SOUTH Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) finds itself in a serious political crisis that threatens unity in the party led by Cyril Ramaphosa.
At the heart of the crisis is the disagreement around a resolution taken at the party’s 54th conference in 2017 that individuals who face criminal charges should step down from their positions in the party and in government.
Yesterday, the ANC’s national integrity committee, set up to uphold the part’s reputation by taking action against those accused of criminal activity, ruled that Ace Magashule, the party’s secretary-general, should “step aside” from his position pending the outcome a criminal case where he faces 21 charges of fraud and corruption.
Within hours after the Magashule decision became public, the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal integrity commission rescinded its earlier position that Zandile Gumede, a provincial member of parliament and former mayor of Ethekwini must step down from her positions in the party and the legislature.
The contradictory messages taken by the national and provincial integrity commissions have landed the ANC in a constitutional crisis.
The allegations against the ANC’s secretary-general, a high-profile rival of President Cyril Ramaphosa, have deepened faultlines within the party that has ruled South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Magashule has denied the corruption charges but if he were to vacate his post, it would be seen as a victory for Ramaphosa, who has taken a tougher stance on graft since becoming party leader in December 2017.
The allegations against Magashule relate to a contract to audit homes with asbestos roofs when he was premier of the Free State province.
He appeared before a closed session of the ANC’s Integrity Commission on Saturday to give an explanation. Reuters could not reach Magashule for comment on Tuesday, and an ANC spokesman declined comment.
The commission makes recommendations to the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on whether members should be disciplined for perceived errors of judgment or for bringing the party into disrepute.
The NEC resolved in August that party officials charged with corruption should immediately take leave while allegations against them are investigated, but Magashule is yet to do so.
Analysts say Magashule’s backers on the NEC are likely to strongly oppose efforts to remove him.
In a report dated December. 14 on its meeting with Magashule, the commission drew the NEC’s attention to its August resolution.
Magashule has said he will step aside if instructed to do so by the NEC, according to the commission.
“In the unlikely event of resistance to this, the NEC should consider suspension pending the finalisation of the criminal case against him,” the commission added.