South Africa’s ANC Issues Ultimatum to Key Ramaphosa Rival

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South Africa’s ruling party ordered members who’ve been charged with crimes to step down within a month or face suspension.

The announcement signals that African National Congress Secretary-General Ace Magashule, a key opponent of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic reforms, will have to leave his post next month. Magashule has been charged with money laundering, fraud and corruption.

“All members who have been charged with corruption or other serious crimes must step aside within 30 days, failing which they should be suspended,” Ramaphosa said in an online briefing on Monday after a four-day meeting of the party’s top leaders.

Suspending Magashule and others facing criminal charges could bring to an end months of internal wrangling that’s exposed deep divisions within the ANC.

Magashule has repeatedly undermined Ramaphosa’s authority and been linked to a faction within the ANC that remains loyal to former President Jacob Zuma, whom the party forced to step down in 2018 after he became embroiled in a succession of scandals. Ramaphosa has identified the fight against corruption within the ANC and the government as a top priority.

Consolidating Support

Ramaphosa is asserting control of the party as he seeks to implement reforms needed to revive an economy that shrank the most in a century last year. He also needs to consolidate his support if he is to secure a second term as ANC president -- and the country -- when the party holds its national elective congress next year.

Magashule is due to appear in court later this year over the charges linked to a contract issued while he was premier of the central Free State province. He has denied wrongdoing.

Ramaphosa also warned against the creation of factions within the ANC, including the so-called Radical Economic Transformation group led by Magashule, that he said “undermine the ideological and organizational integrity of the party.” Supporters of Magashule launched a series of proxy battles in the run-up to Monday’s decision about his future, including:

  • Backing students protesting over the cost of university tuition, after the government said it can’t afford to subsidize their education
  • Defying a call by ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe to back a vote in parliament to establish a committee to investigate graft ombudsman advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who is seen to be a Zuma ally
  • Rallying to the defense of Zuma, who has refused to appear before a state inquiry into government corruption and faces being jailed for contempt of court.

While Ramaphosa’s battle with the RET faction is far from over, the sidelining of Magashule and his supporters will grant the president some reprieve from critics who argue he’s failed to act decisively against party officials accused of corruption.

Last week, a lobby group known as Defend Our Democracy announced its formation, with the aim of protecting the state against corruption and lawlessness. The group, which includes veteran ANC officials, has members who were responsible for mass protests in 2017 that demanded Zuma’s resignation.

The decision to act against Magashule also makes it easier for Ramaphosa to appoint more trusted allies to his cabinet, amid local media speculation of an imminent reshuffle, and address urgent policy challenges.

A position of deputy minister of mineral resources has been vacant since Bavelile Hlongwa died in 2019. The position of minister in the presidency was left vacant after Jackson Mthembu succumbed to Covid-19 complications earlier this year.

Among the urgent tasks the government faces are the rush to get a mass-vaccine program under way, restoring economic growth and reining in government spending.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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