Ramaphosa Tightens Grip as Ruling Party Sidelines Main Rival

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa strengthened his control of the ruling African National Congress after it suspended his nemesis Ace Magashule.

The party sidelined Magashule, its secretary-general, after he defied a March 29 ultimatum by top ANC leaders to vacate his post within 30 days while he stands trial on graft charges. He was notified of his suspension on Wednesday in a letter signed by his deputy Jessie Duarte, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg.

“You are temporarily suspended with effect from May 3 2021 until the final outcome of your court proceedings,” Duarte wrote. The suspension will be reviewed every six months, and Magashule will continue being paid, she said.

Ramaphosa Tightens Grip as Ruling Party Sidelines Main Rival

Magashule has repeatedly challenged Ramaphosa’s authority and been linked to an ANC faction aligned to former President Jacob Zuma, who the party forced to step down in 2018 after he became embroiled in a succession of scandals. Magashule’s exit could add impetus to Ramaphosa’s efforts to tackle the corruption that became endemic during Zuma’s rule and bolster the odds of him securing a second term as ANC leader next year.

The rand strengthened as much as 0.7% against the dollar, outperforming all emerging-market peers except Brazil’s real. Bonds reversed declines, with yields on benchmark 10-year securities falling two basis points.

Magashule is due to appear in court in August to face corruption, fraud and money-laundering charges related to an audit contract issued while he was premier of the central Free State province. He’s denied wrongdoing. Duarte is likely to take over his role overseeing the day-to-day running of the ANC until his case is concluded or the party holds its next elective congress.

Magashule gave the first indication that he intends to fight his suspension on Wednesday night. In a signed letter, he attacked Ramaphosa’s legitmacy as ANC leader and called for the president’s temporary suspension as head of the party.

The ANC said it noted Magashule’s statement and requested that he respect the party’s decision to suspend him. The party’s executive committee is scheduled to meet at the weekend and will respond further to Magashule’s letter then, it said.

The ANC move against Magashule may also see Ramaphosa naming more allies to key posts in his executive, with speculation having been rife for months that a cabinet reshuffle is imminent. A ministerial post in the presidency was filled on an interim basis after Jackson Mthembu died of a coronavirus-related illness in January, while the post of deputy minister of mineral resources and energy has stood vacant since Bavelile Hlongwa was killed in a car accident in September.

“The suspension of Magashule is a major political victory for the president,” Aleix Montana, Africa analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said in emailed comments. “Magashule will not go down without a fight. He will likely appeal against his suspension in court.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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