JOHANNESBURG, March 29 — A weekend meeting of South Africa’s ruling ANC party descended into chaos over a proposal to oust members facing graft or other criminal charges, media reports said. 

Politicians loyal to the party’s secretary general Ace Magashule objected to a seven-day deadline for him to resign, the reports said yesterday, exposing deep-seated divisions dogging the African National Congress.

The monthly meeting of the party’s decision-making body was so acrimonious that President Cyril Ramaphosa cancelled his usual closing address.

Local media said tensions flared after the party’s national executive committee decided that all party leaders facing corruption or other criminal charges should step aside within a week or face suspension.

“Magashule and his backers said that was not going to happen,” Amanda Gouws, a political scientist at Stellenbosch University, told AFP on Monday.  

“The meeting descended into chaos without any decision.”

Magashule, 61, has been implicated in a 2014 corruption scandal involving contracts to audit asbestos-roofed houses awarded when he was premier of the central Free State province.

He was briefly arrested in November and is facing trial for allegedly failing to report corrupt dealings around the multi-million-dollar contracts.

A slew of other senior government officials have appeared in court over the scandal.

Magashule is a close ally of former president Jacob Zuma and part of an internal ANC faction opposed to Ramaphosa.

Gouws noted that pressure on Magashule to step down would likely prompt his supporters to resign, forcing the ANC to hold an early elective conference.

Zuma was forced out in 2018 over graft scandals centred around an Indian business family, the Guptas, who won lucrative government contracts.

Ramaphosa has since vowed to root out corruption.

Several Zuma loyalists have come under fire as a result, stoking divisions that have increasingly hampered Ramaphosa’s stewardship of the historic party of Nelson Mandela.

“This confirms the ANC is seriously divided,” Gouws said. “This is a party that cannot govern itself, let alone govern the country.” 

An ANC spokesperson did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment. — AFP