The ‘peo­ple’s choice’ just keeps bounc­ing back

This pop­u­lar Free State politi­cian wields se­ri­ous clout, writes Moipone Male­fane

Sunday Times - - News & Opinion -

HE HAS been over­looked for the premiership three times, but Ace Ma­gashule re­mains an ace in the pack in the eyes of the peo­ple of the Free State.

He is pop­u­lar among loy­al­ists and en­e­mies alike — not be­cause he is the long­est serv­ing ANC pro­vin­cial chair­man in the coun­try, but be­cause of the power he wields in the prov­ince.

He has led the ANC in the Free State for over 12 years and has been at the cen­tre of al­most all the ANC in­fight­ing in the prov­ince since 1994.

This did not give the peo­ple in the prov­ince any doubts about his lead­er­ship qual­i­ties; they al­ways re­warded him by elect­ing him chair­man each time a con­fer­ence was held.

Be­tween 1997 and 2004, the ANC de­ployed him to Par­lia­ment fol­low­ing a bit­ter power strug­gle be­tween him and then Pre­mier Mo­siuoa “Ter­ror” Lekota. The fight was sparked by Ma­gashule’s re­volt against Lekota, which led to pro­vin­cial ANC struc­tures not elect­ing Lekota as pro­vin­cial party chair. In­stead, they chose Ma­gashule’s buddy, Pat Matosa.

The fight es­ca­lated in the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture where Lekota sacked Ma­gashule be­fore be­ing forced to re­in­state him on the same day.

The fight con­tin­ued and with no clear win­ner emerg­ing, the pro­vin­cial lead­er­ship was dis­banded twice by for­mer Pres­i­dent Nelson Man­dela in 1996 and again in 2000 un­der Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki.

In 1996 Lekota was re­placed by Ivy Mat­sepe-Casaburri as pre­mier, and an in­terim lead­er­ship was ap­pointed in the prov­ince while Re­serve Bank Gov­er­nor Tito Mboweni, who was Labour min­is­ter at the time, was dis­patched to or­gan­ise new party elec­tions.

Par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary Zingile Din­gane was elected pro­vin­cial chair­man. He lasted only one term be­fore Ma­gashule came back and ousted him. He was also over­looked for the premiership in 1999 when Winkie Direko took over, but led the party from Par­lia­ment un­til the 2004 elec­tions when the prov­ince thought Mbeki would ap­point him pre­mier. In­stead, Mbeki opted for a light­weight — Beatrice Marshoff — much to the dis­dain of the rank and file in the prov­ince.

When Marshoff took over, she ap­pointed Ma­gashule MEC for Agri­cul­ture, but was to fire him in April 2005.

The story still goes around in the Free State of how black farm­ers ben­e­fited from Ma­gashule’s short ten­ure as Agri­cul­ture MEC when he do­nated trac­tors to scores of them.

Ma­gashule used his ax­ing from Marshoff’s ex­ec­u­tive as an op­por­tu­nity to re­con­nect with the masses. He in­ten­si­fied his Botho project, rais­ing funds for stu­dents who could not af­ford to pay their fees, de­liv­er­ing blan­kets and get­ting do­na­tions for the el­derly and or­phans in the prov­ince.

With the project he has man­aged to get about 30 stu­dents into dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in the prov­ince, pro­vide blan­kets in win­ter for the el­derly and buy shoes for or­phans.

The ANC Women’s League pro­vin­cial chair­man, Sisi Ntombela, said Ma­gashule was pas­sion­ate about the project and had asked his ANC pro­vin­cial ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers to adopt a child by ei­ther tak­ing them into their care or pro­vid­ing ba­sic needs for them.

“He is a hum­ble man who is pre­pared to help any­one. All his life, he has been a hard worker. The ANC comes first and he is re­ally com­mit­ted to the party.

“As the Women’s League, we have worked well to­gether. He al­ways phones us to check on our pro­grammes. He gives us sup­port by at­tend­ing all our gath­er­ings,” she said.

Last week, the fa­ther of three bounced back into gov­ern­ment as Marshoff again reshuf­fled her Cabi­net. She ap­pointed Ma­gashule MEC for Sport, Arts and Cul­ture, a post he ac­cepted this week — some say re­luc­tantly.

Al­though the ap­point­ment sur­prised many, some saw it as a move to con­tain Ma­gashule ahead of the na­tional Limpopo con­fer­ence that has di­vided the ANC over whether to re­tain Mbeki for a third term or elect a new party pres­i­dent.

Ma­gashule’s deputy, Pat Matosa, did not want to dis­cuss Ma­gashule’s pain.

“Our view has been you can­not put a good man down for­ever,” Matosa quipped when asked for his views.

He said Ma­gashule was the peo­ple’s choice in 1994 for premiership, but the pro­vin­cial lead­er­ship de­cided he was still too young to lead, open­ing the way for Lekota.

“We went to Shell House [pre­vi­ously ANC head­quar­ters] to­gether with Ace and told for­mer Pres­i­dent Nelson Man­dela that comrade Ter­ror [Lekota] should be ap­pointed but in 2004 we wanted Ace for pre­mier.”

Matosa ex­plained that in 2004 the ANC built its cam­paign around 49-year-old Ma­gashule as the man who was des­tined to lead the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

“We were mind­ful at the same time that in 1997 we gave the ANC pres­i­dent pow­ers to ap­point pre­miers.

“We were con­fi­dent that Ace would be the man, but it hap­pened that Mbeki ‘on merit’ ap­pointed Marshoff.

“Ace was phoned by the pres­i­dent of the ANC about his de­ci­sion. He was not bit­ter. With the pow­ers given to him, he [Mbeki] had ev­ery right to ap­point Marshoff.

“I was also phoned as then pro­vin­cial sec­re­tary and the same mes­sage was con­veyed to me, but Ace con­tin­ued to lead us with­out anger,” says the man who has worked with Ma­gashule since his own re­lease from Robben Is­land in 1990.

Matosa said they were an­gry at the de­ci­sion be­cause they had to ex­plain the Pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to the masses.

“Ace has the abil­ity of putting peo­ple’s in­ter­ests ahead of his own.

“Even now on his ap­point­ment, Ace came to in­form the or­gan­i­sa­tion there was a new as­sign­ment for him and we gave him the go-ahead.”

Yet while many sing his praises, Ma­gashule’s en­e­mies see him as a source of di­vi­sion and in­fight­ing in the prov­ince.

At the mo­ment there are three court cases against the ANC, and his de­trac­tors ac­cuse him of be­ing too pow­er­ful and uni­lat­er­ally us­ing his po­si­tion to gain pa­tron­age by “de­ploy­ing” sup­port­ers in pow­er­ful gov­ern­ment mu­nic­i­pal­ity po­si­tions — whether they are qual­i­fied or not.

“If you are not seen to be close to Ace you will not be de­ployed any­where. He gives jobs to his pals only,” said one.

Born Elias Sek­go­b­elo Ma­gashule at Tuma­hole town­ship in Parys — where he still lives with his fam­ily — he be­came in­volved in pol­i­tics in 1976.

He played an ac­tive part in the now fa­mous Vaal Tri­an­gle ri­ots — at the time he was a teacher at Mo­qhaka High School — but was forced into ex­ile fol­low­ing his ar­rest in 1985.

He lived in Zim­babwe, Zam­bia and Tan­za­nia un­til his re­turn af­ter the un­ban­ning of the ANC in 1990. He de­scribes his new ap­point­ment as “one of those as­sign­ments”.

“I got the bless­ing from the ANC and have been al­lowed to take up the new re­spon­si­bil­ity. I will do my best. For­tu­nately I was a soc­cer player and earned my­self the name Ace, so I do what peo­ple need. I was also a boxer,” he said.

His child­hood friend Thabo Many­oni de­scribes him as a peo­ple’s per­son who does not drink, but “you can find him in tav­erns in the com­pany of those en­joy­ing beer”. “Not only black peo­ple have con­fi­dence in him as a leader but peo­ple in white com­mu­ni­ties too.”

Many­oni added that Ma­gashule was a leader and an im­ple­menter, and that was why he had re­mained the peo­ple’s choice through­out the years.

Pic­ture: SYD­NEY SESHIBEDI

I SEE YOU: Ace Ma­gashule re­mains the trump card in the Free State

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