Suspended African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Ace Magashule strongly objected to the postponement of his "asbestos scam" trial to 20 January 2023, despite the fact that it was caused by his own legal efforts to challenge the prosecution's evidence against him.
Addressing the media after the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein postponed the asbestos case against him, businessman Edwin Sodi and 16 other accused, Magashule confirmed his lawyers were seeking to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal in relation to the strength of the case, despite his own desire to have the trial run as soon as possible.
"I am saying to my lawyers today: I am ready for the case," he told News24.
"But lawyers say, in law, there must be precedent. It's not about me. It's about the future interpretation of the law for the general public and that makes sense. It's not about my case. We want to set a precedent, so that the [National Prosecuting Authority] must never actually do wrong things."
Magashule, nonetheless, maintained that the delay caused by this petition process was a "deliberate" ploy by the State because "they know I'm a politician and I can tell you I have ground support from branches of the ANC and communities, and that's what they fear most".
"It is deliberate because they want to exclude me from participation in the processes leading to Nasrec [ANC elective conference at the end of the year]," he said, while stressing that – should he be nominated for any leadership position by ANC branches – "I will stand".
"I'm now saying to branches of the ANC: if you don't stand up and nominate whoever you want to nominate, forget about the ANC in 2024."
Magashule stands accused of involvement in a corrupt R255-million asbestos tender scheme, which allegedly saw multiple high-ranking Free State government officials receiving kickbacks from money meant to fund the removal of harmful asbestos from the homes of the province's poorest residents.
Instead of the affected houses being safely rid of asbestos at a reasonable price, the State says, Sodi and his co-accused essentially embarked on a "rent-seeking" scheme that ultimately resulted in only R21-million worth of work being done.
It is the State's case that Magashule's alleged take came in the form of school tuition for Gupta ally Refiloe Mokoena's daughter, electronic tablets, and R250 000 for the travel expenses of a delegation to Cuba. Those alleged gratifications were given through payments made by murdered businessman and asbestos tender beneficiary Igo Mpambani.
Magashule insists there is no case against him – and he has unsuccessfully sought to challenge the basis for his prosecution.
State advocate Johannes de Nysshen had earlier explained to the court that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) wanted the legal challenges bought by Magashule and three of his co-accused finalised before the trial could continue, precisely because they related, in part, to the admissibility of alleged State Capture Inquiry evidence against them.
Last Friday, Judge Soma Naidoo dismissed applications brought by Magashule, Sodi and two of their co-accused for leave to appeal her ruling that the challenges they had brought were best addressed during their actual trial.
"Preliminary litigation prior to the commencement of a criminal trial has been strongly discouraged by the apex court of this country, as well as the Supreme Court of Appeal [SCA]," Naidoo reiterated.
Magashule, Sodi and two of their accused have indicated that they will now petition the SCA to appeal this ruling.
De Nysshen on Friday said they had every right to pursue such processes, "but unfortunately such applications delay the proceedings".
"It is the right of the accused [to bring such applications] and accused number 13 [Magashule] must understand that these things take time. Now, how he can blame the State for the delay in this matter? I don't know, because it doesn't make sense.
"Furthermore, I've said it previously and I say it again: me, my office and my head office do not do politics. There's no political interference," he said, adding that the NPA determined charges "on facts".
De Nysshen added that the State would oppose Magashule's threatened legal bid to force a separation of his trial from that of Sodi and the other accused.