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The ruling party debates whether to suspend its Secretary General Ace Magashule 

After African National Congress officials charged with corruption refuse to step aside, the party will vote on their compulsory suspension

When the last meeting of the ANC's National Executive Committee gave Secretary General Ace Magashule 30 days to consult with party elders and step aside voluntarily, few thought he would take up the offer.

That deadline expired on 29 April. Now a succession of committees is to decide Magashule's fate, culminating in a critical vote by the party's NEC on 8 May. It will be a highly politically charged vote due to Magashule's status as leader of the faction opposing ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, and close ally of ousted President Jacob Zuma.

It will also test the party's new rules stipulating that any official charged with an offence must step aside until the case has been heard. Magashule faces fraud and corruption charges on a 255 million rand (US$17.5m) asbestos project in the Free State when he was premier there. And his trial due to open in August.

Magashule's case is due to be discussed at the ANC's National Working Committee on 3 May which should show where party sentiment is on the issue. The final arbiter will be the NEC meeting on 8 May.

Party insiders say there is a narrow margin in the NEC favouring Magashule's suspension but it might offer a compromise in the form of setting up a sub-committee to consider any special circumstances in his case. The NEC vote will be the clearest indicator of Ramaphosa's standing in the party and his project of a slow purge of the most venal elements in its ranks.

Ramaphosa's position appears to be slowly strengthening. On Freedom Day, 27 April, he spoke at a rally in the Free State, Magashule's home base. Standing alongside Ramaphosa were three of the top six officials in the ANC.

Magashule was conspicuous by his absence, so was Deputy President David Mabuza. Neither did any of Magashule's local cheerleaders turn up to heckle Ramaphosa.

On the following day Ramaphosa appeared on behalf of the ANC at the Zondo Commission on state capture, conceding that the party was guilty of 'lapses' and 'delays' in tackling corruption but stopping short of apologising to the nation.

'Things went horribly wrong but we are here to correct that,' Ramaphosa told Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. He was referring to Parliament's failures to hold Jacob Zuma's presidency (Ramaphosa was his deputy at the time) to account over state capture.

Throughout Ramaphosa remained the ANC party man, talking of reforms from which it would emerge stronger and better. The party's policy of 'cadre deployment', under which it chose which of its officials would take top posts in the state bureaucracy, could 'not be faulted in principle even it it had weaknesses,' he said. Its operation was being reviewed.

Although Ramaphosa's testimony was more self-critical and reflective than most of his ANC colleagues, it stopped well short of accepting a need for sweeping change of a political system which had provided 'fertile ground for state capture' costing the country as much as $50bn.

The ANC wanted to stick with the current proportional representation system which chose MPs from party lists, encouraging the parliamentary caucus to toe the leadership line. Neither did the party accept the need for direct elections for the state president, said Ramaphosa.

Under the current system of the ANC nominating the President, 'policy is properly discussed' and 'not announced by Twitter' he added.

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