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The RET faction wants total control of everything in the state and society, as an end in itself

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

They want to turn the clock back to the start of African independence and follow the path of all African countries, from Ghana to Angola, and devil take the hindmost.

The radical populism search for a uniquely South African iteration of the ethno-nationalism that is sweeping the world has been discussed in this column extensively, though not exhaustively. Generally, however, the driving force behind the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction is more a type of nostalgia for a historical moment that was missed.  

To understand this historical moment, it’s important to recall the “liberation impulse” that drove indigenous movements which rose to power immediately after independence, from West Africa to Zimbabwe.

This impulse was set off by an almost immediate replacement of outgoing colonial administrators with indigenous administrators — as an end in itself. In some West African countries, Africans played little to no role in administration during the colonial era, while in other places they did — like Nigeria. In some instances, political parties had to be formed, hastily, to take their places in Parliament and/or administration. 

In Niger, there was more or less an administrative class, if one may call it that. Chinua Achebe explained that Nigeria, “had some of the very best secondary schools in the British Empire. As a group, these schools were better endowed financially, had excellent amenities, and were staffed with first-rate teachers, custodians, instructors… and librarians. Of course today, [writing in 2012] under Nigerian control, these schools have fallen into disrepair, and are nothing like they were in their heyday.” (See, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, p 20). 

In general, however, decolonisation in post-war Africa followed a path of dependence that began with ridding the country of Europeans or “non-Africans” by various means of coercion and consent and replacing each and every administrative position with an indigenous person. That was all that was necessary. 

They want complete control of everything — nothing less

For most early African independence movements, nothing beyond total control of every aspect of society became an end in itself. As it turned out, it was necessary, but insufficient. Over the two or three decades that followed, Africa’s political economic decline drove individual countries, from Egypt to Zimbabwe, into the arms of institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and began to rely on aid, grants, loans and concessionary funds. Many independent African countries were soon caught in a poisonous web of conditionalities, or debt traps — or both.  

It became clear, after the East Asian Tigers took a pathway from the periphery of the global political economy, that Africa was lagging behind — quite seriously. One striking example is the poverty in which most Angolans live — despite its oil resources — while its immediate post-independence leaders (and their children) became stupendously wealthy. We can go up and down Africa and find similar patterns of corruption and maladministration. Since independence there have also been at least 40 coups, coup attempts or insurrections, with a handful of irredentist and secessionist claims.  

But none of this matters; this is the “new” trajectory the RET faction seems to strive for. They want to turn the clock back, in a manner of speaking, to the start of African independence, and follow the path of all African countries, from Ghana to Angola, and devil take the hindmost. This would certify us, as it were, as Africans… Africa belongs to Africans, and “non-Africans” are not welcome. Whether it’s the pieds-noirs of Algeria (which included great thinkers like Albert Camus, Louis Althusser or Jacques Derrida), Indians in Uganda and Kenya, or white farmers in Zimbabwe. 

This was followed by the nationalisation of everything, losing control of inflation and macroeconomic stability, and to hell with expansion of industrial or manufacturing. African leaders now had their countries and they could do with them as they wished with naught for the comfort of the people. 

More than 60 years since the start of independence in Africa, the continent is home to the greatest poverty, hunger, need and displacement in the world, with some of the most corrupt governments, corporations and piracy — as in the Niger Delta. Only now, in this third decade of the 21st century, are there references to “green shoots”. 

Democratic South Africa has tried to avoid path dependence  

At the outset of South Africa’s democracy, a small group of people — let us for convenience refer to them as the Cabinet’s economic transformation committee — concluded that the country was fortunate. While the economy that the new government inherited was already on its knees, the ruling alliance could learn from and avoid the mistakes that most post-independent African countries made over 40 to 50 years.

Democratic South Africa could avoid the path dependence that led African countries to the theatre of failed states, fragile states, hollowed-out states and states that suffered more coups than rainfall. The imaginary Cabinet committee of the late 1990s plugged into the global political economy (with all its flaws) that was different from the world of 1960 — the year of African independence.

This is a problem for the RET faction. Never mind the fact that the liberal capitalism that blossomed in the 1990s collapsed horribly in 2008, the RET faction wants to discard all the progress in thinking, evidence and fresh ideas and approaches that have emerged from clearer thinkers since about 2000, and reset the country in a twisted, almost Pol Pot or Maoist way, to Africa’s Year Zero — the year of independence, 1960.

They are quite comfortable about making the same mistakes that were made by African leaders from Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma — as long as it does not include “non-Africans” and gives all power to the party, it’s perfectly acceptable.  

The Constitution, a document that took into consideration domestic and global factors, and grounded itself in late capitalist reality by presenting a social democratic impetus, is not good enough because it does not include getting rid of South Africa’s pieds noirs (those referred to as “non-Africans” or “non-African blacks”). The Constitution also does not include rapine, revenge and pogroms against “non-Africans” — and this really gets the RET faction angry, never mind their quite transparent pretences of “non-racialism”. They can’t hate whites because Carl Niehaus is their best friend. Hau!

That poverty and inequality are structural phenomena with fundamentally social and historical origins is ignored. That the world is going through one of the greatest shifts in global realignment seems to be beyond comprehension. That the globalisation of finance, pari passu with the expansion of information and communications technology (and the dangers this presents) are not worth considering. That robotics and artificial intelligence threaten jobs at one level, and stand to alter work patterns on another level, has to be ignored because we remain hostage to ideologies that are as useful to the masses of unemployed as a dried carbuncle in the gluteal fold of a 4,000-year-old mummy.

All that matters to the RET faction is that they want to start at the beginning. They want to go back to the 1950s when countries like Sudan (1957) became independent, and follow the passages of independence. Through a questionable interpretation of syncretism they may want to do all of the above without giving up on trappings of consumer capitalist culture; the latest luxury automobiles, gaudiness, kitsch and the banalities so dear to the nouveau riche

Yet, the RET faction would probably insist, as did Frantz Fanon (who in RET parlance would have been a “non-African” black) that violence may be “therapeutic”. We should probably not be surprised when “isolated incidents” of arson, banditry, kidnappings and assassinations amount to large-scale domestic conflict in the coming months and years. DM

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All Comments 25

  • Exceptional analysis and your best opinion piece to date. You’ve said it. Hopefully you are not now branded a racist for hitting the nail on the head about the narrow minded view of the typical “Africa(n) mindset”. I love Africa. I do not want to live on any other continent. I am not a “non-African”. I pray that the majority of Africans will see the true colours (pardoun the pun) of the RET factions.

    • I am with you on the Heinrich. But to me the REC faction is but one faction or party that that poses a serious threat to the country. But there are others as well. Parties like the EFF, Patriotic Alliance, and ATM all have their supporters, but is anything but clean

  • They are the new Stalinists – total control, total intolerance of dissent, luxury for the few and consequences do matter. Really really scary!

  • Whilst I respect the views expressed by Mr Lagardien, and agree it is a very fine analysis, I think it is only partially reflective of the forces driving the RET forces. In particular, I would add that the primary motivation driving most of the leading members of the RET faction within the ANC, is the very pressing desire and need to avoid accountability and prosecution for the extreme theft and destruction of huge swathes of our national economy that has deeply entrenched and exacerbated the extreme poverty in our country.

    There may be some academics and African political thinkers who wish to take our country, South Africa, back to year zero 0 – around about 1960 when the winds of change and independence first bounced around our continent – but they need to be very careful what they wish for, because the reality will be far from what they might hope – the more so, if, in seeking and fighting for same, it is necessary, as some are saying, to first destroy all the vestiges of non-African economic presence.

    That would be going back to a very blank and bleak canvas indeed.

    It brings to mind a conversation I had with a Nigerian professor of economics, then based at Yale, who at the end of an evening of long debate, amongst very many eminent Nigerians (the debate was in the Cubre Libre club, generally known as the cigar bar, on Victoria Island in Lagos in 2005), opined quietly and seriously, “the problems of Africa are indeed bestowed on us by whites such as yourself, because you knew, or ought to have known, that Africans were not then ready to run a country, and your agenda in leaving Africa was more to do with concentrating on building back Europe after the second world war”.

    The World sadly is still waiting for Africa to measure up to this deep responsibility and sadly, ever since “year zero”, Africa has generally fallen even further behind the rest of the World – a time and period when countries such as Japan, South Korea, China, Indonesia, India have powered ahead and left Africa in their wake.

    • Jon, your last two paragraphs provide an interesting insight into academic thinking with respect to independence from colonial rulers but, at the time, any intellectual pragmatism was overruled by politicians that were in such a hurry to get their share of the spoils that no thought was given to governing people and looking after the economies that they would be responsible for.

      In this country the ANC’s ready to rule statement was akin to sub-teens saying that they are ready for parenthood.

  • We know how this plays out. Nationalise then privatise to self and cronies then sell to grubby corporates fronting for China or UAE or Russia. Make a big fat profit, like 1000%, for Moi and me mates, then move to somewhere like Switzerland. The End!

    • Don’t forget Monaco, where I understand at least one of our very senior politicians has a residence, and the UAE where ill gotten gains can be hidden.

        • OR how about Sri Lanka which is offering to become another Xi state ….and where a single family with the same surname occupies all the senior posts in government ? At least in India, Modhi has surrounded himself with like minded Hindutva fanatics !

  • Add a deliberately dysfunctional education system and you have malleable people unable to understand the catastrophic consequences for them of backing the ANC.
    Greedy people with no moral compass!

  • A thought provoking piece indeed and i agree with majority of the sentiment. However, its difficult to believe thus RET mob actually hanker to early days as you say. That is just a smokescreen, with main objective to upset the inevitable (hopefully) prosecution of the corrupt whom they are associated with, and even themselves. No one can be stupid enough to think that going back to the roots and restarting will have any other outcome than whatwe witness now throughout this continent, especially if a greater effort is undertaken to rid the continent of non-africans. Maybe many of the illiterate masses may fall into the ‘dream’ but those in the RET are actually educated people …surely.

  • I enjoyed that. Those who do not understand basic economics and the value of state money – wasters, burners – are economically incompetent. By the Dunning-Kruger principle they therefore lack the judgement to recognise their own incompetence, but have the confidence to rule. These are supported by voters who are likewise incompetent. That summarises the African history, along with corruption. We need the electorate to wise up. (RETs I am thinking of you.)

  • Thought provoking article – thanks! I have the notion that in this country our major sports teams – whatever their shortcomings – provide the most ‘efficient’ mix of players to get the job done. Politics should take its lead from sports rather than vv. For those heading in the RET direction , allow me to rather revive Archbishop Tutu’s “rainbow nation” concept. And for those who may be a little cynical about that , just wait for the next thunderstorm!

    • Unfortunately there are no more rainbows on the palate … only monochromatic shades of white ! BUT … then I am colour-blind … in more ways than one !

  • Always enjoy your insights Dr Lagardien. Colonialism wrought enormous damage to the continent, but the RET’s naive ‘back to the garden’ thinking would only reinforce the nativist and tribalist systems that underlie totalitarian states and societies. One all-powerful (rich, corrupt, hyper-masculine) honcho to rule them all.

  • Interesting article and comments. Perhaps the question posed by the existance of the RET faction is so difficult to understand (logically justify) that an academic analysis gives rise to a logical step-back progression that ultimately circles regressively into to a “back to the garden” conclusion. Elegant but, in my opinion, the true RET objective is selfish and is intended to laager up and avoid prosecution by any means, country be damned. That I buy.

  • A very good article but to point to just the RET “faction” seems a little narrow. See the article in the DM re the deployment committee which Cyril chaired and then lied to the zondo commission. This committee directly placed incompetent people into positions of power with the same destructive results as you say the RET would do.

    Undoubtedly there is a struggle between RET and the “CR” faction but if the
    CR faction wants credibility it needs to come clean and take action. So far the actions and words don’t match

  • “violence may be therapeutic” As an academic exercise, and possibly for the dominant elite maybe, but not for the masses having to live through it. And then you end up with a different master but with the same self centred agenda. Until the next “violence may be therapeutic” exercise.

  • Back in 1960 were there any other African countries with more than a Million European whites within their respective borders ?
    The RET are underestimating the current population ratio and the over 10% of illegal residents who have escaped the other disasters like Zim, Moz, Angola , Nigeria, Congo, etc.
    Re the one liner in the comments “logic guiding human behaviour” [Mr. Kanu sukha] this I link to another comment extract “because you knew, or ought to have known, that Africans were not then ready to run a country, and your agenda in leaving Africa was more to do with concentrating on building back Europe after the second world war” [Mr. Jon quirk] there was an earlier error the Europeans came back to Africa ± a millennium to early, prelim orientation will swing to similar economic errors abundant on the African continent on the part of EU.
    The back then disastrous and sinful slaver practices have now been substituted by more economic approach where the same good arrive at EU borders with zero logistical costs.
    In case you wondering, no my wife is not white and my primary school mates back in the early 70s were not all white, so the black & white rainbow after a storm remains colourful.

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