S.Africa's ANC faces power struggle as top official defies suspension

FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa adjusts his mask as he appears to testify before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 28, 2021. Themba Hadebe/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A top official in South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) has appealed against his suspension on corruption charges and attempted to suspend President Cyril Ramaphosa in an increasingly open power struggle in the governing party.

ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule, who has denied the corruption allegations, was suspended on Wednesday by the party once led by late apartheid fighter Nelson Mandela. The move follows an anti-corruption campaign launched by Ramaphosa in 2018 when he took over as state president with promises to crack down hard on widespread graft.

"I am immediately, and formally, appealing this unconstitutional suspension, in terms of the ANC Constitution, my suspension is thus wholly suspended, until my appeal has been heard, and its final outcome announced," Magashule wrote in a latter to the ANC.

He said he would not step aside until his appeal was heard.

Magashule said he was suspending Ramaphosa, who faces allegations of vote-buying during the 2017 campaign to become ANC leader. An ANC spokesman said the president, who denies wrongdoing and faces no charges, had not been suspended.

"The 'step aside' resolution is quite clear on who should be asked to step aside or who should voluntarily step aside. It should be those who are indicted in a court of law," ANC spokesman Pule Mabe told eNCA television.

The ANC said it had noted the contents of Magashule's letter, and the decision to suspend him stood.

The party's top decision-making body will meet at the weekend to formulate a response. It appealed to Magashule to respect its decision and "subject himself to the discipline of the organisation."

Ramaphosa replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as ANC leader in December 2017. His increasingly bold anti-corruption campaign has ensnared rivals and could help him consolidate power in the party before a leadership contest in 2022.

Magashule, a Zuma ally who as secretary general is in charge of the day-to-day running of the ANC, was suspended in line with tougher rules for party officials charged with corruption.

He faces corruption charges over a contract to audit homes with asbestos roofs when he was premier of the Free State province. He denies wrongdoing.

Magashule had earlier refused an instruction for all members charged with corruption or other serious crimes to step aside.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Timothy Heritage)

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