If there is one man who truly qualifies for the title of Teflon politician, it must be Ace Magashule, re-elected again as Free State ANC chairman.
As the longest-serving provincial party boss – he has held his position since 1994 – Magashule has served under all of SA’s four presidents, from Nelson Mandela to Jacob Zuma.
And it’s not a track record he is shy to refer to, as he reminded delegates to this weekend‘s provincial ANC conference, before adding: “We respect him (Zuma) as president of the ANC. That is the only person you can sing songs about”.
Magashule has not drawn a veil over his allegiance. After all it was under Zuma that he finally became Free State premier – a position that long eluded him as he served under four different premiers: Mosiuoa Lekota, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, Winkie Direko and Beatrice Marshoff.
Magashule is a survivor and master of what the ANC calls the two centres of power, in reference to different people holding the premiership and the position of party chair.
It was Lekota, who was recalled as premier in 1996 after he discovered financial mismanagement totalling R6 million allegedly involving Magashule, then economic affairs and tourism MEC. The ANC national leaders shifted Lekota to chair the National Council of Provinces and Magashule did not get the premier’s post.
But he stayed on.
Not only does he know his way around the intricate power plays within Luthuli House and the ruling party, but also in the corridors of provincial power. Aside from holding the economic affairs portfolio, he also served as MEC for sport, agriculture, transport and economic affairs.
In December 2010 he established the Ace Magashule Foundation, described on its website as “a formal platform… to give back to the people of South Africa, in particular, the Free State”.
Critics say Magashule has entrenched his power through an extensive network and manipulation of ANC rules and procedures.
While his given name is Sekgobelo Elias Magashule, Ace is his calling card. Supporters greet him with a crescendo of “Aaaaaacee!” and during the tense run-up to this week’s conference, cars were branded with “You can’t win without an Ace” written over the ace of hearts playing card. A similar logo was on sweaters worn by several ANC executive members sitting on the stage at the conference.
The Free State government website says Magashule holds a BA degree from Fort Hare University and went into exile in 1989 and returned to South Africa in 1991. – Marianne Merten