2019 ELECTIONS – ANALYSIS: Ace Magashule and the loneliness inside the ANC’s corner

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While this was the second last weekend before what everyone claims is the most contested elections since 1994, there still appears to be more attention paid to internal ANC politics than the election itself.

Source: 2019 ELECTIONS – ANALYSIS: Ace Magashule and the loneliness inside the ANC’s corner

While this was the second last weekend before what everyone claims is the most contested elections since 1994, there still appears to be more attention paid to internal ANC politics than the election itself.

The hum of the internal politics of the ANC broke into a buzz this weekend.

It is becoming clearer that the election results will simply be the setting of the playing field for what is to come, a likely showdown between the forces supporting President Cyril Ramaphosa, and those who are supporting ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. For the moment, it appears Magashule is an isolated political figure, reduced to bombast statements and wayward threats. The question is whether that is, in fact, the case, or whether his supporters are quietly waiting for the election to be over before publicly backing him. In the middle of all of this is the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema. As usual, this makes predicting future events fairly complex.

In Parys in the Free State, the ground zero of the Ace-heartland, Magashule’s supporters held what looked like a mini-rally in support of him. There were banners proclaiming their support for Magashule, and for Women’s Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, both very much beleaguered political figures too. What these three have in common is both their previous support for former President Jacob Zuma, and the multiple, and well-documented, claims of wrongdoing against them.

Parys is Magashule’s home base and where he has the strongest possible support. It is important in that he chose to go to what you could call the “base of his base” rather than in some other area which could have shown a broader spread of support.

Then there were the posters themselves. One of them, displaying the image of Dlamini, proclaimed, “Away with white domination away”. It is not clear at this stage what the link between the claims against Dlamini and the others have to do with “white domination” (and it was a foreign-owned company run by a Belgian who benefited from the social grants payments scandal while Dlamini was in charge there). But it is becoming clearer that the forces supporting Magashule (and others of that faction) are preparing to use race in their campaign. In other words, they will use the canard that Ramaphosa and his supporters are part of “White Monopoly Capital”, and that their faction is the victim of an organised campaign against them.

Magashule, of course, has hinted at this before. Just two weeks ago he told voters in Cape Town that people shouldn’t “waste their votes” on whites, in an apparent reference to the DA. All of this is an extension of the demands for “Radical Economic Transformation” that were used as part of the campaign supporting now Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma ahead of the ANC’s Nasrec elective conference in 2017.

While in Parys, Magashule also said that he was worried that state organs were being used against him.

When people have made this claim in the past about political issues, this has usually meant that the person who controls the intelligence organs (in other words the president of the day) has had people eavesdropping on phone conversations. While it is probably impossible to know if this is true, there have been complaints about this behaviour for years (the intelligence services were a key part of Zuma’s campaign against former President Thabo Mbeki in 2007, Fikile Mbalula complained about his conversations being listened to in 2012).

In 2016, before Nasrec, the Ramaphosa-supporting SACP complained of the same thing, saying the Hawks had been given a mandate to “harass communists”. Magashule appears not to have shared their concerns at the time. This indicates that he is only worried about this issue now because it is allegedly being used against him, while he was happy to remain silent when such tactics were alleged to be being used to benefit his faction.

Then, at the same time, Mbeki said, in an interview with the Sunday Times, that the ANC had to act on the corruption claims against Magashule (presumably he was referencing the book Gangster State by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, and the incredibly detailed claims made against Magashule within it). Mbeki said the ANC’s national executive committee simply had to discuss this issue, and cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist.

There is, of course, some history between Mbeki and Magashule. While Magashule was the leader of the Free State ANC during Mbeki’s tenure as president, Mbeki appeared to prevent the NEC of the time from selecting Magashule as Premier.

But the series of interviews that Mbeki has given over the last few days (starting with his public recommendation that people should vote for the ANC) suggests that the party may well need his support. This could be an indication the ANC is worried about losing Gauteng, and that Mbeki will remind those voters who voted for the party during his time in power and then stayed away from the polls in 2016, that they should return.

But it is also an indication that senior ANC leaders are now still, just 10 days away from an election, spending their energy on internal battles rather than simply presenting a united front and campaigning.

One wonders how this dynamic will actually end. This coming weekend the ANC is having its traditional pre-election “Siyanqoba rally” at Ellis Park. At some point, the ANC leadership will be presented on stage. Is it possible that Gauteng ANC supporters (and many others transported to the venue from other provinces) could actually boo certain ANC leaders? Just before an election. In previous polls, this would have been unthinkable. Somehow it does not appear completely impossible any more.

Then, in the middle of all of this, is Malema.

Magashule seemed to suggest over the weekend that he would like Malema to go back to Luthuli House, that “I love Julius. I am talking to him to return”. Malema, for his part, said that he would not return as “the ANC is dying”. He also made the point that he was finally expelled from the ANC by a conference (it was at Mangaung in 2012) and thus had to be “un-expelled” by a conference.

And therein lies the deeper complexity of this issue.

From time to time senior ANC leaders have said in public that they would like Malema to return. In March 2018, just at the height of the Ramaphoria season, both Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza said he should come back to the ANC. Other leaders have made the same point.

This inevitably leads to claims that Malema is about to return, and that that could lead to radical changes to the Constitution around land. However, there are other dynamics at play.

In an election, parties generally try to wound each other. One way of doing that is for the ANC to seriously suggest Malema is about to return. This would then both weaken him in the party, and lead some EFF voters to believe that they should stay away.

In other words, this could be a simple election ploy.

Malema is, of course, correct when he says it would require an ANC conference to “un-expel” him. This would surely be difficult to achieve. Malema has been so stingily critical of the ANC for so long that to get thousands of delegates to support his return (and then possibly to vote him into some position of influence) seems too big a stretch.

Also, surely a party that obviously wants the support of the incredibly orthodox Mbeki cannot also include the radical Malema. The two simply cannot coexist in the same political party for long.

Then there is the problem of Ramaphosa. While he is ANC leader now, he was the person who chaired the Disciplinary Appeals panel that ruled to finally expel Malema (the conference decision merely confirmed that ruling). To allow Malema back would be a slap in the face for him and undermine his authority. For this reason, and this reason alone, he could not allow it.

A re-entry by Malema would also upset the balance of power in the party in unpredictable ways. Thus it might be in no one’s real interests to allow him back, because it would be difficult to know what would happen next.

And all of that is before one asks the question, what would voters think of such a move? If this talk were to be seen as possibly culminating in something over the next week, it is likely that the DA’s base would be re-energised, which could see a big uptick in voters in the suburbs casting their ballots. Their claim that a vote for the ANC is a vote for Malema would be seen to be true, with the result that they might do better than previously expected.

In the end, perhaps the most important point to reiterate everything happening within the ANC at the moment is the staggering lack of support for Magashule. No figure of significance has come out to support him. He himself has not yet lodged the court challenge he promised against Myburgh’s book (a deadline he gave himself of “two weeks” to lodge court papers expired on Tuesday last week).

The key question then is whether there is a group of people who support him but are just waiting until after the election? If that group exists, it could make itself seen and heard in around two weeks from now, after the counting has been finished. But if this apparent silence continues, it could show that Magashule is in fact isolated.

And if that is the case, it may only take a simple move by the National Prosecuting Authority to bring Ace Magashule’s term as secretary-general to an abrupt end. DM