There was some sense of de ja vu when an ANC statement dropped late on Tuesday peppered with words like “shocking”, “reckless in the extreme” and “request a public apology” over “the lies that she’s peddling”. It was attributed to ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and didn’t come through the official ANC media WhatsApp group, email or web site, but it somehow arrived on a WhatsApp group for journalists, possibly via one of the many WhatsApp groups of ANC members and volunteers. With 50 days to go before the general elections, you would expect such strong language to be directed to an opposition party, as happens before elections. Instead, it was directed to a comrade, State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba. Strong public statements against comrades usually only happen before ANC elective conferences, but the next national one is still over three years away.
ANC secretary general Ace Magashule has attacked President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Minister of State Security, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, over alleged claims she made about Magashule’s handling of the ANC’s election lists. Magashule’s statement had the feel of fake news, but apparently it’s not.
It had a similar feel to a recent statement attributed to Magashule in which Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan was attacked for utterances he seemingly made about black engineers and which weren’t widely reported, and for which Magashule had to issue a retraction and apology not soon after.
Spookily, Magashule’s latest attack on Letsatsi-Duba, who, like Gordhan, was appointed soon after Cyril Ramaphosa took over from Jacob Zuma as president last February, made reference to something that none of the official media outlets has actually reported about. It also wasn’t readily available on any social media like Twitter or WhatsApp (and we still haven’t seen the offending message). The statement seemed to refer to allegations Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba made somewhere – possibly in a deep ANC WhatsApp group –about Magashule tampering with the ANC lists. The statement, correctly, explained that Magashule is the official in the ANC tasked with submitting the party’s election lists to the Independent Electoral Commission.
Acting ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete, who didn’t react to WhatsApp messages and whose phone was off on Wednesday morning, confirmed to Eyewitness News on Tuesday that the statement was not fake. Legoete said that Letsatsi-Duba posted a picture of Magashule submitting the ANC lists at the IEC and claimed it was taken in a hotel room instead. Her alleged actions have now led to confusion, with ANC members demanding that the final lists be reviewed, he said. Some even marched to Luthuli House.
Magashule apparently released his statement because he “has been trying to engage comrade Letsatsi-Duba for the past two days and she has never replied to his messages”. This left him “with no option but to request a public apology from her, correcting the lies that she is peddling”. The deadline for submitting the lists was a week ago, and Magashule duly went to the IEC’s head offices in Centurion a few hours before the close of business and even invited journalists to witness the submission of the lists. Two days later, the lists were made public and revealed that the balance of power in the ANC is pretty much what it was after the party’s conference in Nasrec in December 2017: slightly tilted towards the Ramaphosa camp, but still with a strong presence of people the Ramaphosa camp would rather not have in Parliament.
Tuesday’s statement revealed not only a breakdown in communication between the man tasked and paid full-time to handle the party administration, Magashule, and a member of a Cabinet portfolio that oversees the intelligence services of the country, but also a breakdown of trust.
The statement put the ANC’s dirty laundry out there in the public domain (always a great strategy for convincing voters… not!). Fights over election lists are as old as divisions in the ANC itself (also, it’s not confined to the ANC – it also happens in opposition parties). All sorts of rumours have been doing the rounds within the ANC about tampering with the lists. Apparently, these started as soon as the lists were in last Wednesday. There is not much public transparency about the compilation of the lists, and distilling a few hundred hopefuls from two camps into a list of about 200 to 300 electables is no mean feat. Suspicions and accusations become standard. Gwede Mantashe, when he was secretary general, was accused of doing the same, and there have been marches to Luthuli House on this issue before. Magashule’s public fury in reaction to accusations is, however, a new thing.
There might have been another trigger: Ramaphosa’s recent public release of a report by a review panel on intelligence. The report found that the State Security Agency was re-purposed under the Zuma administration to serve the president’s interests over the country’s. The revelations came as no surprise because it was widely reported in the media before, including in Jacques Pauw’s best-selling real-life thriller, The President’s Keepers. What was significant, was that Ramaphosa made the report public. Letsatsi-Duba duly declared that those involved in wrong-doing must be held accountable, adding that she would hand over the report to law enforcement agencies.
Those implicated might not be in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet any more, but former state security minister, David Mahlobo is still on the party lists and was with Ramaphosa on the campaign trail in the North West just this weekend. They are as much part of the ANC as Ramaphosa or Letsatsi-Duba, but within the party, they are more likely to be in Magashule’s WhatsApp group, so to speak.
With the ANC divided as it is, it’s important for each camp to get their people into the legislatures and Parliament, because that would put them into a position to push for issues like, for instance, their take on land expropriation without compensation, or even the firing of a president. It’s no secret among those who did not support Ramaphosa that they want to get rid of him after the elections, but it’s still not clear how. One of the options could be to convince an opposition MP – say, an Economic Freedom Fighter – to pass a motion of no confidence in Ramaphosa over mismanagement of the energy grid or Marikana. If there are enough anti-Ramaphosa people in the ANC caucus, such a motion might just fly.
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