The Secretary General of the African National Congress, Ace Magashule, appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court on charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering relating to the R255 000 000.00 Free State asbestos housing project. Seven other accused appeared in the same court previously facing charges relating to the same project. The State alleges that Mr Magshule received several amounts of money from businessmen, Igo Mpambani and Edwin Sodi being proceeds from the said tender while he was Free State premier and that he used his position to influence the awarding of this tender. Mr Magashule is really the first high profile ANC leader to be brought to court in connection with the plundering of state resources by members of the ruling party that occurred during the tenure of office of former president Jacob Zuma.
According to evidence that emerged through investigative journalism and amplified at the Zondo Commsion into state capture. the looting of the state resources was spearheadeed by the Gupta brothers, with the approval of the former president and his allies. The Guptas fled the country, taking their loot with them. when Zuma’s term of office came to an end.
The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI),popularly known as the Hawks had obtained a warrant for the arrest of Mr Magashule. However, as a result of arrangements between the police and Mr Magashule’s attorneys, the warrant could not be executed as Mr Magashule co-operated with the police and agreed to hand himself over on Friday, 13 November 2020, for his court appearance. He indeed complied with the request by the police.
However, after learning about the warrant of arrest, Mr Magashule began playing a political card, alleging that the enemy has infiltrated the ANC and that it must not be allowed to fly. While it is unclear how much support there is within the ANC for this stance, what is clear is that many people appeared at the Bloemfontein Court to support Mr Magashule. On social media however, many people have shown their exhaustion about the corruption that has brought the country to its knees, as shown by high levels of unemployment, lack of service delivery, the collapse of State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s), failing municipalities etc. Magashule’s most ardent supporters have also spoken about Radical Economic Transformation or RET, but many people have now begun to question the meaning of that rhetoric with some analysts suggesting that it is the continuation of the looting project and not anything serious about addressing the economic welfare of the citizens.
At a press conference following a meeting of the top six National Executive Committee members, deputy secretary general and treasurer general of the ANC said that Magashule will not be stepping down as a member of the executive while his trial continues. They indicated that they are still seeking proper legal advise on the issue. The ANC had previously said that its members who are facing criminal charges should step aside until they have resolved their matters with the courts. it now seems that in the case of the Secretary General, that resolution is too difficult to swallow. Addressing his supporters after the court appearance, Mr Magashule was very defiant, stating that he was elected by branches of the ANC and that only those branches can tell him to step down. He further referred the supporters to many of his achievements as Free State Premier that he took many children to study abroad for various qualifications, particularly Cuba, Turkey, China, Germany and so on, the many housing projects that he undertook in the various Free State townships. Among his many supporters was ANC leaders,Tony Yengeni, Supra Mahumapelo, Carl Niehaus, Malusi Gigaba etc. Earlier during the day, before proceedings could start, Mr Mahumapelo and Mr Niehaus were thrown out of court by the police, despite having accreditation as Mr Niehaus has stated.
Many people who are resisting the fight against corruption are those who themselves have got skeletons in their closets and fear that the anti corruption floods will likely drown all of them. In his book, The Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture, investigative journalist, Pieter-Louis Myburgh deals extensively with the SG’s dealings in the Free State while he was premier and is not painting a rosy picture.
The case against Mr Magashule was postponed to 19 February 2021 in the same court when he will join the other accused as accused no 8. The Court found that it was in the interest of justice that the accused be released on bail. He was released on R200 000-00 bail. The police did not oppose his release on bail as Mr Magashule co-operated fully with the police and is not a flight risk. He is well known and cannot hide away from the court. The police however, regard the case as very serious. He must notify the police whenever he intends to travel outside South Africa. Neither he nor anyone acting on his behalf is allowed to contact the state witness, whose name was provided to the court. The state intends to add three more accused before the matter goes on trial. Mr Magashule is facing 21 charges altogether including fraud, corruption and money laundering.