African National Congress (ANC) former Free State chairman Ace Magashule looks set to comfortably re-capture his position in upcoming provincial elections.
However, his standing in the ANC has been tainted after the Constitutional Court declared his initial election unlawful and invalid at the end of last year.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling had cast a pall over party processes days before the ANC national conference in Mangaung, openly exposing the cracks and the ease with which internal party democracy can be subverted.
Six ANC members hauled the party to court last year to challenge the validity of a conference in June, during which Mr Magashule was elected unopposed.
After the court’s order, the ANC’s national executive committee moved swiftly to rectify the situation, appointing a 20-member task team to prepare for a rerun of the elective conference, set to take place on February 23 in Parys.
Free State ANC spokesman Oupa Khoabane says the provincial task team will today visit the province’s five regions to outline the rerun process to structures.
The conference will be a one-day gathering where the province’s executive committee will be elected. The team includes Mr Magashule and former provincial secretary Sibongile Besani.
Mr Besani was linked to the campaign to remove Mr Magashule last year. Although he was not among those who took the party to court to challenge the conference, his correspondence with the party’s national office was heavily relied on in the legal action to prove that irregularities had occurred.
Two provincial sources say Mr Magashule has now "fallen out of favour" with President Jacob Zuma, who appointed Mr Magashule as premier after he supported Mr Zuma against former president Thabo Mbeki.
A national leader confirmed the court decision against the ANC Free State conference was a concern as it could cause party structures to lose confidence in the way processes were run. A source close to Mr Magashule denies this, saying the ANC’s position was that everyone has the right to turn to the courts for recourse.
The provincial conference, which was nullified by the court, also placed the party’s national conference at risk. As a fail-safe measure during the national elective conference, the party had the 324 delegates from the Free State vote on a different coloured ballot paper. The six members who took the party to court had threatened to challenge the outcomes of the party’s Mangaung conference, but have not yet decided whether to take this route.
It appears the "regime change" group has lost its appetite to challenge Mr Magashule.
Ahead of last year’s June conference — declared null and void by the Constitutional Court — former ANC Free State treasurer Mxolisi Dukwana was set to challenge Mr Magashule. Former military veterans leader Gregory Nthatisi was at the time punted as deputy chairman, to replace Thabo Manyoni — the Mangaung mayor aligned to Mr Magashule.
Another source in the province says those who took the ANC to court were acting on behalf of those who unsuccessfully sought to replace Mr Zuma with his former deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe. There is no reason for them to do so now after Mr Zuma’s re-election.
A senior ANC provincial leader aligned to Mr Magashule says should he stand, he would be re-elected with ease. He says the decision of the court was based on complaints of irregularities in about 16 ANC branches from a total of 316 in the Free State.
The legal challenge was a class action — with the six members acting on behalf of about 2,500 ANC members in the province, "far less" than the total of 121,000 members in the province. "It’s clear the majority of the branches and members had no complaints," the provincial party leader says.
Meanwhile, opposition parties in the province hope to benefit from the internal rifts in the ANC.
Democratic Alliance provincial leader Patricia Kopane says she hopes the party’s share of the vote in the province will increase to 30% in next year’s national election.
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