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How Cyril Ramaphosa won ANC power play

It was a showdown more than three years in the making.
Image: Bloomberg

It was a showdown more than three years in the making.

Escalating tensions in South Africa’s ruling African National Congress finally came to a head on Wednesday when its Secretary-General Ace Magashule was informed by his deputy, Jessie Duarte, that he’d been suspended pending his trial on graft charges.

Magashule hit back hours later, insisting that he wasn’t going anywhere and notifying party leader and President Cyril Ramaphosa that he was the one being suspended for violating campaign funding rules.

While the bizarre standoff could ultimately end up in court, Ramaphosa clearly has the upper hand. The president has the backing of most members of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, or NEC, which calls the shots in the party and has unequivocally stated that all officials facing prosecution will have their membership revoked if they refuse to quit their posts.

“Ace is finished,” said Joanmariae Fubbs, a veteran ANC member and former lawmaker, said by phone from Johannesburg. “His so-called lieutenants who always have supported him have seen which way the political wind is blowing and are deserting him.”

An NEC meeting scheduled for this weekend should provide clarity on how much residual support Magashule and his allies retain within its ranks. Its expected confirmation of his suspension will boost Ramaphosa’s prospects of wining a second term as ANC leader next year and extending his presidency for another five years in 2024.

Magashule, 61, stands accused of corruption, fraud and money-laundering relating to an audit contract issued while he was premier of the central Free State province, and his trial is due to resume in August. He denies wrongdoing.

Campaign funding

While Ramaphosa, 68, is fighting a lawsuit aimed at forcing him to disclose who paid for his campaign to win control of the ANC, he hasn’t been prosecuted and there is no party provision for Magashule to unilaterally discipline him.

Ramaphosa, who’s trying to attract billions of dollars in new investment to rebuild an economy battered by the coronavirus, has identified the fight against graft as a top priority. His efforts have been undermined by Magashule, who has emphasised the need to distribute land and wealth to the black majority and nationalize the central bank.

The news of Magashule’s suspension has buoyed the financial markets, with the rand rising for a second day against the dollar on Thursday.

The power play dates back to December 2017, when more than 4 000 ANC representatives gathered at the Nasrec conference center in Soweto near Johannesburg to choose a replacement for Jacob Zuma, who was stepping down as party leader after two terms.

Zuma threw his backing behind his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran politician in her own right. But Ramaphosa, a lawyer who founded the National Union of Mineworkers, led the negotiations to end apartheid and then accumulated a fortune after founding his own investment company, ultimately emerged as the winner with 52% of the vote.

His victory was somewhat tainted because Zuma allies secured several other leadership posts. Magashule’s razor-thin win over Senzo Mchunu — now the public service minister — in the race for secretary-general was particularly galling because whoever fills the post has control over the day-to-day running of the ANC and has the potential to influence who gets to vote in future leadership contests.

Zuma’s scandal-marred nine-year rule had caused the ANC to hemorrhage support and it forced him to quit in February 2018 under threat of impeachment. Ramaphosa replaced him and set about purging most Zuma allies from the cabinet and removing the heads of the National Prosecuting Agency, South African Revenue Service and other key state institutions.

But the new president struggled to exert his authority over the NEC, which was directly elected by the ANC delegates. It included a large contingent of Zuma loyalists loosely coalesced around Magashule that was dubbed the radical economic transformation faction.

Magashule repeatedly undermined Ramaphosa, refusing to credit him for the party’s resounding 2019 election victory and contradicting several of his policy pronouncements. Leaked accounts of NEC meetings indicated the rival factions were constantly at each others’ throats. Magashule often delivered statements about the panel’s deliberations that other members contradicted.

Upper hand

The first indication that Ramaphosa was gaining the upper hand came in last July, when he took over the communication of the NEC’s decisions. Then the panel announced that it would implement a resolution the ANC had adopted at its 2017 conference to force officials to step down or be suspended.

After Magashule was charged in November, the ANC’s ethics committee recommended that he should quit or have his membership withdrawn. His fate was sealed at a March meeting of the NEC, which gave him 30 days to vacate his post. He refused, triggering his suspension, which will be reviewed every six months.

Several other Ramaphosa foes are also in the firing line, including Bongani Bongo, who served as Zuma’s state security minister and is facing graft charges. He denies wrongdoing.

Zuma’s legal travails have further strengthened Ramaphosa’s grip.

The nation’s top court is currently deciding whether to jail the former president for defying its order to testify before a judicial panel that’s investigating graft during his presidency. He’s also set to face trial on May 17 on charges that he took bribes from arms dealers in the 1990s.

Read: Ramaphosa tightens hold on ANC with suspension of Magashule

© 2021 Bloomberg

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I would rather we had Zumba back because we all know he is a thief. Ramaphosa is more dangerous because he is able to deceive the rich and powerful in SA with his smooth words. Ironically the poor and “uneducated” in SA see through him and so do many others.

You want Zumba back? seriously? do you want the Rand at R50 to the Dollar?

Pres. Ramaphosa is an educated individual, corporate tiger, best guy to sort out all the problems.

The Ramaphosa camp has had to try and rectify ten years of looting and mega corruption.

I wish he would be around as President for another 50 years!

TheSpeculator – I agree – we must also remember that part and partial did Ramaphosa stop the bloodbath that would’ve been in 1994. The negotiations on either side was not to everybody’s cup of tea, but if not for Ramaphosa, it could’ve been a lot worse for both sides. Meyer was his puppet, and so hopefully it will prove that Ace and Zuma will be too!

Ramaposer may well be the best the ANC can come up with, but if South Africa is depending on the ANC – that bunch of thieves and incompetents – to produce someone to get us out of the mess they’ve put us in we’re doomed anyway.

@TheSpeculator You are right he is educated, an educated communist. Remember that the ANC is firmly rooted in communism and so do its leaders (apart form Mandela and Mbheki under whose leadership the SA economy grew). Do you know that foreign investment continued to decline under Ramaphosa? This was before the lockdown. Foreigners see what you are blind to see. Never trust a commie.

This Lekker Oak is not so lekker…

JZ783 was gauche
CR2017 is suave

Both are liars, racists and thieves.
Both ARE the ANC.

The ‘party’ is not over yet. Cyril is proving to be complicit in the ANC’s wrong doing and untrustworthy.

OK So Cyril isn’t as bad as Ace…They’re both ANC politicians who’ve both held senior positions in the party for a very long time…
Potato/Potato…All the same once peeled & boiled…

The ANC is a den of thieves or a coven of witches – you choose

The faction-fighting in the ANC comes as no surprise to farmers who understand the particular socio-economic group.

The experienced farmer knows that the situation will sort itself out if his staff gets hold of the keys to the cellar and food store while he is away on holiday. Those who feel relatively deprived because others beat them to the supply of wine and meat will always spill the beans. The staff will fight among themselves and incriminate each other to their own detriment.

The only way to restore harmony among staff is to calculate the value of the stuff that was stolen, and then agree to sell those products to them at ten times the value. It was not theft then, it was a transaction at an inflated price. This implies that the owner actually “stole” from the staff.

Every member of the staff loses, but they are happy now because those who stole the least feel vindicated. Everybody pays for his crimes, and the “transaction” ensures that the farmer benefits both financially and because he restored cohesion among his workforce.

Farmers have the pragmatic solution for this countries problems because they understand their “customers”. If you need to guard the keys to the cellar it implies that your processes and management system are inferior and ineffective.

Don’t be fools.

The ANC is still the ANC. The president is just the face of the ANC.

That Ramaphosa supposedly “won” the supposed power play is all just smoke and mirrors. Magashule is still on full pay and his suspension is “temporary”

Even if Magashule stays away permanently (which he wont), the criminal networks are still weaved into the ANC, and the ANC policies of BEE and EWC and cadre deployment that continue to destroy South Africa are exactly the same.

The ANC will never expel Magashule.

End of comments.

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