Is it prudent for Ace Magashule to step aside?
Touching on progress made to forge party unity in his last 2020 political overview, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa said the governing party “increasingly appears like an organisation at war with itself”.
His observation affirms the ANC cannot self-correct in that it seems not to understand the nature of its factionalism.
Approaching its watershed 52nd national conference in 2007, the ANC had already split into two factions, one led by Thabo Mbeki and the other one by Jacob Zuma.
Their leaders were the ANC president and the ANC deputy president respectively.
Made up of two kinds of members, namely – to borrow from American author and public speaker Rick Joyner – “those who sacrifice the people for themselves, and those who sacrifice themselves for the people,” the Mbeki and Zuma factions serve as a pathology of intra-ANC factionalism in democratic South Africa.
The Mbeki faction was mostly made up of those who had sacrificed themselves for the people (people-serving), whereas the Zuma faction, which had emerged with a winner-takes-all victory, is mostly made up of those who have sacrificed the people for themselves (self-serving).
Yet the Zuma faction portrays itself as people-serving through a radical economic transformation (RET) narrative.
It claims that RET, as defined by Zuma, constitutes a “fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female”.
By 2012, the Mbeki faction had faded away, largely owing to its leader’s withdrawal from intra-party engagements, including electoral campaigns.
In December of the same year, the Zuma faction once again emerged with a winner-takes-all victory at a 53rd national conference, where Ramaphosa was elected deputy president.
Therefore, the ANC now has two self-serving factions.
A year before Ramaphosa’s long-awaited return to active party politics, political killings had just begun in KwaZulu-Natal, mostly in a local sphere of government, centred on a fierce competition over access to office pay-offs and government contracts in the main.
Raising a concern about their spats in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga in The Things that Could Not Be Said, Frank Chikane poses the question: “Who would ever have thought that ANC members would kill each other for control of state power in order to advance their own personal interests or the interests of family, friends and factions?”
According to Chikane, who has served as ANC national executive committee (NEC) member, some members kill each other to eliminate evidence of corruption and other malfeasance.
Contrary to Ramaphosa’s observation, the ANC is in fact at war with itself.
The war rages on in other provinces as well, albeit at a low intensity.
With self-serving factions, the ANC is thus in a degenerative factionalism, a third and last factional face in which personal interests take more precedence over organisational interests.
Towards an election, factions tend to put their differences aside and co-operate in some semblance of party unity to increase their party’s electoral growth.
Hence, as Ramaphosa pointed out in his political overview, “the period following the 54th national conference was characterised by greater cohesion and unity of purpose within the organisation”.
As factionalism is a dynamic phenomenon, so are factionalists in pursuit of their personal interests.
In Eight Days in September, Chikane sheds some light on what some of his comrades have had to do to survive the intra-ANC factionalism.
“In the name of survival,” he explains, “many of my comrades have successfully remade and remoulded themselves to fit within whatever environment they find themselves in.”
Ramaphosa and ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe are among the thousands of exit members from the Zuma faction.
However, they did not emerge with the winner-takes-all victory at the 54th national conference, with Ramaphosa, Mantashe and treasurer-general Paul Mashatile as a majority faction and secretary-general Ace Magashule and deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte as a minority faction while deputy president David Mabuza serves as a strategic centre of power within the party’s upper echelons.
Adding insult to injury, the Ramaphosa faction has lost an ideological battle on two contentious party policy resolutions, namely changing the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) beyond price stability to include economic growth and employment creation, and using nationalisation among the mechanisms to address a land issue.
Together with the top six’s leadership composition, the loss constrains Ramaphosa’s factional autonomy, thus impinging on leadership relations and party position-taking relations.
The Ramaphosa faction could only claim a minor victory on a party position resolution to the effect that those who are accused of and/or charged with wrongdoing should step aside.
To its disadvantage, however, the resolution disregards an important universal legal principle: innocent until proven guilty.
Yet, in his first term, Ramaphosa adopted a confrontational attitude towards his comrades who are accused of and/or charged with wrongdoings.
The lawyer by qualification that is Ramaphosa, who is the weakest president the ANC has ever had in the democratic South Africa, has failed to use the legal principle as a survivalist strategy to defang his adversaries who are accused of and/or charged with corruption, and other crimes while letting the law to take its course on them.
Taking advantage of his failure, the Zuma faction is using the legal principle to weaken him further.
No wonder the ANC has had to grapple with no less than five legal opinions on a step-aside party position resolution in its last 2020 NEC meeting.
The resolution has laid bare that the ANC does not subject its party position proposals to a legal test. Addressing thousands of his supporters outside a magistrate’s court in Bloemfontein, Free State, where he had appeared to face 21 charges, including corruption and fraud, Magashule vowed that he would only step aside if ordered by the branches.
By November 13 the party’s integrity committee (IC) had not recommended that he should step aside or the ANC should suspend him until his criminal case has been finalised.
Made up of most senior party members, the IC operates only on a moral basis. It does not factor in intra-party factional dynamics at play and how its decisions would affect the party’s pursuit of elusive unity.
The question, therefore, arises: “Is it prudent for Magashule to step aside?”
From a genuine party unity perspective, it is not, not by a long shot.
If Magashule, who has already served three years of his five-year term, steps aside, notwithstanding of his own volition or by suspension, Ramaphosa would have to follow suit in due course.
In his testimony before a commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture, former Eskom chief executive officer Brian Molefe alleged that Glencore sold him shares in order to use his political influence to benefit from the power utility.
The allegation, made amid an ongoing call that the president should unseal names of his ANC presidential campaign funders in line with his promise of clean governance, must be viewed in a serious light within the context of a dominant state capture narrative.
A slew of other similar allegations may be made against him.
Besides his factional differences with the president, Magashule said he is working well with him.
This is what the ANC needs to forge some degree of party unity, as it is bereft of a centripetal force.
Incidentally, the secretary-general, who runs the organisation on a full-time basis, keeps a low profile than an ANC deployee in either government or legislature who is accused of and/or charged with any wrongdoing.
Less than two years before the 55th national conference, it may be a well-calculated factional ploy by the Ramaphosa faction to pressure the former Free State premier to step aside.
Since the 52nd national conference, the secretary-general has been in a victorious faction.
With Magashule at the helm, therefore, history favours the Zuma faction to regain not only control of the governing party, but also access to state power and resources.
In fact, the secretary-general has made it clear that “it is just a matter of five years’ to regain control of the party.
Even if Magashule steps aside, the Ramaphosa faction is unlikely to retain control of the party at its 55th national conference.
Its leader, who has been tiptoeing from one error of judgment to another while playing to the media gallery, thus lessening his prospects of a second term, lost it from the beginning.
He has no discernible survival strategy. The so-called “long game” is just a figment of his supporters’ imagination.
Apart from the failure to use “innocent until proven guilty” as a strategy for the second term, Ramaphosa wears more of a state cap than a party cap.
As a result, he is aloof from ANC members, whose support he needs to consolidate his power base.
* Molifi Tshabalala is a writer and independent political analyst.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.