'The NEC must put its foot down': Ace’s foes push for his removal over charges

Thousands, including ANC leaders, back Magashule in Bloem

15 November 2020 - 00:01 By Kgothatso Madisa and Amanda Khoza
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule's court appearance is expected to reignite the debate in the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) about whether leaders charged criminally should step down.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule's court appearance is expected to reignite the debate in the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) about whether leaders charged criminally should step down.
Image: Esa Alexander

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule's Friday attack on his party foes was a pushback against calls for him to step aside following fraud and corruption charges against him.

The charges are expected to reignite the debate in the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) about whether leaders charged criminally should step down. The next NEC meeting is at the end of the month.

Magashule is also expected to be taken to task at the party's top six meeting tomorrow for saying the NEC has no powers to remove him. The NEC is the highest decision-making body of the party between conferences.

Several NEC members told the Sunday Times that Magashule would have to step aside. They said this was a resolution taken at the party's conference in 2017.

The ANC's head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, when asked about the resolution, said: "When I look at the resolution of conference, that is what it says."

Godongwana said he would make his views known at the next NEC meeting.

The ANC national chairman, Gwede Mantashe, declined to comment on Magashule's comments about not stepping down.

"The officials will meet on Monday to discuss developments around the arrest of the secretary-general. It is a complex issue."

Asked if Magashule's comments were not a contradiction of the resolution, Mantashe said: "The structures of the organisation must deal with that issue."

Another NEC member, who asked not to be named, said Magashule should take leave to protect the ANC from being dragged into his corruption trial.

"Every day he is going to be asked to explain his corruption charges. We are not saying he must resign, and stepping aside does not mean you're guilty of the crime," said the member. "The NEC must put its foot down or else we're going to be in trouble," he said.

On Friday, Magashule told his supporters outside the Bloemfontein magistrate's court that only the ANC branches could remove him. He was granted bail of R200,000 by the court after his arrest and appearance on charges of corruption.

His remarks were perceived as a response to President Cyril Ramaphosa's insistence that ANC members facing charges should step aside from their positions.

"I've never seen one individual in the ANC deciding for us. It will never happen while we are there," Magashule said. "The ANC is an organisation of branches. That is why I will respect the voices of branches.

"I was elected by branches of the ANC. We must go to a special conference and the branches must say to me, 'Comrade Magashule, step aside'.

"I will then do so because it will be coming from the basic units of the ANC, the branches that voted for us at conference. Nobody can remove us."

Magashule appears to draw on the thousands who supported him in Bloemfontein and on party leaders he inherited from Jacob Zuma.

Some of those leaders believe that state machinery is being used against Magashule.

Magashule's 21 charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering relate to the R255m tender to replace the asbestos roofs of low-cost houses in the Free State where he had been premier.

He joins others being charged, among them businessman Edwin Sodi and former Mangaung mayor Olly Mlamleli.

Some senior ANC leaders supported Magashule in court. Most are Zuma allies. They did not vote for Ramaphosa in 2017, or fell out with him, or face legal challenges of their own. They also stood behind Zuma in 2018 when the party urged him to resign.

The party leaders who supported Magashule on Friday included Mlamleli, MP Bongani Bongo, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, former finance minister Malusi Gigaba, ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe, NEC members Tony Yengeni, Tandi Mahambehlala and former transport minister Joe Maswanganyi, Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina and Umkhonto weSizwe Veterans Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus.

Yengeni said Magashule was not going anywhere and that no-one could stop the secretary-general's supporters from rallying behind him. Yengeni said that only an ANC national conference could make Magashule stand down.

"Because the SG [secretary-general] is innocent, the SG is going nowhere," Yengeni told the crowd.

"Comrade Magashule is going nowhere, he's going nowhere. He was elected by branches of the ANC at conference; Comrade Magashule will be removed from that position by branches of the ANC in a national conference."

Maswanganyi said it was clear that law enforcement agencies were being used to settle political scores, but he would not say who was using them.

- Additional reporting by Sibongakonke Shoba


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