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Magashule’s ACT of defiance yet another test for ANC

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Picture: Picture: Timothy Bernard / African news Agency (ANA) – Former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and leader of newly-launched party Ace Magashule’s new party, the African Congress for Transformation, will contest the elections next year.

By Prof. Bheki Mngomezulu

Former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has been in the political wilderness for some time, following his expulsion by his party under controversial circumstances.

This prompted people to speculate what his political future might be. Some concluded that the expulsion marked an abrupt end to Magashule’s long political career. Others speculated that he might join the EFF. This seemed plausible as he had been seen rubbing shoulders with the EFF.

Others thought that Magashule’s obvious move would be to join Carl Niehaus’s African Radical Economic Transformation (Areta) – another old serving member of the ANC who was also expelled. Those who held this view could be excused since both leaders had been the staunch supporters of former president Jacob Zuma.

There were a few others who held the view that Magashule would form his own political party, even though Magashule had stated on many occasions that he would remain in the ANC. The only hint that the group might be vindicated was when Magashule responded to the media by saying that he was consulting and would decide his political future at a later stage.

Having concluded his consultations and after weighing his options, on August 30, Magashule unveiled his new political party, the African Congress for Transformation (ACT). This took many by surprise – except those who had speculated that this is the route Magashule would take. Another thing many did not expect was Magashule’s choice of where he launched his new party, Soweto. Given that he comes from the Free State where he once had a large following, some would have expected him to launch the party in his home base.

Perhaps this was a good move in many ways. First, his former political home, the ANC, has enjoyed great support in Gauteng. By launching his party in Soweto, Magashule was sending a message that he was prepared to take the ANC head-on. Second, there are many political parties that are regionally based and have no footprints in other areas. Magashule’s move tacitly sent out the message that he was appealing to a wider audience than just his home base. Whether this will indeed be the case, only time will tell.

The formation of ACT might not be a big threat to the ANC but it will undoubtedly cause a dent. It is true that many political parties have split from the ANC since 1959, when the PAC paved the way. Others, like the United Democratic Movement (UDM), EFF and Areta, have their umbilical cord buried in the ANC but it retained power.

While the historical facts are correct, the political environment has changed. The ANC of today is not like that of yesteryear. Service delivery concerns, accusations of corrupt activities within the party, factionalism, the increased number of the youth who do not have the history of the ANC as the liberation movement, the increased number of political parties, and many other factors give the ANC more reasons to be worried by the formation of the ACT.

As for Magashule, he must tread carefully. Political parties that are formed out of anger or disgruntlement have a short lifespan. The Congress of the People (Cope) is a typical example. The EFF is an exception, partly because its radical stance attracted the youth. But even the EFF’s constant upward trajectory is not reflective of its popularity, as evidenced by the recent event held at FNB Stadium to mark the party’s 10th anniversary.

The continued existence and growth of the ACT will depend on the calibre of its support. If many of its members are those who are disgruntled by their political parties (including the ANC), its life might be cut short. If the party is joined by political opportunists who associate themselves with the ACT in the hope of getting positions, they will fall by the wayside one by one as soon as the party list has been compiled. Should that happen, the ACT might follow in the footsteps of Cope.

On the other hand, Magashule has made a profound statement that he will not lobby support by discrediting the ANC. This is a good start. If he were to do that, he would deviate from many political parties which cannot complete two sentences without mentioning the ANC. In the process, they end up campaigning for the ANC they claim to be contesting. The ANC did not handle Magashule’s case properly. He was suspended as the secretary-general but not as a member. Suddenly, he was given an ultimatum to explain why he should not be expelled. The ANC will have to face the impact of its own hasty decision as Magashule mobilises support.

*Professor Bheki Mngomezulu is director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at the Nelson Mandela University.