The ANC led RSET and RET discourse a false argument of difference, and a painful luxury of the elites’ deflection


By: Clyde Ramalaine

The retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu share the personal tale of an encounter with his biological father. As such, his father advised and counselled the younger Tutu with the following words, ‘Son, in any debate, do not raise your voice; instead, improve your argument.’  I thought of this to make sense of the ongoing  ANC Radical Socio-Economic Transformation (RSET) / Radical Economic Transformation (RET) discourse in written texts in a convoluted and toxic space of factionalism and self-preservation. The challenge with the ANC led discourse is the need to create dissidents instead of engaging content. Veteran Carl Niehaus recently penned his appreciation for the ANC policy adopted by Radical Socio-Economic Transformation shorthand referred to as RET. While Kgalema Motlanthe first raised this technical difference at a Policy Conference, the challenge remains a technical difference in this season with a sting. It then is employed to compartmentalize ANC members in groups of ill-meaning custodians.

In this season, Zamani Saul, Mandla Mandela and Nat Kekana, perhaps in possibly third generational ANC thought-life, took it upon themselves to share their views and comprehension of the policy construct. Let me start by commending everyone that has shown a willingness to engage the subject. We may disagree on the sins of such engagement one may ever be opposed to the actual reasons for the engaging nevertheless, in space and tone where social media enables people to reduce over 2000 words of intellectual thought provocation to a 280 character dustbin, I, as a reader remain fascinated by those who dare to pen their thoughts. It is undeniable that as is now common in the ANC, the critical subject of RSET / RET does not escape the cancerous factional reality of an ANC contorted in its blood and choking in its saliva. So, it is impossible to read Niehaus, Saul, Mandla Mandela, or Kekana as exempted from a factionalized organization’s toxic space.

Perhaps lost in the translation is the re-echoing questions that ask,  is policy dividing the ANC or is policy abdication and misrepresentation used as a means to entrench factional wars? Policies exist to articulate the overarching vision of any organization. In a theoretical political sense, organizational or party, the policy defines a course or principle of action adopted by the entity. It becomes the confines and guiding lines for which an organization is known. Another definition for policy entails allocating values and direction for society equally, so policy is deciding what, when, how, by whom, and for whom.

The ANC, however, is a peculiar organization, particularly since it claims to be a ‘broad church’, meaning it holds both the ardent capitalist and the sincerest socialist, it brings together the atheist and the religious, it ensembles patriarchy and those who stand for the emancipation of women. It defines tribal and apparent liberal groups. It is an ethnic-nationalist party, yet it long ago declared itself working for the elusive, less filled in the content notion of non-racialism.

Also, ANC policies do not stand in the linear form of natural equality and should not be made to fit that square of a convenient equal frame. Such would necessarily constitute a gross misunderstanding of what the role of policy is in the ANC. To, therefore, attempt to let, for example, the recently accidentally popular ‘Step-aside’ policy be equated to the fundamental transformative RET policy stands is to be simply mischievous and disingenuous.  The endemic factional context of the debate, more so on those who want to lend equal weight to these two distinct policies, is made tangible when one hears them argue that Step Aside is weighted in the same fashion as RET.

Our current discourse on the severely delayed need for Radical Economic Transformation is held hostage by semantics in casual political debates over favoured libations while the masses die. This ANC led debate details a sense of embarrassment measurable in thick clouds of cigar smoke that fills the room and leaves the minds empty. The discourse is a reluctant one for those representing the signpost of economic freedom since it is a luxury item. We know that policy is effectively setting the agenda for a society, people, group. So, who sets the agenda?

The more recent focus on a RET debate was inspired by the initiated discussion document penned by Carl Niehaus in the known tradition of ANC engaging. This Niehaus propelled debate on RET while not formally adopted in the ANC, shall  I dare to say,  for obvious reasons, will never be extended the same respect or dignity as that of a Joel Netshitenzhe. It thus again confirms the all-consuming factional context of the ANC where both veterans are pitted on either side of the factional divide and the critical aspect of radical economic transformation is made a political football to. What is indisputable is Niehaus’ document struck some nerve, particularly so since the ANC increasingly attest to a less thinking and intellectually engaging organization overshadowed by the self-interest of individual politicians. Hence Niehaus’s contribution, which should be commended I will dare to assert, will never be intellectually entertained under Ramaphosa’s leadership.

We know it hit home because Ferial Haffajee, another political operative in media spaces fiercely contending for the vacant space left by the late Karima Brown, attempted her response to it, with her one dimensional labelling it ‘an Ace Magashule Campaign bid for Presidency document.’ One does not expect Haffajee, who is long unveiled as an ANC factional journalist in which she, at times, writes pieces for the flip-flopped faction or its members, to attempt objectivity or engage content remotely. For Haffajee, given her space, it is always about the moment- in-moment news advantage, meaning a catchy phrase, nothing more. Niehaus dealt with her in his right of reply and may have shut her up on this score.

Niehaus’s document did, however, raise some attention when some have sought to categorize him in jest of either a ‘Trotskian’ or ‘Leninist’ claims of articulation. Niehaus’s document is more correct locating is its known departure point of the Freedom Charter for its umwelt. As is the ANC’s custom, all intellectual thought and, more so, economic theorizing and critique are unfortunately filtered through the concave multi-pseudo-Marxist lens of interpretations. While that may be or not, one is less interested in the apparent theorizing as understood in historical Marxist kaftans real or pseudo since I long contended that Karl Marx never set out to produce Marxists nor did Biko intend to create Bikoists, but Marx and Biko analyzed their societies with the tools at their disposal at the time. It is also a given that Marx did not analyze as a puritan, meaning he analyzed as part of the proletariat since he was not poor but had access to Hegel’s wealth, his very close friend.

Following Marx, then it should be that every generation must make sense of and articulate their immediate world. Instead, we have too many ANC members and leaders obsessed to be a Marxist,  more concerned to cite him in verbatim and adjudicating others when they do not analyze their society in what they deem as proper.

The challenge with Niehaus’s document’s responses is that they are first not in the original tradition of ANC improvement frames. Secondly, they are not content geared and do not critically engage, raising explicit points of convergence and divergence. Thirdly they violently dislocate Niehaus’s departure point in the Freedom Charter without veritable disposition. Those who have sought to respond to Niehaus include Zamani Saul, Mandla Mandela and Nat Kekana. Saul is the Provincial Chairperson, NEC member and Chairperson of the Northern Cape. One who summited the proverbial academic Mt Everest and holds a PhD. He furthermore periodically writes and shares his opinions which must be commended as ANC  tradition. Mandla Mandela is a member of parliament and a legal professional based on his education. Nat Kekana is a Gauteng based NEC member, Head of ANC Department of Information and Publicity in Gauteng, a member of the PEC and NEC respectively Kekana holds a diploma in computer programming from Globe and a post-graduate diploma in telecommunications and information policy from UNISA. I cite these here less to draw any inference but show that these are in the own rights representing the second generation of senior ANC leaders, mainly since they all serve on the NEC.

It appears the intention of the responders to the Niehaus article was never honest in the tradition of ANC subculture of engaging but obsessed to be the last line of defence for their CR faction in its current buoyant claim of triumphalism on a step aside implementation. Their line of argument unveils a strange need to argue at a technical and political level the Radical Socio-Economic Transformation versus radical Economic Transformation description. I would go further to say this play on semantics constitutes nothing more than tactics. As already alluded, their attempt at ventilating the seeming difference was what Motlanthe wanted to show Zuma as a charlatan for arguing RET instead of RSET.

The narrow-angle for contention of distinction lends itself to see a false aphorism that hopes to live in technical correctness undergarments. The broader context suggests an argument for the upkeep of the current economic reality with what one wishes to frame as crumbs from the table of an upheld economy as an excellent benefit for the masses. Inevitably, when implemented in its natural designed outcome, radical economic transformation must deliver on the definitive positive socio-economic context of the disenfranchised,  meaning transforming towards a meaningful life.

In this instance, we must remind Zamani Saul, the intellectual, that his behaviour in this sense decries the known history of ANC of a subculture of intellectual discourse.

It would appear that the responders to Niehaus inadvertently demonstrate their particular aversion to entertain the content and thus resort to labelling as a cheap and easy means of dealing with the information they have not astutely engaged. Often, the lack of providing a counter is evidence of others’ easy framing in claims of being charlatans. We will remember how another intellectual, Thabo Mbeki, did the same when Archbishop Tutu, in a bygone season, placed critical questions on the ANC leadership of SA by sneering at him with being a charlatan.

Zamani’s behaviour in this regard compels one to wonder how a PEC meeting under his chairperson would engage the discursive subject matter and ultimately concludes in the way forward.

The irony and tragedy of Saul, Mandela, and Kekana, on aggregate, show an appetite to entrench the factional diaphragm of the ANC instead since neither engage the content in critique as expected from disciplined cadres.  In this sense, the biblical adage: ‘The fathers drank of the water, and the children’s teeth became blunt holds.’ They appear held carceral to the notion of creating dissidents because when one can delegitimize the bearers of the message, one inadvertently hopes to derail the message and render it illegitimate. Their responses serve at best the narrow interest of a CR- Faction and the less the solemn pledge the ANC made to work for the economic emancipation of the black masses.

Furthermore, their collective responses prove overzealous to label and point at the now common fear and scaremongering of a looming party in the offing. Saul, Mandela and Kekana hope to be prophets who somehow have superior knowledge of this irritating ANC member RET group’s end-game. They then hope to robe them in classical dissident kaftans as fake and striving for the malicious intentions of destroying the ANC’s seeming good name.

More vexing is the vibrating in the background of their collective attempts at discrediting a legitimate call for the ANC to give effect to one of its more fundamental policies is their inadvertent resigned state,  that of acknowledgement on the part of the Ramaphosa leadership that they have abysmally failed and proven callous to take this policy seriously.

RET challenges the failed 1994 Political Project’s anomalies, necessarily a negotiated settlement measurable in apparent political freedom as its sum-total. It seeks to address the now amplified economic disparity that underscores the racial typography of historical colonial and apartheid bequeathed negative economic disposition for blacks. A phenomenon under the ANC in the office—entrenched because ANC leaders and their families and friends detail an intimate circle of what I longed described as meticulously created buffer-zone bulwarks. When the economically oppressed demand and mobilize against the historical oppressors, they run into the bulwarks. Thus, it is inevitable that they now are pit to mobilize against their leaders, who by design are also the beneficiaries of the crumbs of economic empowerment that fell from the table of the oppressors.

Saul et al. find simple yet strange comfort to project themselves as the honourable custodians who seek to protect the organization from the demonic and become the dissident police because it is much easier to label others in deflection than to deal with content.

Lastly,  what these responses hope to do is not to bring Radical Social Economic Transformation to the centre of its excellent rightful place. They intent deflecting from the failure of the faction they now batting for and seek to kill the dissidents they created through expulsion politically. Their sick mind takes refuge in this sophism that if they could deal with those who raise the crucial issue by flagging their wrongs, they, in turn, have dealt with the issue of RSET. It is a race in which the poor is far removed from ANC leaders.

The Northern Cape confirms a signpost reality of lacks of service delivery since the last January 8 Statement held in the Province there unravelled the actual state of degradation, dilapidation, that attests to the gross failure of provincial ANC leadership that confirm running streams of sewerage water, open drains that children must play in. This sordid reality shouts a failed leadership that is far removed from the poor’s true plight, the same he claims to represent. We know it because the Sol Plaatje Municipality is today shamefully better known as ‘Sol Gaaitjie municipality, about the manifold potholes that speak to lack of accountability and consequence management.

A province where when you call the person in charge of the upkeep or roads, you easily is directed to lodge your claim since he may provide one with the numbers on how to apply while all hope at addressing the basics of service delivery is abandoned. A debate on RET forces us to ask how serious the Leadership of Saul takes this policy. This hypocrisy where leaders such a Zamani Saul insists on others’ expulsion when he is not held accountable for his general gross dereliction of duty and bad management that robs the black masses is deplorable bust symptomatic of what the ANC has become. We must remind Zamani that policies are the decisions taken by decision-makers around the distribution of power and resources,


It appears what Saul, Mandela and Kekana engage in is the naked raising of their voices less in improving the necessary debate on Radical Economic Transformation. By raising voices in this instance, one means as forewarned by Tutu’s father to a young Desmond Mpilo Tutu.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA