Ace Magashule stays put despite corruption charges

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule will not stand aside from his party post, despite a warrant issued for his arrest on corruption charges linked to the R255-million Free State asbestos scandal.

Instead, the fate of the most powerful figure in Luthuli House will only be discussed by the governing party’s leadership when its national executive committee (NEC) meets again.

This despite the resolution by the party’s 54th national conference — and the NEC itself earlier this year — that leaders charged with corruption or other serious offences should stand aside from their state and party roles until the conclusion of their criminal matter.

Magashule, the former Free State premier and ANC chairperson, will appear in court in Bloemfontein on Friday morning after being served with a warrant of arrest on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the ANC’s top officials told a media briefing that although Magashule had briefed the rest of the top six about the arrest warrant on Tuesday night, they had not  discussed whether he should step aside in line with the NEC ruling.

Treasurer general Paul Mashatile, who addressed the briefing together with deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, said the meeting “did not discuss that”.

“The secretary general briefed us about the letter he had received from law-enforcement agencies, and the fact that he will co-operate and go to court on Friday. The issue of stepping down is a matter that the NEC is seized with. We are sure it will be discussed at the next NEC,” Mashatile said.

Duarte said Magashule had “expressed his preference” that ANC members should not make T-shirts and hold marches in his support when he appears in court.

Duarte said ANC members could attend in their individual capacity, but that the officials, including herself and Mashatile, would not attend because it would be impossible to divorce themselves from their organisational office.

Turning to calls for protest action by Magashule supporters, including Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina and Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association spokesperson Carl Niehaus, Mashatile said they should refrain from making such comments.

“We would discourage members from saying such things,” Mashatile said. “We need to call for calm in this period, now that emotions are running high. It is important that the leadership continues to call on our members to remain calm.”

Duarte said the NEC was now reviewing the “stand aside” rule because of its legal implications for leaders who were removed on the basis of charges and later acquitted. 

Legal advice was being sought about how to go ahead, with proposals to be tabled at the next NEC meeting.

Duarte said they would not attend Magashule’s court appearance as there was a need to defuse tensions in the Free State, rather than inflaming them.

“There are huge tensions. We cannot be party to creating any further division. We have to respect the NEC decisions,” she said.

Earlier in the day, the other accused in the asbestos case, including tenderpreneur Edwin Sodi and former Mangaung mayor Olly Mlamleli, appeared in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court. The case was adjourned for further investigation until February 19, when Magashule will join the first group of accused.

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