It has been a bruising week for the ANC as the deadline approaches for members charged with corruption or other serious crimes to voluntarily step down from their positions by the end of this month.
Among those being watched with keen interest is ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. He has embarked on ‘consultative meetings’ with the party’s veterans over the call that he should temporarily step aside pending the finalisation of his corruption trial.
The directive to ANC members affected by the resolution comes from the party’s national executive committee (NEC), and was among the resolutions taken at the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec elective conference.
The governing party has been grappling with how to clean up its public image amid embarrassing corruption claims levelled against some leaders and criticism over its apparent failure to act against its own who are found to be in the wrong. In an attempt to address this, the ANC has now had to make the difficult decision to formally implement the so-called “step aside” rule.
It appears that Magashule is increasingly isolated in the party as he faces pressure to “act voluntarily without compulsion from the movement’s structures” as alluded to by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC’s NEC meeting in February.
Duarte calls on Magashule to condemn his supporters
Magashule’s deputy, Jessie Duarte, has already thrown the gauntlet for him to accept defeat and step aside.
While denying any friction between herself and Magashule, Duarte on Thursday blamed his supporters for the recent leaks of recordings of private meetings involving ANC leaders, including one which surfaced this week of her slamming the state capture commission of inquiry.
Duarte called on Magashule to condemn his backers inside and outside the ANC. She cited the branded taxis seen on social media with messages of support for Magashule, as an example of some of the actions she believes Magashule’s supporters are attempting to bring the ANC down along with him.
“The ANC makes decisions. At my level when a decision is made, my responsibility is to execute that decision,” she told SABC News in a veiled message that appeared to be directed at Magashule.
At the end of April, all those people who have been criminally charged will be asked to give their answers as to whether they’re going to step aside. If not, the ANC constitution and decision has to kick in, which is then a suspension.
Magashule’s consultations with party veterans
Magashule has been consulting the ANC’s veterans on the step aside resolution, but it is unclear what his discussions are meant to achieve because the NEC has already made its decision.
So far, Magashule has held talks with former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, as well as former presidents Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma. On Thursday he said next on his consultation tour would be former president Thabo Mbeki.
It has been widely reported that at its last meeting in late March, Mbeki told the NEC to urgently attend to its “weakened” state of the secretary-general’s office. Mbeki attends ANC NEC meetings in an ex-officio capacity.
The ANC’s nine provincial secretaries had until 5 pm on Thursday to submit the list of members charged with corruption or other serious crimes to Luthuli House. Motlanthe and Phosa, along with the party’s current treasurer-general Paul Mashatile, were instrumental in the formation of the ANC’s step aside guidelines adopted by the NEC in February.
NWC contradicts Magashule’s letter to provincial secretaries
Magashule recently caused confusion among the ANC’s provincial secretaries when he widened the scope of those who should step down to include party members alleged, reported or implicated in corrupt practices in a letter leaked to the media.
However, the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) on Wednesday contradicted the letter to clearly state that only members who are charged with corruption and other serious crimes should step aside.
It appears Magashule was referring to the ANC’s original resolution adopted at its 2017 Nasrec conference that included all members implicated in any wrongdoing.
Speaking after his meeting with Zuma on Thursday in KwaZulu-Natal, Magashule told journalists people were fixated on him stepping down when the step aside resolution originally referred to party members who are implicated in wrongdoing.
He denied he had extended the scope of the NEC’s decision, saying he was merely reiterating the 2017 resolutions.
However, the NEC resolved at its meeting in February to focus the step aside guidelines only on ANC members criminally charged.
What do the guidelines say?
According to the guidelines, party members who face criminal charges before a court of law must immediately step aside from their positions and present themselves to the integrity commission. Should a member fail to voluntarily step aside, disciplinary processes should then kick in and the member must be summarily suspended from the party.
ANC members can also be referred to the integrity commission, which can recommend the member be asked to step aside. The reports and recommendations of the integrity commission are processed by the NEC.
The commission in December last year recommended that Magashule should step aside immediately pending the outcome of his fraud and corruption trial in the Bloemfontein High Court. The case emanates from his tenure as Free State premier where a multimillion-rand asbestos audit contract scandal hit the province.
Duarte appeals for calm
Meanwhile, Duarte has appealed for calm among ANC members as the deadline looms for those affected by the step aside rule to heed the call.
She called on party members not to create chaos as it implements the resolution.
“My personal hope would be that we go through the next couple of weeks with less of the high demand for some action that might not happen or might happen. I call on the branches to focus on rebuilding our organisation irrespective of who we support as individuals.
“It’s a hard pill that you must swallow.”