A senior official in South Africa’s ruling party who is charged with 74 counts of corruption has vowed to prove his innocence after a magistrate transferred his case to a high court for its pretrial hearing.
African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Ace Magashule said on Friday he was looking forward to "a speedy trial" after the legal proceedings against the political heavyweight and his 15 co-accused were postponed to August 11th.
“I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ll prove it in court,” he told reporters outside the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court in the Free State province.
When asked if he would step down from his role as the party’s chief of day-to-day operations, given the seriousness of the public sector corruption charges he faces, Mr Magashule refused to be drawn on his future.
“I think the ANC is dealing with the political part [of the case against him] but I am happy with the legal part, and I hope this matter will be finalised very soon,” he said.
The allegations against Mr Magashule relate to his role in a 255 million rand (€14.4 million) contract to find and remove asbestos from homes in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the Free State when he was its provincial premier between 2009 and 2018.
Mr Magashule is among 11 government officials and businesspeople and five companies accused of being involved in the alleged tender fraud. They initially faced 21 counts of corruption, but this was increased by 51 new related charges on Friday by the National Prosecuting Authority.
The short hearing was Mr Magashule’s second appearance in court since he was granted 200,000 rand (€11,267) bail last November.
The state has claimed he received or benefited unlawfully from payments totalling 1 million rand (€56,000) made by the now-deceased Diamond Hill Trading 71 director, Phikolomzi Mpambani.
Pressure has been growing on South Africa's president Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC's leader, to deal decisively with members of the former liberation movement charged with corruption while in public office.
However, to date very few of its many leaders accused of corruption have been suspended or expelled from the former liberation movement.
The ANC has blamed its slow progress in dealing with the issue on the fact that it is still refining the guidelines it must follow to suspend party officials who decline to step down while facing prosecution.
But the situation has left many political observers with the impression that Mr Ramaphosa does not have enough political support in the ANC to tackle a crisis that could severely damage the ruling party at the polls.
Aside from Mr Magashule, the most high-profile ANC leader facing corruption charges is South Africa's former president, Jacob Zuma.
On Monday Mr Zuma defied a constitutional court order to appear before an inquiry investigating his role in public sector corruption during his tenure as president.
The inquiry's presiding judge, Raymond Zondo, subsequently asked the apex court to jail Mr Zuma if it finds his stance has put him in contempt of its January 28th ruling.
According to media reports this week, Mr Zuma has knocked back efforts by the ANC’s top leaders to get him to comply with the constitutional court order. It is not yet known when the court will rule on the former president’s defiance.