Drumbeat of defeat for Ace at NEC
Secretary-general hamstrung by range of key votes
It was the election of Gwen Ramakgopa to the national working committee (NWC) of the ANC that revealed who had the upper hand in the national executive committee (NEC) meeting last weekend.
Ramakgopa was nominated by a group aligned to President Cyril Ramaphosa. ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s allies threw state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo’s name into the ring for the position that was created when Nomaindia Mfeketo resigned from the structure following her deployment as SA’s ambassador to Washington.
The vote took place on Saturday morning, but the results were announced only on Sunday, just before the NEC discussed the thorny issue of whether leaders facing criminal charges should step aside from their positions. Ramakgopa won by a landslide of 53 votes, with Dlodlo managing only 39. Insiders said this was when it became clear that Ramaphosa had the upper hand at the heated virtual meeting.
However, the president had already won other important battles at the meeting: the overwhelming rejection of the radical economic transformation (RET) forces, led by Magashule’s ally and staffer, Carl Niehaus, and the NEC’s condemnation of the lobby group’s activities.
When the ANC decided to muzzle the group and its allies — formations such as the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association — it paved the way for the NEC to take the important “step aside” decision without any fear of being contradicted by ANC members.
And then there was the burning issue of the parliamentary process to investigate public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s suitability for office. Magashule and his allies had been vocal in lambasting the ANC caucus’s decision to support the probe — a DAinitiated process. But the ANC NEC endorsed the caucus’s backing of the investigation into Mkhwebane, saying the independent panel’s report showed that the public protector has a case to answer.
Another attempt at delay
The NEC had also reiterated its support for the commission of inquiry into state capture. Before the NEC meeting, the commission had come under attack from Magashule’s backers and from former president Jacob Zuma, who is defying a Constitutional Court order for him to appear before it. The NEC distanced the ANC from the attacks on the judiciary.
NEC member and policy guru Joel Netshitenzhe had set the tone for the meeting by penning an opinion piece attacking Magashule and the RET group. Netshitenzhe pulled no punches in his criticism of Magashule’s behaviour, and insiders said Netshitenzhe repeated these statements in Magashule’s presence at the NEC meeting.
The final nail in Magashule’s coffin came from Netshitenzhe’s one-time boss, former president Thabo Mbeki, who told the meeting the ANC needed
to urgently attend to the issue of a weakening secretary-general’s office.
When the results of the vacant NWC position were announced, the Ramaphosa faction was already in the driving seat.
“As we went into the step-aside debate it was a clear sign which side would win. That is why they [Magashule’s supporters] refused when we said let’s vote on the matter,” said a Ramaphosa backer.
Players who may have helped tip the scale in favour of Magashule, such as Gauteng provincial secretary Jacob Khawe, had earlier lost the debate on the postponing of the vote. They had argued, along with Mpumalanga provincial structures, that this policy be looked at again as it appears to have been formulated to specifically deal with Magashule.
They told the meeting that the NEC should establish another structure to be the final arbiter on the matter, but were defeated.
Insiders said Ramaphosa’s allies — Netshitenzhe, Enoch Godongwana, Zizi Kodwa, Fikile Mbalula, Ronald Lamola and Snuki Zikalala, among others — played a huge role in tipping the scales in his favour.
Rumours commence flying
The NEC outcome has strengthened Ramaphosa’s hand. His backers and ordinary citizens were growing increasingly frustrated with his failure to take stern action against those of his detractors who are on the wrong side of the law. A decision compelling leaders facing charges to vacate office was taken in August last year — but it took seven months for the NEC to decide on a timeframe for this.
Magashule is unlikely to step aside voluntarily; he is expected to force Ramaphosa to suspend him — but even if Magashule is suspended and dragged before a disciplinary committee, this is not the end of the road. The real battle is about to begin.
Magashule will play the victim card — a strategy exhausted by his idol, Zuma. Zuma voluntarily stepped down as ANC deputy president after Mbeki fired him as deputy president of the country. He portrayed himself as the victim of a political conspiracy to block him from the highest office. He was reinstated as ANC deputy president at the party’s 2005 national general council after he received overwhelming support from branches.
That is why Magashule’s backers are pushing for the ANC to hold its long overdue national general council. They have been hard at work already, spreading claims that Ramaphosa is not a genuine ANC leader, but takes instruction from big business. The strategy includes insinuating that Ramaphosa may have been a CIA spy. Ramaphosa’s detractors have intensified the noise about the CR17 campaign, and are claiming that judges may have been on his payroll, hence the hostility towards Zuma and Mkhwebane. This is done in the hope that some or all of the claims will stick — so that when Ramaphosa’s detractors strike at the next crucial national gathering, they have the backing of branches.
However, the NEC outcome makes it difficult for the president’s rivals to launch public attacks, as opposing lobby groups have effectively been banned. When Zuma turned the tables on Mbeki, he had the backing of the ANC Youth League, the ANC Women’s League, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu. Is Magashule capable of mobilising similar support? Only time will tell. For now, Ramaphosa seems firmly in charge.