Ramaphosa’s critics may have to eat their words. This week’s bombshell news is that, contrary to being the place that complaints go to die, the ANC integrity commission has shown some steel.

It recommended, in no uncertain terms, that ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule must step aside after his arrest on charges of corruption. He appeared before the commission last weekend – a body of party elders that is supposed to make sure party members act ethically – following weeks of back and forth.

The commission’s three-page response leaves Magashule with little wiggle room: they focus on the political and reputational impact for the party, not the various legalities of the charges against him that he will face in court in February.

His referral to the commission was initially seen as a sign of weakness for the Ramaphosa camp. Ace is clearly ethically compromised – why doesn’t Ramaphosa just act against him? 

But if there’s one thing we know about Ramaphosa, it’s that he plays the long game. And he plays by the rules, meaning there’s limited room for backlash from his enemies.

He was able to institute credible leadership at SARS and the NPA by doing things by the book. Reform in those institutions has been slow, but it has been happening. He could be doing the same thing with Ace.

So, what’s next? If Ace doesn’t do the honourable thing and step down, as others have, the NEC will have to suspend him. But will they? We’ll find out in the next episode of… The Days of Our NEC . The party says they’ll be meeting in January, after the holiday break. For now, it looks like Ramaphosa’s long game is paying off. 

This story was originally published in The Wrap here.

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