Déjà vu as Ace’s arrest reminds ANC of Mbeki’s fall and Zuma’s rise

Johannesburg – The year 2020 will be remembered in the country’s political landscape for the dramatic arrest of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule on 21 counts of corruption, fraud and money-laundering.

It was a culmination of a campaign against corruption by President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose anti-graft stance was a war cry towards and after the governing party’s 2017 elective conference.

Magashule’s arrest was a watershed moment for the ANC, making the former Free State premier the second ANC official to be arrested while in office.

For a moment, it felt like 2005 when former National Prosecuting Authority boss Vusi Pikoli decided to prosecute former president Jacob Zuma, a move that would change the country’s political landscape irrevocably, leading to former president Thabo Mbeki being removed from power in 2008.

In August, Ramaphosa had taken an extraordinary step of writing a letter to branch members of the ANC saying it was time to draw the line in the sand against corruption.

Two months later, Gauteng businessman and ANC benefactor Edwin Sodi was arrested with five others in connection with the Free State R255-million asbestos audit project. It was a day after he testified at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture on the same asbestos matter.

Other arrests of politicians and officials accused of malfeasance have since occurred, with the special investigating unit also unleashing its might on those accused of looting COVID-19 funds, in what has become the country’s biggest drive against corruption since the dissolution of the Scorpions in January 2009.

But Ramaphosa’s authority once again came under the spotlight when the ANC failed to force Magashule to step aside when the party’s top leadership, the national executive committee, held its last meeting for this year, which ended on Tuesday.

The year 2020 also marked a turning point for the official opposition.

The year 2020 also marked a turning point for the DA.

The emergence of John Steenhuisen as its leader and Helen Zille as chair of its federal council was criticised as a move that signified the hijack of the party by a white cabal.

The DA also dropped race as a factor in the determination of policy, effectively ending a protracted internal battle that had been raging between black and white leaders.

Steenhuisen and Zille’s election, and the dropping of race as a proxy for policy determination, led to the continued exodus of black leaders from the party, including the party’s Gauteng leader John Moody, who quit in September.

But perhaps what defined the year 2020 more was the outbreak of COVID-19, which saw Ramaphosa declaring the state of disaster on March 15.

Next year will also be a big political year, with the ANC’s all-important mid-term meeting, national general council (NGC), to be held in April or May and the local elections between August and November.

Ramaphosa will face the toughest test to his leadership at the NGC, where a revolt or possible recall is on the cards. Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is expected to hand over his report into state capture to Ramaphosa by March.

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