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World News

South Africa's ANC says it has not asked Magashule to step down over arrest warrant

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Senior members of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) met to discuss an arrest warrant issued for Secretary-General Ace Magashule but did not ask him to step down, a top party official said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: African National Congress (ANC) Secretary-General Ace Magashule addresses a media conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/James Oatway/File Photo

Police said on Tuesday that they had issued the warrant for Magashule over allegations of corruption related to a contract to audit houses with asbestos roofs awarded when he was premier of the Free State province.

Magashule says he has done nothing wrong and that he is not concerned about the warrant.

Magashule is in charge of the day-to-day running of the party that has governed South Africa since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

“The SG (Secretary-General) briefed us about the letters he has received from law enforcement agencies and the fact that he will cooperate and he will go to court on Friday,” ANC Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile told a news conference about the Tuesday meeting of senior officials.

He called on ANC members to be calm and said the ANC would address the “big problem” of corruption in society.

When asked by reporters whether the officials had discussed Magashule vacating his party position, Mashatile added: “No, we did not discuss that.”

If Magashule does take leave or resign, it could have significant political ramifications ahead of local government elections next year.

He is from a faction within the ruling party that has opposed President Cyril Ramaphosa since he replaced Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018. Ramaphosa has pledged to clean up the ANC’s image and take a tough stance on corruption.

ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte said the charges against Magashule related to his alleged failure to exercise oversight while Free State premier.

Duarte said the ANC respected the judiciary as independent and that it wanted Magashule to be treated fairly.

“We hope he will not be tried ahead of the court hearing,” she said, adding that party officials were aware of tensions in places like the Free State, where Magashule retains a loyal following.

Magashule is due to appear in court on Friday over the asbestos case.

The National Prosecuting Authority said that the case, which involves alleged fraud of 255 million rand ($16 million), would then be postponed to Feb. 19 next year. Seven people have been charged, though Magashule has not.

($1 = 15.6569 rand)

Reporting by Alexander Winning and Wendell Roelf; Editing by Joe Bavier, Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char

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