Are some more equal than others to step aside, cadres?

The ANC’s inconsistent application of its step-aside rule and potential damage the policy may cause to the political careers of its members was laid bare last week after Gauteng legislature depu-ty speaker Nomvuyo Mhlakaza-Manamela was acquitted following a four-year criminal trial – without being pushed to step aside.

The rule, which was formulated as part of the governing party’s “renewal programme”, decrees that  criminally-charged members should step aside from leadership positions and party activities.

Former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule remains the most prominent casualty of the controversial step-aside rule, which forced him to jump ship from the party and form his own African Congress for Transformation.

Among those who were forced to step aside since the introduction of the rule were the then Limpopo provincial treasurer Danny Msiza, who was charged for his alleged role in the VBS corruption and fraud case, and former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, who was charged with corruption involving a solid waste tender, among others.

But when Mhlakaza-Manamela was charged with assault in 2020 for allegedly assaulting a pregnant VIP cop, Lizzy Mojapelo, at her house, the Gauteng ANC came out batting in her defence, saying it was reasonable and correct to bend the step-aside rule and retain her in the deputy speaker post until the conclusion of the criminal trial.

Unlike in Msiza’s case, Luthuli House did not exert pressure on her to step aside.

The governing party said that since Mhlakaza-Manamela faced the allegations in 2020, senior leaders witnessed first-hand the unbearable pain and trauma that her family went through over the past four years after allegations of assault by her VIP protection officer, Lizzy Mojapelo. Gauteng ANC spokesperson Lesego Makhubela said the allegations caused damage to the deputy speaker and her family.

He said there was evidence that Mojapelo tried to extort R1-million from Mhlakaza-Manamela, and it emerged in court that she also claimed money from three other people whom she accused of wrongdoing.

“She wanted to subject the deputy speaker to intolerable pain and destroy her career. Once the ANC hears that this person wants one million, what must it do?

“Even when the NPA was interviewing her, she said all she wanted was one million. And the ANC gets wind of that. What must we do? That is why we said we should let this matter go to court.”

Makhubela told Sunday World that the extortion claims and AfriForum’s involvement persuaded the Gauteng ANC to keep her as the deputy speaker until the Johannesburg magistrate’s court ruled on the trial.

Ahead of the verdict last Moday, Mhlakaza-Manamela, the wife of Deputy Minister of Higher Education Buti Manamela, is 14th on the Gauteng ANC’s candidate list for the upcoming May 29 elections.

“The challenge is that AfriForum prosecuted the deputy speaker, and we cannot side with the enemy,” Makhubela stated.

AfriForum’s Barry Bateman expressed disappointment with the judgment.

“Obviously, we are disappointed, but justice has been done. The matter has been heard, which is something we said was supposed to happen since the very beginning.” Gauteng ANC’s sympathetic reasoning for Mhlakaza–Manamela’s ordeal resonated with those of their counterparts in KwaZulu-Natal, who championed the move to bring Gumede back into the fold after her corruption case dragged on for years before court, with the state apparently not ready to prosecute.

The ANC eventually folded in Gumede’s case and brought her back to campaign for the party for the upcoming May 29 elections, partly seen as a move to dissuade her from joining forces with former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe Party.

In Limpopo, Msiza’s camp also believes that he suffered preju-dice throughout his step-aside ordeal linked to the VBS Mutual Bank fraud allegations, saying that the step–aside rule was seemingly tweaked continually to scupper his political ambitions.

Msiza and current ANC Limpopo deputy chairperson Flo-rence Radzilani were made to step aside “based on mere allegations” after their names were mentioned in the partially set aside VBS report of lawyer Terry Motau.

Msiza has been forced to step aside with no respite inspite of instructive guidelines that there should be a periodic review by the party’s national executive committee every six months for those who have been affected by it, while Radzilani has yet to face charges.

Speaker of the National Assembly Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula bemoaned the opportunistic timing of the pending crimi-nal charges against her last Friday.

Mapisa-Nqakula said that in a similar operation, like the security state of the apartheid regime that she fought against, “the machinery of the criminal justice system and the state’s prerogative of prosecution were abused and used as a political tool”.

“I verily fear that this practice has once again reared its ugly head and, if not stopped, carries the real risk of further fraying the constitutional fabric of our young democracy,” she said.

“The conduct of the state representatives, described more fully below, is indicative of an abuse of process, at an opportunistic time before the national elections, in order to sway public opinion, trigger the ANC’s step-aside rule by charging me and humiliating me in the media.

“It is a cold comfort for me to be told that judgment will exonerate me in years to come when I am suffering damage now that cannot be recalled,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

ANC spokesperson Mahle-ngi Bhengu-Motsiri said the renewal programme was running full steam ahead, adding that each of the above-mentioned cases was different.

“The ANC does not have a blanket approach, as the cases mentioned have to be treated on their individual merits and/or demerits with due regard for the ANC constitution and, more importantly, the country’s constitution,” Bhengu-Motsiri said.

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