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The Hawks – the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI) – have denied an Independent Media report suggesting the imminent arrest of ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who has long been implicated in ‘state capture’ corruption. The ‘fake news’ comes on the heels of 17 arrests related to various corruption cases. The report – even if fake – may signal real alarm that the legal noose around Magashule’s neck could be tightening. The arrest of Magashule, if it were to happen eventually, would trigger threats of a political backlash but would remove the single greatest thorn in the side of President Cyril Ramaphosa within the raucous ruling party.
The Zondo Commission investigating state capture has been exceedingly slow and recent Covid-19-related corruption scandals show how deeply ingrained corruption is within the ANC. Nevertheless, the 17 arrests in recent days could be the first tentative sign of progress in the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the wake of the Zuma years. The 17 do not include any big fish but mid-ranking players that could prove important in building bigger corruption cases. For instance, Edwin Sodi was arrested in connection with a ZAR 250mn asbestos removal project in the Free State where Magashule used to be premier. Separately, former Bosasa (now African Global) executive Angelo Agrizzi and former ANC MP Vincent Smith have also been arrested on corruption charges.
Magashule’s biggest concern is the ZAR 250mn Vrede dairy farm case, where subsidies for emerging black farmers flowed to a Gupta-linked company, Estina. The NPA tried to prosecute the case in 2018 but had to drop it as it was compiled so hastily and shoddily. In 2019, the state capture commission heard testimony that Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane, former Free State member of the executive committee (MEC) for agriculture and later mineral resources minister under ex-president Jacob Zuma, were aware of irregularities but allowed payments to go ahead. The NPA is reportedly looking to reinstate the Vrede case.
If it were to materialize, any case against Magashule would likely be protracted. Nevertheless, the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC)’s recent resolutions clarify that he would have to be removed from his critical role in running the day-to-day operations of the ruling party. The removal of the current highest-ranking state capture lynchpin within the ANC would likely trigger a backlash from Zuma and Magashule loyalists, perhaps including strategically leaked corruption allegations against members of the Ramaphosa faction, and threats of a revolt against the president at the next ANC National General Council (NGC), which was due in mid-2020 but postponed on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. A dramatic removal of Magashule would also fuel speculation over whether the case could rip the ruling party apart. This is why Ramaphosa would benefit from legal precision strikes, which could eventually see him emerge stronger within the ANC.