Top South African official granted bail in asbestos graft case

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Ace Magashule, the second most senior official in South Africa’s ruling party, was granted bail on Friday in an asbestos graft case valued at R255 million (23 million euros) in Free State, where he was premier during the Zuma presidency.

African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General Ace Magashule appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court Friday to face 21 counts of fraud, corruption and money laundering.

The matter is expected to be moved to the High Court in Bloemfontein where the ANC was founded 108 years ago.

Conditions of bail prevent Masgashule from making contact directly or indirectly with his former personal assistant Moroadi Chalota who has turned state witness.

Dodgy asbestos deal

The case relates to fraudulent tenders for asbestos roofing on economic housing during Magashule’s term as premier of Free State province.

The tender, valued at R255 million (23 million euros), was riddled with irregularities and many homes in the province still have asbestos roofs to this day.

Magashule is alleged to have received R10 million (around 500,000 euros) from the flawed government project.

His lawyer Lawrence Hodes noted that the charge sheet does not mention his taking any money for himself.

Magistrate Amos Moos pointed out the inconsistency of Magashule appearing in the dock unshackled.

He stressed that his decision on bail has nothing to do with Magashule’s position in society.

Prosecutor Johann de Nysschen said Magashule was not handcuffed because of the degree of cooperation by the accused who turned himself in to the serious crimes squad known as the Hawks for arrest.

Case divides ANC

Magashule was cheered by ANC officials in the court when he climbed up from cells into the dock where he sat alone.

More than a thousand people clamoured outside the court Friday morning demanding to be let in.

Numbers were limited because of social distancing required by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The crowd illustrated the deep divisions within the ruling party.

It was divided between people demanding justice and an end to corruption and those alleging that the charges against Magashule are politically motivated by President Cyril Ramaphosa who has never wanted him as the party’s secretary general.

They wore ANC regalia and carried banners in the colours of the ruling party.

This ran counter to Magashule’s request that his supporters avoid appearing officially to represent the ANC.

White monopoly capital

Leaders of the party present attended in their personal capacity.

They have not explained why Magashule has not been ordered to stand down, as party regulations require, until the criminal charges have been dealt with.

Magashule, who maintains he is being targeted for his support of radical economic transformation and his opposition to white monopoly capital, told supporters the ANC does not belong to any individual.

“The party has been infiltrated,” he said. “There are those who are compromised because they were working as agents during apartheid rule.

Any revolution has counter revolutionaries,” he said.

He was elected by a collective of branches. Only they, and not individuals on the party executive, can order him to step down.

Allegations of witch-hunt

“Nobody can remove us,” he said, threatening to become a whistle blower.

“They say Ace Magashule is corrupt. I will show you corruption. I will give you details about the people who are making a lot of noise.

“You know they have received money and are still receiving money today."

He accused his media critics of being sponsored by white monopoly and of failing to report the hundreds of Free State students he sent to Cuba to study medicine while he was Free State premier.

He offered to give the media information about the houses built under his premiership and the infrastructural developments even though he doubted they would use it.

Magashule is the most high-profile politician to be tried since former President Jacob Zuma, whose trial on graft charges resumes in December.