South Africa


South Africa beware: Ace Magashule’s RET faction will fight to the bitter end

ANC Secretary General, Ace Magashule appears at Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court with his co-accused, including 3 people arrested last night on February 19, 2021 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Magashule was arrested, charged and released on bail in connection with the multimillion rand asbestos contract scandal in the Free State. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

South Africans, including the mass of ANC members, cannot allow the advances since 2017 to be squandered, and for the constitutional order to be subverted. The campaign against this assault on our democracy should be intensified, involving all sectors of society.

When pronouncements by the secretary-general of the African National Congress on Gagasi FM that the Democratic Alliance was “the enemy of the National Democratic Revolution” and that voting with the party in favour of an inquiry into Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office, was “sleeping with the enemy” came to public attention beyond the radio’s listenership, the first question that came to mind among many ANC members was, do we still have an organisation?

There are many conceptual issues that reflect the kind of confusion that should not be associated with a secretary-general, such as his reference to the Democratic Alliance as “the enemy of the National Democratic Revolution”. A cadre deserving of such a senior position would be aware of debates that have taken place within the movement since 1994 about characterisation of the opposition in a democratic society. In this context, the ANC in 2007 resolved in the Strategy and Tactics document that: 

“…unlike before, when antagonists across the apartheid divide were locked in mortal combat, engagement around issues of transformation in a democracy forms part of legitimate discourse and electoral politics. Those who continue to resist change within the constitutional framework are opponents in a democratic order. Their political and other organisations are legitimate expressions of a school of thought that should be challenged, but at the same time accepted as part of democratic engagement.”

While in 2017 the ANC argued that electoral outcomes could place “into positions of authority, forces that can stealthily and deceitfully chip away at the progressive realisation of a National Democratic Society”, it also recognised that the ANC itself could wreak untold damage on the cause of social transformation. The 2017 Strategy and Tactics document acknowledges that “it cannot altogether be ruled out that the liberation movement itself can be so corrupted — in terms of its objectives, policies, value systems as well as composition and conduct of its leadership — that it becomes a bed of counter-revolutionary infestation”.

The conceptual confusion aside, what irked many ANC members is that the secretary-general sought to distance himself from the guidance that the officials (so-called Top Six) recently gave to the ANC caucus in Parliament. This was on whether or not to institute a formal parliamentary inquiry into the fitness of the Public Protector to hold office, given the report of the panel set up by the Speaker of the National Assembly, which had found prima facie evidence of incompetence and misconduct. 

The National Chairperson of the ANC communicated the Top Six’s decision to the parliamentary caucus. Yet, according to the secretary-general, this could be defied, as “officials of the ANC are not a structure in terms of our constitution”. “What repercussions,” he retorted when asked whether there would be consequences for those who wilfully went against the leadership’s guidance, “when they have done the right thing?” The ANC caucus has since clarified that the MPs who were absent had valid explanations — further deepening the confusion sown by the secretary-general. 

There are moments when any leader can miss a point or misspeak. What is concerning is that this has become the hallmark of the secretary-general’s public pronouncements on difficult matters facing the movement. For instance, on the issue of members stepping aside when formally charged, the National Executive Committee (NEC) in February adopted the guidelines, a decision that was publicly communicated by the president at the end of the meeting. However, the secretary-general has argued ever since that no such decision was taken, as the matter, according to him, still had to go to the branches. The treasurer-general who led the team that prepared the guidelines has had to countermand this publicly, reiterating the president’s closing remarks.

And so, a trend is emerging where the secretary-general of the ANC is starting to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers and across the movement. This seems to form part of a wider campaign to undermine the structures of the ANC.

Do these developments reflect “the counter-revolutionary infestation” that the 2017 conference warned about? Let us be generous and characterise it merely as the consolidation of a faction within the ANC. 

The so-called Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction has announced that it is holding meetings; and one of its leaders, incidentally, working in the secretary-general’s office, has released a “basic document” that calls for “a return of the ANC to its socialist ideological orientation”, whatever this means, under current global and domestic conditions. 

Carl Niehaus tables radical economic transformation plan ahead of Ace Magashule’s campaign for ANC president

On land expropriation, the RET document argues that food security and other conditions cannot be a factor. Yet the 2017 ANC conference resolved to ensure that any expropriation should “not undermine future investment in the economy, or damage agricultural production and food security” and it “must not cause harm to other sectors of the economy”.

On state ownership, the RET document calls for wholesale nationalisation, in contrast with the 1992 ANC Ready to Govern document and numerous conference resolutions thereafter which argue for the weighing of the “balance of evidence”.

It is not the first time that the ANC has experienced the emergence of an organisation within the organisation. As with the PAC in 1958 and the Group of 8 in the 1970s, this ultimately led to rupture. The elephant does take long to turn — or to use a different metaphor — the fruit was allowed to ripen and drop at the slightest shake of the tree.

But the situation may be more serious than this generous interpretation, and so, debate on content issues may be pointless, as policy is but a ruse to hide something else. Veterans of the ANC and other respected individuals and organisations in the Defend our Democracy campaign identify the threat to include defiance of the Constitutional Court, and they argue that it “goes beyond that posed by an individual [and] illustrates how that individual embodies a political culture fundamentally antithetical to democracy: the cult of personality, rule by factional dictate, nepotism, and totalitarianism in a securitised state”. 

According to the Defend our Democracy campaigners, this threat is characterised by the looting which has weakened the state and undermined the economy. Proceeds of corruption are being used both for personal enrichment and to “enable a well-organised cartel” to stall prosecution of beneficiaries of corruption and state capture. Further, a private militia and a wider network have been mobilised to amplify unlawful defiance of the courts by the former president.

Conspiracy theories abound, with reports of units trained in sabotage and assassination, and strange coincidences such as the attempt to incite violence against foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal by elements of the very same private militia, and the fire in Parliament after the vote on the Public Protector. Some of these theories may be without basis. 

But it cannot be ruled out that South Africa’s own Savimbis and Dhlakamas — who destabilised Angola and Mozambique with the support of the erstwhile SA Defence Force and its Military Intelligence — are crawling out of the woodwork and showing their true colours.

South Africans, including the mass of ANC members, cannot allow the advances since 2017 to be squandered, and for the constitutional order to be subverted. The campaign against this assault on our democracy should be intensified, involving all sectors of society.

In these efforts, the battles must be deftly chosen, and the timing of each fight must be appropriate. Care must be taken not to allow the saboteurs to dictate the “what, when and how” of engagement. The fish should not be allowed to twist, turn and muddy the waters so as to slip out of the grip of the justice system.   

Lest we forget: the beneficiaries of corruption and state capture will not give up without a fight. South Africa cannot afford to be complacent! DM

Joel Netshitenzhe is the executive director of the Mapungubwe Institute and a member of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC). He writes in his personal capacity.


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All Comments 34

  • Well written. We need the honest intellectuals and leaders of all walks to come to the fore and a ground swell of opposition to this onslaught of lawlessness and self righteous propaganda by the Zumites. Was wondering why South Africans are just standing by and watching the corrupt and inept take the high ground. Cyril must act in the next month but needs support. Viva …. Defend our Democracy.

    • —-growth of the economy and drop bankrupt socialist ideologies that have brought misery to countless millions in Africa and elsewhere. Never too late to see the light!

    • If they hadn’t spent so much money on defogging schools and sanitisers and and and.. [another corrupt exercise] there would be more money for education.
      THIS is the problem throughout our country, money in the pockets of trough feeding cadres and NOT lack of funds!

  • Thank you to you and all those leaders who have formed the Defend our Democracy campaign. Please let us, the ordinary people, know what we can do.

    • Fully agree! We need these ethical leaders to return to dirty politics and clean up the mess, supported the majority: ethical citizens. The route must be, somehow, the ballot box, next time around. They need our full support!!

  • In the fight to maintain our democracy the ANC takes no lead at all. Ace Magashule is correct that officials of the ANC are not a constitutional structure, but horribly wrong to imply this means they need not respect the constitution. The real enemy of the people is the RET faction itself.

  • Fine and important article. To regard political opponents in a democratic state as “enemies” is antithetical to any plausible conception of “democracy.” If the DA had proposed accelerated land expropriation without compensation would Magashule be imploring ANC members to vote against it?

  • The RET playbook is eerily similar to the ZANU-PF playbook. And why not? It has worked out well for the top cadres in Zim. Too bad about the millions of people who end up beggars and servants in foreign countries

    • Even though the ZANU-PF have destroyed their country, they still win elections again and again (yes with some alleged irregularities). I suspect the same will happen here with the ANC should they destroy our economy, as with ZANU-PF they will just get re-elected regardless, Ace and his faction know that

  • Well said Joel. I am grateful to hear more directly from one of the voices within the ANC, and one that doesn’t seem to be blind to the issues facing the country. The extreme “RET” faction may indeed be a smokescreen, or wanna EFF’ers who should rather resign and go join Malema.

  • Let’s see how this plays out. I am not holding my breath for the ANC to sort itself out. There is either positive action in sorting out the RET messaging or they are a spent force in managing South Africa into the future and we as citizens need to look elsewhere.

  • Have you not heard? In a democracy if you do not like the ruling party just pick a one that is closest to your ideal (it will never be perfect) and vote for it. If you do not like the anc vote for some other party! Google that party’s HQ and read the party blurb before making a decision. Think.

    • Totally agree!
      Smart people like Joel have done a great job of brainwashing people to believe that our future is dependent on the ANC being in power. The real fact of the matter is that South Africa’s in a mess because the ANC is in power, not because the wrong faction of the ANC is in power.

  • Rather than preach to the converted why doesn’t this writer use his credibility in the ANC to go to Ramaphosa and say ‘either do your job for all people in the country or stand down as the country’s leader.’ Jacob, Ace and DD need to be in orange overalls by the end of this month.

  • Good article. Let’s hope that Magashule, Duarte, Niehaus and all their RET groupies fall very definitely by the wayside!

  • Thank you, well put. It is clear that the ANC itself is under severe threat of its own Corona virus; those subverting the organisation to suit their own purposes. It is clear the DoD initiative must grow rapidly. Maybe the DoD should draft its own Charter, so everyone, also non-ANC, can buy in.

  • Good to have this set out so clearly, and yes, winning these battles will require skilful “strategy and tactics”. But not just from the top, please! The legitimacy of our democratic order and its institutions ultimately comes from the ground, from the people. I long to see the rise of a new generation of organising, education and mobilisation in our country. If not now, then when?

  • “ What repercussions,” That is the problem.

    For as long as Ace and the Zuptas have captured the ANC branches there will never be consequences.

    1m captured branch members run SA. Not the constitution, the government, the 20m voters. When will the decent members of the ANC comprehend this?

  • Everything the ANC has touched for 27 years is broke & broken! Crime, Corruption & Cronyism & no repercussions. Cover ups like the CAA/SAA flight to Brussels reported 2day! The aircraft lied? How do we get rid of these incompetent thieves??😡

    • The ANC is not going to go away anytime soon. Look at the gains they made in the recent local government elections! We all need to move on and cope with the reality as best we can

  • What Joel left out is even more important. If this narrative is not countered on time it will end up defining the ANC. Those two funny ears are little devils guarding a fungus infested cheesehead and what lies inside is just venomous poison eating maggots. A village is missing it’s idiot somewhere.

  • I’m not convinced by this letter. I find it disingenuous, and it’s as if these intellectuals were not sitting idly by and tacitly endorsing the previous administration’s plunder.
    So, do cry me a river please. Well written, yes – but what are you going to DO to rectify your 9 years of inaction?

  • Well written. ANC is either going to be ruled by Ace or by Cyril….we dont know. At the moment it looks like ACE has the upper hand. Evil does triumph. But these new guys defending our democracy are very late in entering the fray. they should be leading from the front, We need action NOW!

  • Excellent Piece. Joel are you still a member of the ANC? Asking for a friend. Oh and the RET faction is just a smokescreen. There’s much bigger things going on behind the scenes. What a time to be alive. A global pandemic, and an ANC pandemic all at once.

  • Netshitenzhe 3rd last paragr refers: the BEST option he SHOULD be calling…is simple: Vote DA!
    He should be supporting this! Yes, supporting & promoting this! Courage Joel, courage!
    This man Joel constantly defies the reality of the horrors ahead of the mob-led ANC’s NDR.

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