Former eThekwini mayor, Zandile Gumede has recently agreed to the African National Congress’ (ANC) step aside rule and stepped down from her official duties. Gumede along with 21 others face more than 2 000 counts of fraud, corruption and money laundering linked to an eThekwini municipality contract valuing R430 million.  

With the ongoing contestation of ideas around the African National Congress’ (ANC) controversial step aside policy and its validity gaining momentum, we explore what the policy could mean for the party and how this effort intends on tackling corruption in the ruling party. 

What is the ANC’s step aside policy? 

The much talked about policy came about at the ANC’s 54th National Conference held at Nasrec in 2017 where it was resolved that any party member charged with corruption or any other serious offences should voluntarily step aside from all leadership positions in the ANC until they are cleared or face suspension. Subsequent to the resolution, legal opinions were sought on the legality of the matter.

Former ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa, former president Kgalema Montlathe and current ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile were commissioned by the national executive committee (NEC) to develop recommendations on the step-aside guidelines.

The step aside policy and party divisions in the ANC

The resolution has divided the party as leaders who are criminally charged have refused to relinquish their posts both within the party and in government. Skeptics of the step aside policy have raised concern with individuals exploiting the step aside resolution to wage factional battles in dealing with political opponents.

Challenges in implementing the step aside resolution

One of the biggest challenges facing the ANC in implementing the resolution is high ranking officials who are facing corruption charges refusing to voluntarily step down from their positions in defiance of ANC policy.

Speaking outside a court appearance of embattled ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, former ANC councilor in the Nelson Mandela Bay Council and ex-convict, Andile Lungisa argued that an ANC resolution could not surpass the country’s constitution. The constitution affords all accused individuals the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.  Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have lambasted the step-aside policy of the ANC and labelled it as unconstitutional and illegal and said they will never implement such a policy.

According to an article written by Professor Pierre de Vos, being charged with a criminal offence or being convicted is not a prerequisite before disciplinary action can be taken. ANC members who engage in any unethical or immoral conduct who may bring the party into disrepute can also be disciplined.

Some leaders tainted with corruption insist that ANC branches at a special conference should be consulted before a decision can be taken to remove an elected leader. The party Constitution does not provide for ANC members to step aside. However, Rule 25.70 of the ANC’s Constitution provides for members to be temporarily suspended if faced with criminal charges. Magashule has been suspended in line with this rule.

Even though initial legal advice indicated that the ANC’s NEC does not have the power to force members to step aside, Professor de Vos argues that the NEC does have extensive powers it can use to enforce its decisions and root out compromised individuals. However, the NEC is required to exercise their powers in accordance with the ANC Constitution and it is not allowed to “rewrite” the Constitution through the adoption of new resolutions to discipline party members and office bearers.

Consequences of not implementing this crucial policy

If the ANC fails to implement the policy, its credibility is likely to be further eroded and become a political party where constitutional delinquency is allowed to thrive. Concerns have also been raised about the public’s trust in the ANC which seems to be wearing away gradually.

A political party can suffer catastrophic damage to its reputation when its leaders engage in unethical or immoral practices, or are caught engaging in criminal activities. Parties who take the damage to its reputation seriously will take swift action against such a leader.

It is important that citizens trust political parties as the prime enablers for citizens to serve in public office. Successful democracies require political parties that are capable of representing the needs, interests and concerns of the electorate.

Some ANC bigwigs who might be forced to step aside 

Thursday 15 April 2021 was the deadline for the ANC’s provincial secretaries to provide their lists of names of members charged with corruption to secretary-general Ace Magashule. Ironically, Magashule’s name would have also appeared on this list.

As stated earlier, eThekwini mayor, Zandile Gumede who recently agreed to the step-aside rule, faced more than 2 000 counts of fraud, corruption and money laundering linked to an eThekwini municipality contract valuing R430 million along with 21 other municipal officials including city manager Sipho Nzuza and ANC councilor Mondli Mthembu. They are accused of colluding with corporate entities to circumvent the outcome of the supply chain management protocols in the municipality. Gumede and 11 other ANC members in KwaZulu-Natal have since taken a break from their positions in the party. 

But at the center of this potentially historic resolution seems to be the secretary-general of the ANC himself. Ace Magashule who faces 70 charges of fraud and corruption related to overseeing a R250 million asbestos contract during his tenure as premier of the Free State. At the end of 2020 the ANC’s integrity commission found that Magashule should step aside from his position while facing court action.  Magashule is out on R200 000 bail and is expected back in court on the 11 August 2021. 

After receiving a suspension letter from the deputy secretary general of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, defiant Magashule absurdly attempted to suspend President Cyril Ramaphosa as the leader of the party in terms of resolution 8.2 of the ANC’s 54th national conference. He also urged members of the party to reject illegal and unconstitutional actions taken by the party.

South Africans will have to wait and see whether the step aside policy resolution of the ruling party will be successfully implemented and heed the intended results. It is certain that much more needs to be done to restore the ruling party’s credibility and ensure that its members are held to account.

This piece was originally published on News24.