The supporters of ANC secretary general Ace Magashule are leading a flare up of factionalism within the party, with moves that are being read by political analysts as a call to recall president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Magashule appeared in court this past week on charges of fraud and corruption related to an asbestos eradication contract in the Free State in 2014, when the secretary general was premier of the province.
It is alleged that he benefitted from the contract, which was tendered at R255 million but saw only R21 million used for the actual project.
Ahead of his court appearance, the ANC said that no members should attend the proceedings in any official party capacity, but rather as individuals and friends, should they want to show their support.
However, this was openly defied by Magashule’s supporters, who sported party colours, and reportedly burned T-shirts with Ramaphosa’s face on them.
According to the City Press, Magashule’s supporters within the upper reaches of the party held meetings this past weekend to plot the secretary general’s defence as well as to address ‘leadership issues’ within the party.
They reportedly want to review the composition of party leadership ahead of the party’s National General Conference to be held in 2021 – which analysts believe, is a call to remove Ramaphosa.
The latest charges against Magashule are seen by him and his supporters as politically motivated. The National Prosecuting Authority, meanwhile, says it has a strong case against him.
The ANC’s top leadership issued a directive in August that all members who face legal charges should step aside from their duties, though none has done so yet, Bloomberg reported.
Magashule suggested he’ll defy any order by the party’s National Executive Committee to step aside. “Nobody can remove us,” Magashule said.
The ANC is currently working on a legal framework that will set out the conditions under which members should step aside. It’s expected to discuss Magashule’s position at its next meeting, a date for which hasn’t been announced yet.
“Ace Magashule is going nowhere,” Tony Yengeni, a member of the NEC, told the crowd of supporters. “He will finish his term.”
While the ANC puts up a united front, behind the scenes the party often wages different factional wars, with members in the national executive council (NEC) representing varying interests.
The moves against Ramaphosa are also nothing new. In a NEC meeting held at the end of August, some members – including convicted fraud, Tony Yengeni – had mooted his removal ahead of proceedings.
In an analysis of the ANC’s political make-up following the party’s August NEC meeting, Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto said it was unlikely that any calls to remove the president would fly until at least 2022, when the ANC elective conference will be held.
The analyst said that while it seems as if the president enjoys wide support within his party, the fractured make-up of the NEC since 2017 – when Ramaphosa dramatically beat out former president Jacob Zuma’s preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the presidency – persists today.
“(Ramaphosa) continues to have a broad majority, but that is factious and composed of many smaller sub-factions, as we have often outlined since NASREC,” Attard Montalto said.
“These elements have no intention of moving against him except at the 2022 elective conference, where the broad and fragile nature of his coalition is important. Some elements are certainly considering splitting off – such as Cosatu which is already somewhat split against him and raising red flags on both corruption and growth plans.”
However, the analyst said that even these factions were unlikely to side with the ‘opposition’ internally – now characterised as a so-called ‘Magashule faction’ – to remove Ramaphosa early.
This is because there is no viable alternative to Ramaphosa at this stage whatsoever, he said, while noting that it is “almost impossible” to remove the ANC President via that route, requiring five of nine provinces to back a motion of removal and then a majority at the NEC.
“We think (that plan) would fall at both hurdles,” he said.