Senior member of South Africa’s ruling ANC contests party suspension

Ace Magashule, who is accused of corruption, argues step-aside rule is unconstitutional

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary general Ace Magashule. Photograph:  Rajesh Jantilal/AFP via Getty

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary general Ace Magashule. Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal/AFP via Getty

 

A senior African National Congress leader who is charged with corruption has refused to accept his suspension from South Africa’s ruling party ahead of a meeting of its top decision-making body.

Embattled ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was sidelined earlier this week from the movement until the outcome of his criminal trial on charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering is known.

A party letter sent to Mr Magashule on Monday said the decision to suspend him from all party activities until a judge had ruled in his case was “in the best interest of the organisation”.

Mr Magashule’s suspension makes him the highest-ranking ANC official to be affected by its new step-aside rule, which is being implemented as part of the party’s efforts to tackle pervasive corruption in its ranks.

On March 30th he and dozens of other party officials who are charged with corruption were given 30 days by the ANC’s national executive committee to voluntarily stand down – or face suspension – until the outcome of their corruption trials are known.

The step-aside rule was adopted earlier this year after months of party infighting between factions in the ANC who are battling for control of the movement.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramapahosa, and his allies have sought the adoption of the rule to show voters that the ANC is serious about ending public sector corruption, which has plagued it and the government over the past decade.

Asbestos tender

Mr Magashule, who has been head of the ANC’s day-to-day operations since he was elected its secretary general in late 2017, is accused of illegally benefiting from a 255 million rand (€14.9 million) asbestos tender in the Free State province while he was its premier. He denies the charges.

On Wednesday Mr Magashule responded to his suspension in a letter to Mr Ramaphosa, who is also the ANC’s president, saying he was appealing the decision as it was “unconstitutional”. He added he would stay in his job while his appeal was ongoing.

He also said he was suspending Mr Ramaphosa from the ANC, due to allegations that South Africa’s president used funds that he raised for his ANC election campaign in 2017 to buy votes to become the party’s leader.

Over the past few months Mr Magashule and his supporters have attempted to weaken the ANC’s step-aside guidelines by expanding them to include party officials implicated in corruption but who have yet to be charged.

On Thursday Mr Ramaphosa, who has denied buying votes, reportedly told ANC MPs at a parliamentary caucus meeting that he believed Mr Magashule’s threat to have him suspended had no legal standing.

The ANC has also issued a statement saying the step-aside rule remains in place and that Mr Magashule’s actions this week would be responded to at the party’s national executive committee meeting this weekend.

If Mr Magashule’s appeal is unsuccessful, he is likely to go to court to argue that his right to be presumed innocent has been violated by the ANC’s step-aside rule. His trial is scheduled to start on August 11th.