NEWS & ANALYSIS

Can SA afford Ace?

Douglas Gibson says an old question has recently assumed new urgency

Can SA afford Ace?

Can South Africa afford Ace Magashule? Can the ANC afford a Secretary-General (SG) like him?

The question is not an idle one. The governing party has an organisational set-up reminiscent of Soviet Russia or Communist China, quite out of place in our constitutional democracy.

In the successful countries of the world (that care about freedom, human rights, the Rule of Law, growing economies, high employment and decent living standards) political party functionaries know their place. The party is not confused with the state; the party does not rule; the elected representatives of the voters, through the government, govern the country. The government determines policy and implements it. Certainly not either a secretary-general or a so-called “top six,” both of which have been inflicted on South Africa by the ANC.

There is a price to pay for this crypto-party-dictatorship. It makes the government and President Ramaphosa look weak and indecisive. Allied with the president’s natural hesitation about acting with vigour, as opposed to making promises of action, contradictory statements and views from the SG make the president look as though he leads a government that is not sure of itself.

It is the SG and his Luthuli House comrades who were responsible for the compiling of the election lists. MPs and MPLs know who put them there: the SG and not the President. Readers may recall that when there was an uproar about the ANC election lists, President Ramaphosa had to confess that the leadership had no say: it was the branches and local formations that had the say.

The SG is in control of the branches- which are recognised and which not; which members are entitled to vote in party elections and which not. And finally, which candidates appear on the list and which do not. Do you remember the famous statement made by Ace Magashule when he told MPs that they were not to follow their consciences – they were instructed to follow what the ANC told them to do? This was how the deeply unpopular Jacob Zuma survived as president for so long – he had Luthuli House and the SG in his pocket. When the former SG, Gwede Mantashe, swopped sides, Zuma’s end was near, despite the efforts of the then newly-elected Ace Magashule before and after Zuma was fired.

The question has assumed a new urgency in the past week or two where Magashule, an economic illiterate if there ever was one, told South Africa and the world that the government would be nationalising the SA Reserve Bank (SARB) (one of the few remaining public institutions with an independence guaranteed by the Constitution that escaped state capture by the friends of Zuma), changing the constitutionally determined mandate of the SARB, and printing money to fund social spending.

The statement was greeted with horror by investors and the financial markets and within hours the value of the Rand against the US Dollar, the British Pound and the Euro dropped like a stone and at the time of writing has still not recovered. This one-man wrecking ball who seems determined to oppose the president at every turn and who clearly hankers after the “good old” Zuma days, undermined the authority of the government, the minister of Finance and the president. He was repudiated by Minister Mboweni and after several days of silence, quite gently by Ramaphosa. But the damage was done to our currency, to our reputation for financial prudence, and to our prospects of putting right an economy that is in crisis.

One asks again: Can we afford Ace Magashule?

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand.

This article first appeared in The Star.