The ace up Magashule’s sleeve

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / ‘It’s cold outside the ANC.’ this is the disconsolate swansong of many an excommunicated cadre of the glorious ‘broad church’ that is the African National Congress.

Who could blame them, most of whom had been spared the plagues of the lumpenproletariat and chaperoned straight into the excesses of the elite ‘Afristocracy’ post 1994? Unable to come to terms with life outside the blue convoys, parliamentary buffets and vintage Merlots, many who had deflected to breakaways like the Congress of the People (COPE) would eventually say sorry, wailing for their jobs back in Khongolose.

Mosioua Lekota, first Free State premier and later founder of COPE, one of many who have have felt the chill of life outside the ANC.

Not so for Mr Elias ‘Ace’ Magashule. Following his suspension as ANC secretary-general in May 2021, murmurs of a brutal fightback, or a fractured NEC in which open revolt would consume the party from within, were on the lips of the chattering class. Emboldened by Cyril Ramaphosa’s slim victory at the 54th National Conference in 2017, the possibility of a mutiny did not elude Bra Yster. This would explain the axed secretary-general’s attempts at undermining his political senior as well as eschewing to ‘toe the party line’ at every turn.

Addressing branches in KZN in January 2018, he asked for cool tempers as he assured unhappy cadres that Ramaphosa would enjoy no more than five years as party president. Reading from an imaginary memo, he went on to tell a press conference that the ANC would a review of the Reserve Bank’s mandate, and mooted the possibility of ‘quantitative easing’ (in other words printing money) to tackle intergovernmental debt.

More important times … Ave Magashule, then still Free State premier, with the minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, at a meeting of the President’s Coordinating Council. Picture: GCIS.

His suspension followed in May 2021, pending resolution of charges of corruption, after refusing to abide by the ANC’s ‘step aside’ rule. Not shy to step forward instead, he responded by ‘suspending’ Ramaphosa as ANC president. The NEC declared he did not have the powers to do so, and the national disciplinary recommended that he be expelled from the party, which came to pass in June. Just two months later, he finally took a step which many said he had long wanted to take, namely to start his own party, the ‘African Congress for Transformation’.

Unemployment had clearly done little to dampen the mood of the ACT’s founder when he sat down to an interview on the Podcast and Chill Network this past month. In fashionable apparel, Bra Yster was a case study in what cool, calm and collected looks like, even as law enforcement agencies are knocking at your door to ask you some tought questions, and former comrades are giving you the cold shoulder.

Still, neither the case of the failed R255 million asbestos roof counting project hanging over his head, nor the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) sniffing around the bursary programme run out of his office in his day as premier of the Free State, or the damning allegations made by that cheeky investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh in his book Gangster State – a publication that had the ANC in the Free State up in arms – could make him quiver in his boots.

‘I did not have to look hard,’ Myburgh says of Magashule, ‘to discover that his version of his struggle history is replete with half-truths, ample embellishment and a few outright lies.’

Magashule’s many claims to fame as a ‘struggle icon’ see him as a founding member of COSAS, and establishing the UDF in the Free State. Not quite, says Myburgh, and Popo Molefe, chairperson of Transnet, has gone as far as calling him a liar.

Nonetheless, our man remains eager for the charges against him to play themselves out, so the light may fall on the shadowy dealings of power, and reveal those traitors who have been sharpening the long knives behind his back all along.

A cocksure Magashule then takes viewers on an excursion through his heroic ‘struggle’ years. There’s a lot of name dropping – everything from hanging out with the late Beyers Naude and Peter Mokaba; claims of charges of high treason (Myburgh says it was a charge of public violence) while at the University of Fort Hare; training with the ANC’s military wing, MK; even a stint with The Cradock Four; mobilising with COSATU; nine months in solitary confinement … the list is a doorstop.

And if we are to take Magashule at his word, former presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma had earmarked him for the Free State premiership as early as 1994, but he says he ‘declined’ as he was still too young for the immensity of the position. Instead, it would go to Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota.

Myburgh further writes that in 1999, just when it looked like Magashule would take up his anointed premiership role , his hopes were dashed by Mbeki, who clearly shared Mandela’s reservations about Magashule, and appointed Winkie Direko instead. Feeling snubbed, Magashule is said to have gone out of his way to mess up the lives of both Direko as well as her successor, the late Beatrice Marshoff. (Among other things, Marshoff sacked him as MEC for Agriculture, only to see him return in a different portfolio the next year.)

He eventually rose to the premiership in 2009, and served in this position until the fateful 54th National Confernce where he was elected as secretary-general – ever the contrarian, on the slate of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Magashule insists that in the face of warnings from both the communists and the workers against bringing Ramaphosa – ‘a bourgeois’ – into the ANC deputy presidency back at Mangaung in 2012, he was resolute, and helped to do so anyway. But in 2017, he had a change of heart, throwing his lot with the so-called NDZ slate in preference to the CR17 billionaire candidate.

He cites ideological differences as the reason. ‘The DA is the historical enemy,’ he says, ‘so if we have to work with somone, why can’t we work with the EFF? We share the same policies and the same constituency: blacks in general, and Africans in particular.’

As a result, he suggests, whites are generally wary of his radical variant of ANC policy, but welcome Ramaphosa’s moderate version with open wallets. On this score he makes a far-reaching assertion: that the ANC is captured, and that Ramaphosa answers to white superiors in the form of the so-called Stellenbosch Mafia.

Also, his gripe is around funds – that money ultimately paved the way for Ramaphosa’s presidential ascent. On the issue of Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala saga, Bra Yster invokes an Orwellian Animal Farm analogy; that the new South Africa has people who are simply untouchable.

Bra Yster would also have us believe that he’s been nothing but a disciplined cadre, and a hard-working servant of the people. Across the Free State, he claims to have paved and tarred innumerable roads.

During his time, he boasts, potholes were non-existent. When cramped 40 square metre house were being built for the poor in his province, he found this unacceptable, deciding eventually to put them into bigger 50 square metre abodes, even though Myburgh says that during the nine years of Magashule’s premiership the auditor-general showed ‘that the [Human Settlements] department incurred irregular expenditure totalling a jaw-dropping R7 billion’.

Although there are those who refer to him as Mr Ten Percent – denoting that he allegedly demanded kickbacks of ten percent of the value of provincial tenders – Magashule says his hands are clean, and he has received ‘no cent from any company’.

Gangster State is replete with all manner of searing allegations laid at Magashule’s door – too many to cram into one article. Readers can order the book from the Mongezi Juda Library in Kuyasa.

As for the upcoming elections, Magashule declares: ‘We are going to do very well.’ They’ll not only win the Free State, he says, but also Northern Cape and the North West, home to his staunch ally Supra Mohumapelo, in what was then known as the Premier’s League.

He also foresees gaining a foothold in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape, and does not dismiss the possibility of working with other ‘progressive forces’ should the ACT find itself in parliament. What he does, however, vehemently reject is the insinuation that he has always been eyeing the presidency. ‘I’m not even aiming to become president,’ he says, ‘I just want to serve.’

In the main, Magashule believes that white monopoly capitalists have been hovering in the wings, meticulously planning to maintain the status quo of white dominance since Madiba’s release from prison – and have found an amiable yes-man in Ramaphosa. He is also concerned that ‘white parties are coming together [and] deliberately establishing splinter black parties’.

New-look Ace in a t-shirt of his political party, the African Congress for Transformation. Image: Facebook.

In his view, ensembles like ActionSA and the mushrooming new black parties are nothing other than an invisible white hand deliberately set to play ‘divide and conquer’. He wants all black parties to converge under a single umbrella, because by his reckoning the forthcoming election is ‘wafa wafa’ – do or die – and ‘if we miss it this time as blacks and Africans in particular, forget, our country will go forever’.

This seems to be the same pan-Africanist backbone that informs, among others, the ACT, EFF and PAC. In the meantime, the ACT still aims to consult with ‘the people’ on policy and a way forward, and although there have been talks with the EFF, Magashule says he is not interested in joining the Red Brigade.

Be that as it may, the ‘white and foreign threats’ are poised to be major talking points in the forthcoming ballot. As previously written, ActionSA and Operation Dudula have been quick out of the starting blocks on immigration. Racial paranoia remains so intimately woven into the social fabric that it would be remiss to imagine that it won’t be a prominent feature.

On the other side, RISE Mzansi aims to reconfigure what is considered a pejorative term as it postures itself as a party in which ‘clever blacks’ are gifts to be celebrated, harnessed and protected.

In another bizarre twist, former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has declared that God has told him three times that he will be president of South Africa some day. According to Mogoeng, ‘he doesn’t want it to happen through an electoral process, he doesn’t want me join or form a political party. It’s going to be miraculous.’

But back to Ace. Whether after such divine pronouncements voters will still remember the lanky ex-footballer from Parys (who has been known to hand out wads of cash on the campaign trail) fondly enough to entrust him with their vote remains to be seen. But it would appear that the Magashule everyone thought was done for has been holding an ace up his sleeve.

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