[OPINION] The ace in the ANC deck - Ace Magashule

Ace Magashule’s official bio on the Free State government’s website reads like the perfect curriculum vitae for a Secretary General of the ANC. Born near Parys in the Free State, he was a keen soccer player, wearing the number 8 jersey. His prowess on the football field earned him his nickname and he chose to use it over his given name of Elias.

Growing up, Magashule “found a natural home in the struggle against apartheid”, he studied at the politically active university of Fort Hare, was a founding member of Cosas and was detained several times and held in solitary confinement for nine months.

He taught at a high school in Parys and helped raise funds for needy students.

Politically, Magashule was mentored by Chris Hani and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. He participated in the founding of the United Democratic Front in the 1980s, spent some time in exile and then after 1994 he climbed the ANC ladder in the Free State.

He served as provincial ANC chairperson, was elected to the ANC NEC, became an MEC in his home province and spent time as an MP in Parliament. In 2009, he was elected as Premier of the Free State, a job which he still holds today.

It is an impeccable political bio, but what is crucial is what is not in it.

There is no mention of the multiple allegations of corruption, the Gupta payoffs, the irregular tenders, the cover-ups and the cronyism. Curiously, many of his allegations mirror those of Jacob Zuma’s.

Ace has his own Nkandla scandal which saw him ensure he was secure in comfort with a R8 million upgrade to his official residence. His office admitted that taxpayers’ money had been spent on aesthetic renovations to his house. There was a new pool house, a dining room, a lounge etc etc. The building had to be rewired and a modern security system added. Oh, and the pool was “large and unnecessarily deep, which meant that it might hardly heat up in summer and was difficult for the premier to use as he has small children”. Firepool stuff right there.

Magashule also needed a new car, so in December 2015, the Free State province purchased a luxury Mercedes-Benz costing R2.3 million which included a panoramic sunroof and entertainment centre. The province also bought six more luxury Mercs to give to traditional leaders, leading to suggestions that the cars served as a bribe to secure votes in the local government elections. The DA responded to the scandal by claiming that Magashule was turning the province into a ‘Banana Republic’.

The irregular expenditure paled in comparison to the allegations of tender rigging.

During the 2010 World Cup, Ace was allegedly pulling the strings behind a multimillion-rand tender to provide soccer regalia, including T-shirts and blankets. The businessman who was at the centre of the R9.5 million tender claimed his company was used as a front for an entity close to Magashule and that the Premier had personally encouraged him to be a front for the deal.

A Free State provincial department irregularly awarded a ‘sweeping, open-ended tender’ to a company owned by one Ace’s close associates. AmaBhungane revealed in March 2017 that the provincial Department of Police, Roads and Transport bypassed proper procedures to award the contract to a company headed by Magashule’s former secretary.

But it is Ace’s alleged capture by the powerful Gupta family that raises the loudest alarm bells. It is also where his story mirrors Zuma’s most closely. According to the exposes arising out of the #GuptaLeaks emails, the Saxonwold family set out to capture Magashule’s sons in much the same way they captured Zuma’s son Duduzane. According to AmaBhungane, the Guptas used travel and luxury treats to win over his children paying for stays at their favoured Dubai hotel The Oberoi, taking them along on a three-week family holiday to New York City and Venice and forking out for stays in India and first-class airline seats. Magashule’s son Tshepiso started working for the Guptas as a consultant in November 2010 and also took a loan from the family.

There have also been questions about Magashule’s possible involvement in the Vrede Dairy Farm controversy, a R570 million Free State dairy project riddled with irregularities. The #GuptaLeaks also give a view on the family’s extensive political connectivity in the Free State. Again, according to AmaBhungane, a June 2014 document titled “Indian delegation” described a Gupta employee - one of those involved in the Estina project – as “adviser to Free State Premier” Ace Magashule.

Magashule’s spokesperson issued a statement saying he “has noted the so-called email communications’. “The Free State provincial government has noted that the relevant authorities, including the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks), have embarked on investigations which are intended to test the validity and authenticity of such e-mails. Until such investigations are concluded, the premier and the Free State provincial government shall not respond to enquiries relating to the sources, content or allegations emanating from these ‘leaked’ e-mails.”

Former Free State premier and Cope leader Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota has described his former MEC as being ‘corrupt to the core’. He claimed that he had tried to fire Magashule and had laid charges against him with the police for theft when he was premier and Ace an MEC. He even claimed that Zuma had allegedly interfered and covered up the scandal. As a result, Ace is indebted to Zuma and ‘owes him’.

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula also tweeted that he thought Magashule would be a terrible Secretary-General, as he was an ‘infection’ who would destroy what was left of the movement.

Magashule has consistently denied that he has ever been involved in any dodgy deals, theft or corruption.
But it is his views on public spending that perhaps provide the most insight. Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, he memorably revealed how much he hated the laws governing how state officials are allowed to spend public money. He complained that the Public Finance Management Act (FFMA) has “long, tedious processes before you can actually achieve anything” and that South Africa was trying to act too much like a “Western” country, instead of a developing country.

“If I had my power, I would just do things tomorrow,” he declared.

In his new position as Secretary General of the ruling party, he may well now have the power to just do things tomorrow!

Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener