The stakes are high for the Jacob Zuma faction in the ANC’s last chance saloon, and at this stage of the political poker game impacting all South Africans, they are in terrible trouble because their best hand is only an ace high.
All eyes are on ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule after the party’s Integrity Commission report finding that Magashule must immediately stand aside from his position was leaked to the media before it could be discussed by the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC).
Read: Ace Magashule to be asked to step aside – report
The Integrity Commission consists of 11 ANC veterans. Its current composition is George Mashamba (chair), Brigitte Mabandla (deputy chair), Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, Sophie de Bruyn, Sindiso Mfenyana, Sue Rabkin, Essop Jassat, Cyril Jantjies, Nkele Ntingane, Thandi Rankwe and Terrence Tryon.
The leaked finding has caused great excitement and much reporting that Magashule’s power has been broken, but those so enthused would be well advised to exercise caution based on the records of all involved – Magashule, the Zuma faction, the Integrity Commission and the ANC itself.
The Integrity Commission
Starting with the Integrity Commission, it has not exactly proven to be an example of powerful enforcement efficiency over the years.
In fact, not a single example presents itself where the commission has told an unwilling ANC leadership figure to step down and that person actually complied.
The best example in this regard is a recent one and involves Dr David Masondo, deputy minister of finance. The Integrity Commission found that he had to step aside from his position after considering a situation he had been involved with. Masondo’s issues are too complicated to do justice to here, and their details are irrelevant to the bigger issue.
The bigger issue is that the Integrity Commission told him to stand aside, but he has ignored them and nothing consequential has happened to him. Despite the findings of the Integrity Commission, President Cyril Ramaphosa has not even removed him as deputy minister.
That means that neither Masondo, nor the ANC nor Ramaphosa considers a finding by the Integrity Commission as such to be binding on them, so how can they consider it to be binding on Magashule?
Just like Zuma …
As for Magashule, his conduct since the report leaked has been instructive.
It shows many similarities with the conduct of former president Jacob Zuma after he was initially charged on corruption-related issues.
Just like Zuma went back to KwaZulu-Natal to rally his supporters back then, Magashule’s first stop was his hinterland, the town of Parys in the Free State. Just like Zuma, he claimed innocence and a political campaign to destroy him.
And just like Zuma, he swore to abide by ANC processes.
Read: Magashule to give explanation to party after corruption charges
The catch is that there are no ANC processes to deal effectively with the decisions of the Integrity Commission.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe admitted as much this week when he said the ANC was still in the process of developing a process. As ANC secretary-general, Magashule knows this.
Mabe also said that the Integrity Commission findings would be discussed at the next meeting of the ANC NEC.
Although the NEC is scheduled to meet over the first weekend of January, the expectation is that discussions will be limited to the party’s annual January 8 statement.
The next ordinary NEC meeting is scheduled to take place on January 19.
While it might happen that Magashule will step aside, it is unlikely because we are dealing with Last Chance Saloon here.
The corruption-related court case he is facing in Bloemfontein will take a long time to conclude because of the nature of the charges.
A decision to step down would incapacitate Magashule until at least the end of next year.
It would mean he loses the input of the secretary-general on issues such as ANC branches and membership.
To step aside would mean the Zuma grouping sacrifices its strongest competitive advantage in its efforts to depose Ramaphosa as ANC president.
Read: Magashule denies Zuma talks about Ramaphosa ousting (Sep 2018)
From their strategic perspective, it is imperative for Magashule to remain active in his current position.
For him to step aside would be an epic disaster from a Zuma perspective.
The strongest indication (if any was needed) that the Zuma camp is fully aware and is prepared to not go gentle into that good night is the scramble by Magashule supporters that the issue be settled at the ANC’s upcoming National General Council (NGC), where branch delegates will be in the majority.
That insistence is a page straight from the successful 2005 Zuma playbook.
At the 2005 NGC in Pretoria, the NGC overturned the ANC leadership decision that Zuma must step aside following the judgment in the Schabir Shaik trial, which linked Zuma to corruption. It is clearly a lesson well learnt by the Magashule crowd.
Finally, the record of the ANC speaks for itself.
Its recent history does not inspire any confidence that it will act against leaders charged with or even found guilty of corruption.
So, much as it is not impossible that Magashule will step aside as instructed, it would be surprising – and those expecting such would do well to heed the revolutionary warning of Amilcar Cabral: Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.
This fight, indeed, is very far from over.
Jan-Jan Joubert is a political journalist, commentator and writer.