The ANC has come out in strong defense of its secretary general Ace Magashule in the wake of news reports on his alleged involvement in illegal dealings with the media accused of publishing "fake news" and "propaganda".
Magashule made headlines on Sunday after a new book, Gangster State: Unraveling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture written by investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh, placed him at the "head of a well-organised state-capture network" in the Free State where he was the premier until his election as the governing party's secretary general in December 2017.
"How on earth does someone who is one of the most well-known liberation fighters and public figures in South Africa, and whose career spans over decades, even begin to do that when every one of his well-known steps have been open to public scrutiny? Clearly this is ever so much nonsense," the party said in a statement.
It said the reports on Sunday were "based on a typical Stratcom style fake-news book".
Myburgh was called a liar in a press statement by the party spokesperson Dakota Legoete. Legoete said the author and investigative journalist "has since 2016 been disseminating lies about [Magashule] so we see this book as a culmination of all those lies".
City Press and Sunday Times published front page stories based on revelations made by Myburgh in his book. News24, too, published three articles on the book, which among others links Magashule to the controversial Gupta family.
"These fake news stories, and the dubious book that they are based on, are timed for publication barely a month before our national elections in order to try and inflict the maximum damage against the Secretary General of the ANC. It is evidently the opening propaganda salvo, in a carefully planned Stratcom operation to unfold in the coming days and weeks against comrade Magashule and the ANC, using the launch of Myburgh's book today, and the lies that it peddles, as the basis for a vicious character assassination campaign," Legoete charged.
"The ANC sees this highly personalized and vicious attack on our Secretary General as a direct and well-calculated attack not only on the person of the Secretary General, but in fact on the office of the Secretary General, which is the administrative engine room of the ANC and as such critical for our election campaign efforts. Evidently the Secretary General of the ANC, as the CEO of the ANC, is the main target.
"These attacks are aimed at undermining the ANC's election campaign and weakening the ANC in general. It should also not be seen in isolation from other propaganda attacks that have been launched against many leaders of the ANC across the length and breadth of the country (with those on the ANC candidate list specifically being targeted), as well as the proliferation of allegations also leveled against the other National Office Bearers (top six) of the ANC."
Legoete said the party has "openly acknowledged where we have made mistakes and have set ourselves the task of resurrecting the ANC".
"We have therefore taken it on the chin when the media and other opponents of the ANC have deliberately sought to attack certain leaders of the ANC and spread doubt about the unity of purpose of the leadership. However, the maturity the ANC has exhibited (that it) is not being reciprocated, rather it seems that our good nature is taken advantage of. And, as the ANC and the leadership, we are growing weary," Legoete said.
Myburgh told News24 it was "sad that the ANC as an organisation that is supposedly committed to clean governance and accountability, chooses to play the man instead of the ball".
"The book and the media reports based on it contain very detailed information on Mr Magashule's alleged corruption. Yet the ANC chose to side-step these issues and instead falls back on this predictable, baseless accusation that the media and investigative journalists form part of a 'Stratcom' strategy," he said.
The Democratic Alliance on Sunday said it was not surprised by the governing party's support of its "real boss", Magashule.
"The very fact that a governing party can have the audacity to tell the free press to keep their 'hands off' its Secretary-General, is undemocratic and unconstitutional in nature," DA national spokesperson Solly Malatsi said in a statement.