Part 1: The first telephone chat with the Premier
Now that it has become fashionable for many in our country to criticise Ace Magashule, correctly or incorrectly, I wish to narrate my own experiences with this man, whose influence can be felt across the length and breadth of South Africa, even internationally.
In the beginning of October 2015, I received an instruction that I must contact then Premier of the Free State, Ace Magashule. I was shocked. I did not have his number so I requested that I be supplied with same. This would be the first time that I would not only have a direct discussion with a person deployed as a Premier, but it would also be the first time to have a one-on-one chat with Ace Magashule.
As an activist, and also in my professional capacity, I had witnessed him address many platforms. My impressions about him at the time were that he was strict, harsh and extremely critical of those he believed were not delivering on what was expected. So this image filled my head as I prepared to call him.
“Dumelang. Premier, ke Tiisetso Makhele. I received an instruction that I should call you”, I said, with apparent nervousness. His response floored me. Contrary to his usual demeanour when addressing at some platforms, he was extremely calm, soft-spoken and unexpectedly humble. This humility, which is not in full supply from most of our leaders once appointed in senior positions, is what made me weak.
My voice, which is inherited from that of my father, is loud in nature. Because of the calmness and humility displayed the then Premier, I found myself lowering my voice, without me being aware. It is from that day that I learnt a practical lesson that Ace Magashule’s conduct is infectious.
He indicated to me that the leadership of the ANC had recommended me to serve as his Spokesperson, as this position was vacant after my predecessor, Makalo Mohale, was promoted to another position. But before this, he enquired about my employment as well as other details. In particular, he wanted to check if I was employed permanently, as the Spokesperson was a contract post, linked to the incumbent.
After I indicated to him that I was willing to leave the permanent post for a contract post, because, as I said; “nothing in life is permanent”, he paused a bit, perhaps trying to digest my appetite for risk, and said; “It’s fine. I will ensure that the processes relating to the appointment is finalised within two weeks”.
I was astounded by the fact that he was able to put a time frame to this task. This is another trait which is lacking amongst many of our leaders. I then got excited that I would have a rare opportunity to work under a humble, yet strict, project-orientated and results driven leader.
After the appointment had been done, I sat and waited for him to give me further instructions in terms of my deployment. None came. This was not because he was disinterested, or did not favour my deployment. I later learnt that it is characteristic of him to allow people space to work. He has a rare attribute of being able to allow people’s talents, passions and sense of innovation to flourish.
“People must be allowed to work, and where they do mistakes, they do those mistakes because they are working, and must be supported”, this is one of his very famous sayings. I want to believe that there is no one, who has worked near, or with, Ace Magashule, who has not learnt one or two things from him.
Part 2: A Man of the People
The Ace Magashule I know is the one who is always in the company of people. His appetite to interact with the people, for one reason or the other, is not stage-managed, but is rather his natural character. In an instance when I had to leave the area where Ace Magashule was, if I wanted to check his whereabouts, I simply looked for any congregation of people. Where there is a mass of people surrounding a particular person, I knew it is probably him surrounded by people. Ever since I worked under him, I have never seen him been tired of meeting and engaging with people.
On the 21st September 2018, ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule addressed a Political Lecture organised by Cosas in Free State. After the conclusion of the lecture, members of Cosas; students from various schools in the province, demanded to have selfie photographs with him.
During the time when I was in the vicinity of the Bram Fischer Foyer, where selfies were snapped with cellphones, I could count no less than 50 selfies taken by students with their leader. I only know showbiz celebrities inviting such interest, especially from young people. In my mind, I struggled to fathom the amount of patience that Ace Magashule has. But I then remembered that the Ace Magashule I know, never gets tired of people.
In ordinary circumstances, I have personally witnessed many a leader rushing off, with great impatience and hurry, from the scene of the meeting after closure. Many of the leaders I know would even ask that they be accompanied by their aides from the ‘commotion’ caused by people. I have always wondered what these leaders are rushing for. The Ace Magashule I know never seemed to be in a hurry when he is interacting with the masses.
Because of his deepened sense of attachment with the people, and his selfless vigour to solve people’s problems, Ace Magashule has earned himself the nickname of “Ngaka”, or medical doctor. This is because wherever he is, there is often a long queue of people waiting to be consulted by him. It would seem that wherever he goes, he carries with him medicines and a stethoscope, in anticipation to assist those in need of help.
Unless he is extremely busy, in my observation, he always makes time for people. Because of his seriously busy schedule, he could not always get a chance to meet with everybody, and this often left those who were not attended to in distress. He somehow became a victim of his own love to assist people. In one of the interactions we had, some member of the community demanded to see the Premier. When he did get the chance to address the Premier, the man requested R30 bus fare to Botshabelo.
To our amusement, the Premier never got irritated, nor did he attempt to ridicule the member in question. He simply ordered one of the people near him to assist the man. This man, who almost cracked his head as he wondered how he would reach home, and who had made several requests for assistance, to no avail, left the scene a very elated man. I doubt if this man will ever forget the gesture by the Ace Magashule I know.
Because of this unique trait of being a man of the people, Ace Magashule has been able to have a lot of people loyal to him. His love for the people is not conditioned for the cameras. He would assist people with any expectation of praise or recognition. In fact, he would be reluctant to offer help where there were cameras, making our jobs as his communications machinery very difficult. The Ace Magashule I know was a real man of the people, he was not a slave of cheap fame, but was interested in bringing real change to the lives of the ordinary people, those he knew and those he did not know.
Part 3: A Lover of Education
One of the distinct features of the living legacy of Ace Magashule is his burning passion for education. Ever since I caught interest in his political methods and style, I was always struck with awe by his dedication to making sure people received education. When I did my own research about this glowing love for education by my former Premier, I learnt that it comes a long way.
According to those who know him, Ace Magashule started the practice of supporting people to study long before he became a Member of Parliament, and even long before the dawn of democracy. His love for education, I am told, can be compared to his love for soccer; a trade which earned him the name ‘Ace’.
On one odd November day, he intercepted a shrewd plan by some who were planning to throw him a surprise birthday party. In his usual stern, and yet appealing demeanour, he apparently told those organisers; “Why don’t you spare that money and rather use it to fund educational fees for needy students?” This selfless character is located deep in the womb of the lasting legacy of the Ace Magashule I know.
When I went further to try and unpack the fire behind Ace Magashule’s passion for education, I took particular interest in his speeches, especially those emanating from his heart. One common trend related to his mention of Hendrik Verwoerd’s flawed, racist and myopic convictions about black people.
Born in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1901, Hendrik Verwoerd became one of South Africa’s pioneers of Apartheid. He hated and undermined Blacks with a passion. He is the custodian of the infamous Bantu Educations System, which ensured that Blacks were given an education which is qualitatively inferior as compared to Whites.
As Minister of Native Affairs, Verwoerd ensured that the curriculum for Blacks was limited to basic literacy and numeracy. According to Verwoerd, Blacks were destined to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”, and were not entitled to reaping the benefits of higher education, good jobs and economic advancement. The Ace Magashule I know was severely opposed to this thinking by Verwoerd, and seemed determined to prove such this racist wrong.
Whenever I listened to him speak about Verwoerd, and whenever I saw him celebrate young, Black, especially African students who were excelling in education, I became more convinced that he was celebrating proving Verwoerd wrong. Whenever Ace Magashule saw a Black learner, from a poor background, attaining good results in Mathematics, Science, Engineering, etc., I could vividly see his heart smiling with sweet joy. I could sense a sigh of achievement. I therefore concluded that his passion for education was not an act of attracting television footages, but was part of his historic mission to prove that Verwoerd’s assertion that Blacks are hewers of wood, drawers of water, was blatantly wrong.
Ace Magashule is a man on a mission. He is one person who does not allow easy hindrances to block his way towards his goal. He is a man on a mission to ensure that Blacks are not inferior to Whites. He is also aware that through education, society can alleviate the cycles of poverty and dependency. His love for education is not only a defining feature of his legacy, but is also a distinct part of his being.
On November 5, 2015, just four days after my appointment as Spokesperson to the former Premier, I received a message in my inbox. The message, which was for the attention of the then Premier, was written by a young student, originally from Eastern Cape, who had just obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture from the University of the Free State.
He wrote; “I would like to thank the Premier for the opportunity to have received this financial assistance. I am thankful because without it, I would not have become a graduate. I’m now moving towards Masters of Science”. When I had the opportunity to share the message with the Ace Magashule I know he said; “These are the results of our collective efforts”…
Part 4: A decisive intellectual
The Ace Magashule I know is not only intellectually gifted, but is a man who believes in action. Despite not being able to study beyond a first degree, thanks to his political activism, Ace Magashule has got a sharp mind. His ability to grasp and interpret concepts is just amazing. Many who have interacted with him can attest to his ability to pose sharp questions on topics which may often seem difficult to many from his generation.
Ace Magashule is not only a thinker, but is also an implementer. This is a rare skill, which is not often found in major political circles. Many a leader are great thinkers who are often found wanting when implementation is required. The Ace Magashule I know is able to apply theory in implementation, and he is uniquely decisive.
Many of our leaders are excellent in delivering speeches, as well as making inputs at political lectures, but are often weak in putting into practice the political theories they are so fond of narrating. Many of these leaders often seem as if they need to be pushed from behind before taking decisions. They are more likely to use theory to justify why they are unable to implement even the most basic of decisions. The Ace Magashule I know is the direct antithesis of these form of leaders.
It is because of this trait that he is often regarded as a weak theoretician. His agility to not only take decisions, but to implement those decisions, has often been mistook for recklessness. Thanks to the natural reality that not all decisions can produce positive results, and that outcomes of decisions cannot please everybody, he is more likely to face severe affirmation in some instances, and severe rebuke in other instances. This emanates from his unique capability to take decisions, and implement those decisions.
Another aspect which sets him apart from many leaders is that in taking decisions, he tries to consult with different parties. His willingness to engage with people, including those he disagrees with, often allows him an opportunity to get the best out of different perspectives. But it is also this trait which may sometimes blur his view, in that during those processes of wide consultation, he sometimes meets people with sinister agendas.
This has the potential to influence his final decision, leading to possible fallouts with some people. Despite this possibility, the Ace Magashule I know shall always try to solicit views from various quarters, as a way of determining his decisions, and those of the collective he is part of.
To some, his unending thirst to listen to differing views is viewed as a sign of weakness. He prides himself with the ability not to talk to people, but to engage with people. He is one person who has the ability to listen to people, irrespective of their positions in society, before arriving at a conclusion or decision. He does not regard himself as the richest repository of answers to questions posed. This is the reason why he prefers to travel with all that he work with when going to meet with the community, to allow those who are better positioned to respond to some of the questions he may not have answers for.
Wherever he leads, the Ace Magashule I know wants everybody to be involved. He is also not greedy of wanting to take the glory all to himself. When decisions go wrong, he is the first to take the blame, but when things go right, he seeks to apportion the glory to the collective. This is a character that is rare in our current political conjuncture.
In fact, when one studies his leadership style, one is likely to assume that he is a product of the tutelage of Chief Mohlomi of the Bakoena clan within the Basotho nation. Chief Mohlomi, also referred to as the African Socrates, was a philosopher, healer and political theoretician of yester years, who used his influence to produce, amongst others, the founder of the Basotho nation; King Moshoeshoe I.
When Lepoqo (King Moshoeshe) emerged from Lebollo (Basotho male initiation into manhood), he was very violent and aggressive. It is reported that he killed a number of people until Peete, his grandfather, took him to Chief Mohlomi for counselling. Chief Mohlomi taught Lepoqo some crucial lessons; 1) love your people, because love breeds compassion and generosity; 2) Know your people, because all individuals are different and must be treated as such, and the appreciation that people are different is fundamental in attaining true justice.
The Ace Magashule I know is a man of the people, as I have already showed in the previous section of this piece. He loved his people, and he knew his people. Many can attest as to how Ace Magashule knew the people, even by their names, from different lengths of our province and beyond. So in taking wise decisions, the Ace Magashule I know uses the curriculum tantamount to the one offered by Chief Mohlomi to King Moshoeshoe. He remains one of the few intelligent, and yet decisive people I have come across.
Part 5: A Dedicated Volunteer of the ANC
In 2000, I had the first opportunity to listen directly to Ace Magashule. It was at the University of Free State, and I was the Branch Secretary of SASCO, a revolutionary, Socialist student organisation. The University of the Free State had created a platform for political parties to engage students on their election campaigns towards the elections.
I cannot recall the exact content of Ace Magashule’s delivered speech to the hall packed with attentive students that day, but I still vividly recall his passionate remarks about his political party; the ANC.
Today, 18 years later, I am still marveling at the consistency with which the Ace Magashule I know remains passionately in love with the ANC. I am still scratching the archives for moments when he spoke at any platform without mentioning the ANC. Whether it was in government, in parliament, amongst members of society, or in foreign lands, the Ace Magashule I know always referred to the ANC.
According to the Ace Magashule I know, the relevance of the ANC is universal. The ANC must be relevant when one is sleeping or awake; when one is eating or drinking; when one is bathing or clothing; when one is alone or amongst the masses; when one is with friends or with foes; when one is happy or sad; and when one is alive or late.
This passionate commitment towards the ANC shall always set him apart from many a leader, some of whom are found in executive committees of the highest structures of the movement. I have listened to many a leader who, when addressing various audiences, can barely mention the ANC, its policy positions, ideology or history. The Ace Magashule I know would even make sure that he mentions the ANC even in platforms where religious hymns are sang with biblical passion.
The Ace Magashule I know loves his ANC, to an extent that he often compromised some of his official duties, for the sake of the ANC. I am still trying to remember the moments when he missed a meeting or activity of the ANC, without submitting an apology. He is not struck by a sense of self-importance, but believes strongly that the ANC comes first, and others shall follow.
This specific characteristic made him a magnetic glue amongst members and supporters of the ANC, especially those who love the movement dearly. His magnetism in politics is reminiscent of the one between a very passionate preacher and his congregants. When such a preacher, whose passion about the scripture connects with his congregants like a glue, screams, the audience respond by screaming as well, and when he jumps, the audience follows suit.
This portion of my piece is intended to answer questions as to why the Ace Mahasgule I know was always surrounded by masses. Whenever he went, an impromptu mass meeting sprouts like mushroom on dry lands. His passion for the ANC multiplied amongst the lovers of the ANC. I am personally a victim of this passionate enslavement.
I never get tired to listen to him addressing the masses. I know that he will never make an address without speaking about the ANC, and because I love the ANC more than any other thing, I receive unparalled fulfilment from listening to him.
The Ace Magashule I know never wants to be showered with praises. In true ANC tradition, he always apportions the responsibility to the collective, or to the ANC. This he does even in those instances where it is common knowledge that had he been absent, things could not have happened in a particular way. He finds pleasure in making sure that the ANC’s principle of collective leadership is realised.
His love for the ANC has inevitably irritated the opposition parties, particularly the racist, liberal DA brigade. He has often been accused of using government to promote the ANC. As fearless as he is, he never succumbed to this feeble demands. He has always put the ANC first. He understood that the DA itself, where it is governing, puts the party first. The example is when there was a water crisis in the City of Cape Town, where the party leader, Mmusi Maimane, spoke on behalf of the City. Maimane is not even part of the institution. So the Ace Magashule I know knows that these weak rants by a party of white masters and black puppets are useless, and must never be listened to.
Long before his election as Secretary General of the ANC; a fulltime position, the Ace Magashule I know used to say that he wished that his permanent responsibility was to do ANC work, every day. In December 2017, the delegates to the ANC’s 54th National Conference gave him that wish. I know that he is fulfilled, and that despite the challenges he is faced with, he will serve the ANC with sheer humility, dedication and selflessness. This is the Ace Magashule I know!
- Makhele is an African Marxist and a member of the ANC in Mangaung Region, Free State. He writes in his personal capacity
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