A senior member of South Africa’s ruling party accused of corruption as been ordered to face an internal disciplinary committee often described as “toothless” instead of being suspended from his top six position.
The decision of the African National Congress to have secretary general Ace Magashule appear before its integrity commission has led to accusations that the former liberation movement is not serious about fighting corruption within its ranks.
Following widespread allegations of fraud against ANC officials four months ago, relating to the procurement of Covid-19 personal protective equipment, South Africa's president Cyril Ramaphosa promised that party officials accused of serious crimes would be sidelined.
Within days of making this statement in August, Mr Ramaphosa’s stance was backed by the ANC’s 88-member national executive committee.
In November Mr Magashule, who oversees the day-to-day running of South Africa’s ruling party, was arrested and charged with 21 counts of public sector corruption linked to his time as premier of the Free State province.
The charges relate to Mr Magashule’s role in a 255 million rand (€14 million) contract to find and remove asbestos from homes in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the Free State. The ANC secretary general says he has done nothing wrong.
Nevertheless, public expectations were high that Mr Magashule would be forced to stand down this week if he refused to do so voluntarily.
However, despite the reputational damage the criminal charges against Mr Magashule are causing the ANC ahead of local elections in 2021, it appears ongoing factionalism within the party is undermining Mr Ramaphosa’s efforts to clean it up.
According to local reports, Mr Magashule’s supporters on the national executive committee argued that forcing him to stand aside from his role in the ANC would undermine the party’s constitution, as he is not a public representative.
At the end of the meeting Mr Ramaphosa stressed there would be “no retreat” from the ANC’s resolution to tackle corruption in the movement, but he said that the proper internal party procedures and processes must be followed.
As a result, Mr Magashule will make his case before the ANC’s integrity commission, composed of party elders, on December 12th. But any findings the commission makes are not binding, and a number of high profile ANC members have ignored its recommendations in the past.
This has led to fears that Mr Ramaphosa’s support base in the ANC was outmanoeuvred by Mr Magashule’s backers, and that the president may have decided to sacrifice his fight against corruption for party unity in this instance.
The leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, John Steenhuisen, described the move to send Mr Magashule to the integrity commission as "spineless", saying it proved Mr Ramaphosa was too weak to take decisive action against the ANC's most corrupt members.
“We know the ANC’s integrity commission is completely and utterly toothless,” he maintained. “This is not justice, it is merely the ANC’s portrayal of justice at the expense of our country”.