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In court again on corruption charges, the ANC Secretary General faces mounting pressure to stand aside
What happens at Bloemfontein magistrates court today (19 February) will be another test of strength for dissidents in the African National Congress.
Inside the court, ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule will be making his second appearance to answer charges of corruption, fraud and money-laundering. The case will inch further forward.
Outside the court, the number of demonstrators who turn up waving placards and condemning the case as 'politically biased' will be a good measure of Magashule's support.
His ally, ousted President Jacob Zuma, was able to gather a good crowd of supporters outside the court in kwaZuluNatal in the initial stages of his trial on charges of grand corruption on a government arms deal. Since then, the number of Zuma well-wishers has dwindled to a smattering of die-hards.
The charges against Magashule concern a 255 million rand ($17m) contract for asbestos-removal signed when he was premier of the Free State. Although he has been asked by the ANC's Integrity Commission to stand down as Secretary General, which puts him in charge of administration and finances, Magashule has refused to move.
Given his political plans, said to include challenging President Cyril Ramaphosa for the presidency of the ANC, Magashule finds his current party position far too useful. He has direct contact with ANC branches across the country, and has been running an energetic recruitment campaign.
Magashule's supporters says he has boosted party membership by 400,000 to 1.4m over the past three years. He wants to run the ANC campaign in local elections, now due in November. It is those links that he has cultivated with grassroots members of the party that he is using to justify his defiance of the demands of the Integrity Commission and senior members of the party.
Now, his line is that he is answerable only to the branch members of the ANC. As Secretary General he can control much of what goes on in the branches and how they might vote.
It was Mines Minister Gwede Mantashe's time as Secretary General of the ANC that prepared the ground for Ramaphosa's victory in the party presidential elections in December 2017. Mantashe organised a comprehensive audit of branches and membership numbers and set out a road map for Ramaphosa's victory.
Magashule wants to repeat those tactics ahead of the ANC's elective conference next year. Losing his perch as Secretary General would scupper all that (AC Vol 62 No 4, The captured spies & Vol 62 No 2, Cyril and Ace's linked fates).
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