Some in his own party question his struggle credentials, while both ANC comrades and opponents question his tenure as both party chairperson and Free State premier.
The calls for him to fall, even face criminal prosecution, have grown louder in recent years, due to a growing body of evidence of state capture and his links to the controversial Gupta family.
But to his supporters and allies, he is loved.
A visit to his office on the sixth floor at the ANC’s headquarters reveals just that, from mutterings of “the boss is coming” to overt and graceful offerings of tea or water and a number of staffers as well as volunteers who hang on every word Magashule utters.
Of course, the cloud Magashule and his backers cannot shake is the credibility of many supporters, such as Carl Niehaus, a man whose lies to his own comrades and others have been exposed several times.
Speaking to News24 in a wide-ranging interview on Friday, Magashule, who beat Cyril Ramaphosa ally Senzo Mchunu by a mere 24 votes for the role of secretary general at the ANC’s national conference in 2017, discussed the importance of rebuilding and renewing the organisation, as well as the expectations the governing party has of its members in both Parliament and the executive arm of the government.
He also opened up about criticism of the party and those directed at him – both in his personal capacity and as a top leader in the party.
As expected, Magashule defended his decision to appoint controversial party members, including Bongani Bongo, Faith Muthambi, Mosebenzi Zwane and Supra Mahumapelo, to head several portfolio committees in Parliament.
These appointees are seen to be allies of former president Jacob Zuma and many face allegations of corruption, mismanagement and bribery as in Bongo’s case.
“I am not worried about being criticised. If they do and they are correct and they are genuine, I am sure we will fix it but if people think they can criticise and attack, I understand in politics that something should happen,” said Magashule.
Two weeks ago, the country was sent into a tailspin following an announcement from Magashule that the ANC, during one of its national executive committee (NEC) meetings, decided to expand the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank.
Fin24 reported that the rand fell sharply after the announcement, which precipitated public squabbles in which senior ANC members, including Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and the party’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, questioned Magashule’s recollection of the NEC meeting and his comments on the oganisation’s position on the Reserve Bank.
Magashule also faced claims that he edited the statement, adding in the controversial parts on quantitative easing and the independence of the bank, after the document was prepared.
The secretary general denies this.
“I read the statement as is. I have not seen any other statement.”
In sharing his thoughts on that problematic week for the governing party, Magashule laid the blame with the media, saying when the ANC’s top officials met two days after his briefing, they realised they had not been at odds with their views on the Reserve Bank.
“We say: ‘Why do we differ?’ And then realise in most instances we are not differing, it’s the media trying to put in a wedge. We are more convinced the media is trying to put a wedge between me and the president and they are not going to succeed,” said Magashule.
The ANC secretary general added that he not only worked well with Ramaphosa, but respected him as the elected president of the ANC.
He questioned the confusion around his comments on the Reserve Bank’s mandate, saying if journalists took time to read the Nasrec conference resolutions they would not claim certain ANC members were at odds with the government or party on the matter.
Focusing on internal matters, Magashule said there were “counter-revolutionaries”, even from within the ANC.
Reiterating comments he made to News24 during the general elections in May that “there’s no smoke, without fire”, when asked if he believed he was under siege.
“Counter-revolutions will never stop. Leaders of the ANC, not only me, will always be targeted; as I say we are in politics,” said Magashule.
“The best leaders of the ANC have been dealt with in the past – even post-apartheid many great leaders have been destroyed,” he added.
He described the ANC as a broad church, arguing that it would have among its members some who do not even understand the party.
But Magashule added that while his role should be clear to all, as stipulated in the party’s constitution, he was willing to be patient with those who still do not believe he was fit for the role.
After being pushed several times, the head of ANC business at Luthuli House admitted there were some within the organisation who still struggled to trust him in his role as secretary general but insisted he was not worried or losing sleep over that.
“I can’t tell those people who are still very deeply rooted in their factional behaviour what to do. I have to earn their respect, not part of any faction. I am a leader of the ANC. I work very well with the top six. People have views but we differ internally,” he remarked.
Magashule said he expected many to disagree with the ANC as it pushed on with a radical transformation agenda and fight for the country’s majority.
As the interview was coming to its end, he paid respect to slain anti-apartheid hero Chris Hani, on the anniversary of what would have been his 77th birthday, drawing parallels between some of his current experiences and the former communist leader went through.
“Today we are supposed to be celebrating the life of Chris Hani, a Chris Hani who at some stage was also criticised and ill-treated by the ANC, a man who stood and said I am a leader of the ANC, that’s why he is such a loved cadre and leader of the ANC, that’s why he survived and the enemy, the counter-revolutionary saw that f Hani could live South Africa would have been a better country today,” he said.
When asked if he likening himself to Hani, he denied that he was comparing himself to the late icon.
“You can see the agenda of the counter-revolution in South Africa and let me tell you, I will defeat that counter-revolution together with the masses of our people who are behind the ANC,” said Magashule.
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