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South Africa: Duarte to hold ANC fort, Magashule madness continues

By Anna Maree
Posted on Friday, 7 May 2021 20:53

President of South Africa Jacob Zuma (L) gestures as he speaks to Jessie Duarte, Dr Zweli Mkhize and Deputy President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa (R) during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress 17 December 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

With the suspension of secretary general Ace Magashule, President Cyril Rampahosa and his allies are winning the fight to weaken their enemies in South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC). Magashule says he will appeal the decision, but the person filling his shoes – Jessie Duarte – is not going to make things easy for him.

Recent ructions within the ANC came to a head this week when Magashule reacted to his suspension by attempting to suspend President Ramaphosa.

For now, Ramaphosa has the upper hand, and the markets reacted positively to events.

The Ramaphosa ultimatum

He had given ANC officials charged with corruption a deadline of 30 April to step down. Magashule was the highest-ranking target on the list, and has had a combative relationship with the President’s allies.

Magashule is well aware that he has run out of options for now, and his “letter of suspension” directed at Ramaphosa was aimed at sowing confusion, since he knows that the party cannot not suspend anyone without due process.

Magashule’s supporters had been hoping to convene sympathetic branch supporters for a national general council or a special national conference to overturn his suspension, but with South Africa entering another period of Covid-19 resurgence, the possibility of such a gathering looks remote.

Confusion strategy

To add to the confusion, Magashule told local radio station Eyewitness News on Wednesday 5 May, a day after news broke of his suspension: “I am still the secretary general. I have appealed.” He has argued that he was to remain in his position until his appeal against his suspension is heard and finalised by the party.

For now, party administrators are said to have disabled the access card to his office in the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters in Johannesburg as well as his work email.

His deputy, Jessie Duarte, is officially acting in his place and was the one who communicated his suspension to him. Her working relationship with Magashule had been strained.

One of his allies, a businessman who was convicted for fraud convict, Tony Yengeni, this week claimed Duarte had no power to issue a letter of suspension. “I do not remember us in the [national executive committee] meeting assigning the [deputy secretary general] to suspend people,” said Yengeni, who also sits on the party’s national executive committee.

Weekend and other meetings

Nevertheless, Duarte is convening a Zoom meeting this weekend for the party’s 86-member national executive committee. At the meeting, leaders will be deliberating about Magashule’s future and his possible options to appeal his suspension. Some have even mentioned that they would like to see him expelled for his letter to Ramaphosa.

Magashule has not officially been invited to the meeting, but there has been speculation that he might try to attend anyway.

The 67-year-old Duarte is a politically complex character within a party where there is a general split between those who are loyal to Ramaphosa, and those who support Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma, who also faces corruption charges.

Stories of Duarte’s office clashes with Magashule abound:

  • She once furiously locked him out of his office in a fit of anger.
  • She also had one of Magashule’s staffers, Carl Niehaus, threatened with suspension after he accused Duarte of attacking him while he claimed to have been in hospital with Covid-19 earlier this year.

Magshule’s leadership style, which some have described as more dictatorial, is likely what brought Duarte in confrontation with him. “She turned against Ace pretty quickly [after his election as secretary general in 2017] because he was such a bully,” a party insider said.

Family ties

Duarte, born Yasmin Dangor, comes from a struggling family. Her late older brother, the author Achmat, was a former chief executive officer of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, while her late brother Igshaan worked for the military after having served in the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Another brother, Zane, works for the department of international relations.

Duarte herself was the late president Nelson Mandela’s personal assistant in the early 1990s. She went on to serve in the provincial cabinet under the safety portfolio in the late 1990s, and then as South Africa’s ambassador to Mozambique from 1999.

She became ANC spokesperson after Zuma was elected president in 2007 and went on to be his chief operations officer in the national presidency for a year, from 2009 to 2010.

Duarte was brought onboard the ANC’s top six as deputy secretary general by Zuma in 2012, partly because she was close to some of Zuma’s allies, and partly to bring racial and gender diversity into the leadership.

She did not run on Ramaphosa’s ticket at the ANC’s 2017 elective conference, but after her re-election, Duarte did not actively continue campaigning against him like Magashule and a number of other Zuma loyalists in the party.

Bold style

Despite her occasional but denigrating outbursts at journalists when confronted with difficult questions about the party, Duarte is well-liked within the ANC. Some who have worked with her in the party’s communications department call her “fearless”, “bold” and principled. “She is very firm on diversity and including minorities in the movement,” the party insider adds.

Duarte has, however, remained faithful to Zuma and defended him from critics who say he should obey a constitutional court order to appear before the State Capture Commission – an inquiry set up by Zuma to probe large-scale government corruption under his watch.

She wrote in the Daily Maverick that the commission was an “onslaught against the people”. People criticised her, and she apologised soon after. The ANC’s official stance is that of cooperation with the commission.

Duarte’s report card

Compared to many of her comrades, Duarte has a clean record in government.

  • She was forced to quit her post from the Gauteng provincial cabinet after an inquiry found that there was a strong suspicion that she tried to cover up a car accident she was involved in while driving without a licence.
  • However, Duarte’s son and ex-husband were also implicated in dealings with the Gupta brothers, who were involved in large-scale state corruption in the Zuma years. She claims ignorance about their activities.

For now, Duarte looks set to be the ANC’s bulwark against Magashule and the administrator who will see the party through the October local government elections as well as its own elective conference at the end of next year.

Despite some verbal jabs at her from Magashule’s supporters, she is unlikely to suffer the vicious political attacks reserved for the politically ambitious, since she has previously stated that she will “retire” to write books after her current term in the party is over.

She will, however, have to work hard if she is to retain the trust of the party’s dominant faction. “She will be on a tightrope, and she will have to be more friendly with Ramaphosa’s forces because they won’t let her stay long otherwise,” the party insider concludes.

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