mother does not know when "Stompo" became "Stompie".
Mananki was upset that some media reports had suggested that she too believed Madikizela-Mandela was innocent. "The stories that said Stompie's mom believes Winnie did not kill Stompie are not true, she never said that," explained Mananki's daughter.
"What she said was that she forgave whoever was responsible for his death. All she knows about his death is that he was last seen going to Winnie's house."
There is a backstory to the Seipei saga that might explain why Magashule wants to create the impression that Stompie's mother shares his belief in Madikizela-Mandela's innocence.
In November 1988, about a month before Seipei's brutal murder at the hands of members of Madikizela-Mandela's infamous Mandela United Football Club, Magashule showed up at Reverend Paul Verryn's office at the South African Council of Churches' headquarters. In those days, the SACC's offices were at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg. Verryn had had intermittent contact with Magashule's group of internal exiles, and had even conducted the ceremony when Magashule married his wife, Seipati, at the Central Methodist Church in 1987.
When Magashule came to Verryn at the end of 1988, he had with him a young boy whom Verryn would later come to know as Stompie, a 14-year-old political activist from Magashule's hometown in the Free State. According to Verryn, Magashule was also accompanied by Matthew Chaskalson. Chaskalson, however, recalled that Magashule or one of the other comrades from Parys had come to fetch Seipei from his house in Johannesburg, after which he never saw the boy again.
Whatever the case, Magashule wanted Verryn to take Seipei into his care at his parsonage in Soweto, which was near Madikizela-Mandela's house. Magashule was concerned for Seipei's safety, as he had been recently apprehended by the security police and risked re-arrest. Verryn agreed to take Seipei in.
But shortly after he arrived in Soweto, members of the Mandela United Football Club kidnapped Seipei and three other youths from the parsonage.
They were taken to Madikizela-Mandela's house, where "Mama Winnie" and other club members viciously assaulted them and accused Seipei of being a spy for the security police, according to the testimony of one of the surviving youths at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. A week later, Seipei's body was found near Madikizela-Mandela's house. His throat had been cut.
Jerry Richardson, one of Madikizela-Mandela's bodyguards, later told the TRC that he had "slaughtered" Seipei "like a sheep" after Madikizela- Mandela had ordered him to do so. While Madikizela-Mandela was later only convicted on charges of kidnapping and accessory to assault, she will forever remain a key figure in the story of Seipei's murder.
Is it possible that Magashule, who had all but delivered his young comrade from Tumahole to death's door, felt guilty about his role in this dark part of our history? It might explain why he was all too willing to absolve Madikizela-Mandela of any apartheid-era atrocities, especially concerning Seipei.
Magashule did not speak directly about the incident during his ANC Oral History Project interview, but he addressed, in broad terms, the killing of innocents who had been accused of collaborating with the apartheid state.
"They say in any struggle obviously there would be victims," he said.
"A lot of people, I think, were innocent. I know even in the country here when we were still fighting inside there were some of the comrades [who] were labelled by most of us in the country as enemies, infiltrators and spies.
"And it turned out not to be true."
In February 1989, the Mass Democratic Movement, which had been formed in the wake of the government's clampdown on the UDF, formally distanced itself from Madikizela-Mandela. The Seipei saga had been the final straw in a series of reports about how her so-called football club had been terrorising the people of Soweto.
Several sources familiar with events say Magashule was one of the few people who defended Madikizela-Mandela. He tried to persuade the MDM to reconsider its decision, but to no avail. "Ace was a very vocal supporter of Winnie," said one such source. "He campaigned very hard for the movement not to abandon her."
THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL
When asked why Magashule continued to support her, one of his former associates from the Hillbrow unit had this to say: "His motivation was money. Winnie raised a lot of money for the movement, and some of that money came Ace's way."
Madikizela-Mandela and Magashule maintained close ties during this period, but things were not always smooth between them. The same source told me that Magashule once crashed a car that belonged to Madikizela- Mandela.
"Ace was driving Winnie's Volkswagen Golf in Soweto when he crashed and rolled the car near the Moroka police station. It was a bad crash, and we were all nearly killed. We had to quickly get out of there because the incident happened so close to a police station."
The accident apparently sparked conflict between Magashule and lawyer Dali Mpofu, a close companion of Madikizela-Mandela who later became her legal representative following Seipei's death. "Dali made a lot of trouble for us," my source said, "because he told Winnie that we were drunk. But that wasn't the case. Ace just lost control of the car because he was a bad driver."
Magashule's Hillbrow days came to an end not long after Seipei's murder.
At some point in 1989, the group of internal exiles was staying in a flat in the Vistaero apartment building in Berea. "We were living next to another MK guy," said one source. "He had been sent to establish a route out of the country via Swaziland, but he was arrested in Nelspruit."
The arrest sparked panic among Magashule's group. "There were no cellphones, so we didn't really know what was going on," the source continued, "but we suspected that our neighbour had spilt the beans on us when he was interrogated. We saw a white guy in the street who was checking out our apartment, so we decided to move to another flat in the same building."
One night shortly thereafter, police raided the old apartment. "The cops stormed the apartment and practically tore it to pieces. They arrested one guy who did not move out with us, and they also took Ace's son, who was also still in the apartment." The son was Tshepiso, Magashule's firstborn child with Seipati and a young boy at the time.
Magashule referred to the incident in his interview for the ANC Oral History Project, although he placed it somewhat earlier in the timeline of events. "My first-born child was arrested at John Vorster [the police headquarters in downtown Johannesburg], I can't remember, in 1987, when they were looking for me, and he was only four years [old]. They thought I would hand over myself and I did not do so."
According to one of my Hillbrow sources, Tshepiso was released and Seipati took care of him from that point onwards.
The raid set in motion the Hillbrow group's period of actual exile.
"We never intended to leave the country, but that incident forced us to do so," said one source. "We stayed at the Carlton Hotel for about three weeks after the raid, but it was getting too expensive, so we decided to go to Zambia."
The group left the country through Swaziland, arriving in Zambia in October 1989. Magashule left behind Seipati, Tshepiso and his youngest son, Thato, who had been born in January 1988.
"My family did not follow me," Magashule told the ANC Oral History Project. "I had to leave them behind. It was difficult." He may have left his family, but he did take a young woman named Adelaide with him.
When they arrived in Zambia, the group was allowed to stay in Chris Hani's house in Lusaka. Magashule took pride in the fact that he rubbed shoulders with Hani. "I did even stay with comrade Chris for some time when I was in Zambia," he later said. "He was one of those people who had a very serious impact on my life."
But one of his fellow exiles from the Hillbrow unit recalls that Hani did not approve of Magashule's behaviour.
"Look, Ace is a ladies' man. He likes to always have women with him. So during that time, apart from having Adelaide with him, he was also bringing other women to Hani's house." This landed Magashule's crew in hot water with Hani and the rest of the ANC's top brass. "They said we were putting the house at risk by bringing strange women there, so we were kicked out," my source revealed.
• These are edited extracts from Gangster State by Pieter-Louis Myburgh (R290, Penguin Books)..