South African Ruling Party Excludes Ramaphosa Foe From Talks

The top leadership of South Africa’s ruling party excluded its suspended Secretary-General Ace Magashule from a meeting on Saturday, confirming the sidelining of one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s biggest detractors.

Magashule was ordered to vacate his post this week after he ignored an order by the African National Congress to step aside while he faces trial on graft charges. He denied any wrongdoing, said the decision to discipline him was invalid and notified party leader Ramaphosa that he was the one being suspended for violating campaign funding rules.

Magashule joined an online meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, the party’s top leadership structure, in defiance of its instruction to refrain from participating in its activities, according to three people with knowledge of the deliberations.

The meeting degenerated into a shouting match as Magashule’s allies attempted to have the gathering postponed, the people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, because they weren’t authorized to comment and the talks were closed to the public.

ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe ruled the meeting should go ahead and Magashule eventually left after being told he couldn’t attend, the people said. Tony Yengeni, the head of the ANC’s political school who was convicted of defrauding parliament in 2003 for failing to disclose a discount on a car he bought from a company that bid for an arms contract, and Bathabile Dlamini, the head of the ANC’s Women’s League, spoke in Magashule’s defense, they said.

Pule Mabe, the ANC’s spokesman, didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment.

Ramaphosa has identified the fight against graft as a top priority since taking office in 2018, and Magashule’s suspension will add credence to the president’s pledge to act decisively against those involved. Ramaphosa made no mention of the party infighting in his address to the NEC on Saturday, and urged the party to focus on preparing for municipal elections in October, the people said.

Magashule is due to stand trial in August on corruption, fraud and money-laundering charges relating to an audit contract issued while he was premier of the central Free State province, but denies any wrongdoing. He has repeatedly challenged Ramaphosa’s authority and contradicted his policy pronouncements. His suspension will be reviewed every six months.

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