ZAMANI SAUL: The ANC’s RET grouping is a precursor to a new party


There is a solemn declaration in the ANC constitution which requires that all members must “defend the unity and integrity of the Organisation and its principles, and combat any tendency towards disruption and factionalism”. This in articulation affirms the commitment of the ANC to organisational unity as the principal value that must be defended at all times.

The real threat to internal cohesion of any political party is disruptive activities by intra-party groupings which find expression in different ways, forms and styles. Some intra-party groupings are accepted in the normal course of activities of democratic organisations, while others are outrightly unacceptable. It is in this context that the national executive committee (NEC) decision to halt the activities of the radical economic transformation (RET) forces within the ANC is both timely and necessary.


The objectives of this article are threefold.

Firstly, it seeks to highlight that the radical socio-economic conference resolutions belong to the ANC and no grouping within or outside of the ANC can claim exclusive right to them.

Secondly, it highlights that the RET grouping is a prototype that represents the early stages of formation of a new political party.

Thirdly, it emphasises that the RET grouping has no real commitment to radical socio-economic transformation, but uses this policy commitment as a pretext to weaken the organisational capacity of the ANC to fight corruption.


The ANC characterises the period from 2012 onwards as the era of the “second phase of the transition”. The twin tasks of the second phase of the transition are the consolidation of the gains made since 1994 and acceleration of the programme to radically transform the socio-economic landscape of the country. It is unquestionable that radical transformation of the country’s economy is an imperative.

Tinkering at the edges of the apartheid-colonial economy will not substantively address the high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality that persist in South Africa.

During this much avowed second phase of the transition, the ANC convened two National Conferences, the 2012 Conference in Mangaung and the 2017 Conference at Nasrec. In both conferences radical decisions were taken on the economic front. These included, amongst others, the Mangaung Conference resolving to establish a state bank, state pharmaceutical company and a state mining company. It furthermore resolved to undertake research into a review of the ownership and “narrow mandate” of the Reserve Bank of South Africa.

Five years later, at the Nasrec Conference, despite the unhappy spectre of outright disruptions during the conference plenary, radical decisions were taken which included nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, expropriation of land without compensation, introduction of a wealth tax and export taxes to strategic minerals. By any measure, these were radical resolutions.

Taking such a radical stance is not something that could be considered uncommon for a political party that characterises itself as a “disciplined force of the left”. The radical socio-economic resolutions are ANC resolutions and no intra-party grouping can claim exclusive right to them. It is the collective responsibility of all ANC members and structures to ensure full implementation of these resolutions.


Intra-party groupings are a pathology of modern political parties. It is not unusual to have interest-based groupings within the ANC. The ANC intra-party groupings are largely products of the following developments:

• The electoral success of the ANC, which attracts many aspiring politicians, thereby increasing competition for electable positions.

• The ANC is the most heterogeneous organisation in the country and this results in conflicting permutations for leadership, ideology, and policies.

• In the post-1994 dispensation the ANC has been attractive to careerist politicians resulting in rivalry for limited resources.

• The transparent, complex and democratic ANC processes of leadership election and policy making.

Given its success, dominance and democratic character, the ANC will always be a host to intra-party groupings, because people who share the same views on both leadership and policy contests will always find ways to organise themselves to exert influence on such outcomes. Depending on the shape and nature of these intra-party groupings, they can help to generate vibrancy and dynamism within the party, or they can be degenerative and lead to splits.

As previously mentioned, having expressed intra-party groupings in a modern democratic organisation like the ANC is not a taboo. For example, there was nothing untoward in having the NDZ and CR17 groupings that sought to exert influence on Nasrec Conference political outcomes on leadership and policy.

Thus, the question is not whether groupings do exist or not, but whether the party has the internal organisational capacity to manage these groupings. If such capacity does not exist, such intra-party groupings will have the capacity to mutate into degenerative groupings that pose an existential threat to the host, as seen elsewhere, for example, in the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress in 1959, the Congress of the People in 2008 and the EFF in 2013.

There are generally three perspectives on intra-party groupings, which are a proto-party, a sub-party and ad hoc-grouping perspectives.

The proto-party perspective sees intra-party groupings as precursors to the formation of new political parties as these intra-party groupings tend to be stable and have a distinct political existence and identity. In this perspective the intra-party groupings are characterised as prototypes, which is considered the early stage of a new political party.

The sub-party perspective sees intra-party groupings as factions that seek to exert influence on specific policy and leadership outcomes. Unlike prototype groupings, these are not stable organised groupings within a political party and do not assume a distinct political life and existence. In contrast to prototype groupings, factions have less durability and organisational structure and their networks are subtle. Factional competitions in parties are also degenerative and weaken the party. The UDM and Cope’s rapid declines were due to factional defections and both parties are still struggling to recover from that.

The ad hoc grouping perspective sees intra-party groupings as lobbies. These are groups which are temporarily established to exert influence on immediate leadership and policy outcomes. Lobby groups have no durability and tend to coalesce on one or two issues to be resolved by conferences, and as soon as those matters are resolved, the groups cease to exist. Lobby groups do not have a protracted lifespan, networks and organisation that go beyond conferences. Typical examples of lobby groups are the NDZ and CR17 groups established prior to the most recent conference to exert influence on immediate policy and leadership outcomes. These lobby groups are central to enhancing and enriching the diversity of ideas in the party. In the normal course of events, these lobby groups are not degenerative in democratic formations like the ANC. However, if the activities of lobby groups are not properly managed, they are likely to mutate into factions.


With the above in mind, how best can the RET Forces within the ANC be characterised? The NEC statement characterises the RET forces as having a “distinct existence with discernible networks”. This presupposes that the RET is an organisation within an organisation, with durable organisational backbone, established structures, leadership hierarchy, a logo and visible networks. Its increasingly emboldened posture eclipses the proper functioning of the organisation.

The RET parallel structures organise events and call media conferences to contradict and contest decisions of the ANC structures, and in particular the NEC. The conduct of the RET forces does not reflect any real commitment to radical economic transformation. In a country with an estimated R27 billion a year being lost due to corruption, the first focus of any real programme of radical economic transformation will be to fight corruption and not defend those who are accused of it.

The primary objective for the formation of the RET grouping is to execute a spirited push-back strategy against renewal on three fronts. The first is to use the organisational programme for radical socio-economic transformation as a pretext to protect individuals accused of plundering the public purse.

Secondly, is to be cannon fodder for anarchy in the ANC to roll back the gains of organisational renewal as these gains hold real prospects of individuals going to prison. Thirdly, is to weaken the ANC’s organisational capacity to fight corruption.

The RET is neither a faction nor a lobby group, but a sample of an establishment of a new political party, which will soon emerge when the push-back strategy fails. The RET grouping is still within the ANC for now only because it is calculating the exit costs. Calculating these costs is no easy undertaking and needs time as there are many variables at play. The strategy therefore of the RET grouping is to use the ANC womb to incubate this new political party until the timing is right to cut the umbilical cord for its independent existence.


Within such a context, the next question is ‘What is to be done?’

First, an aggressive strategy is needed as a signal of the determination to counter the RET forces. The most recent NEC meeting did indeed rise to the occasion to decisively put an end to this grouping within the ANC.

Secondly, there is a need to strengthen the capacity of the disciplinary committee by first and foremost releasing the disciplinary committee from being a captive to factions.

Thirdly, the renewal agenda must be intensified to avoid reaching a paralysing equilibrium with the RET forces within the ANC. Reaching such equilibrium will erode the organisational capacity of the ANC to protect itself against degenerative tendencies, leading to a political gridlock that will weaken the fight against corruption.

Lastly, there is an urgent and overriding need for bold leadership “with courage that rises with danger” to confront the RET’s degenerative political whirlwind that seeks to undermine and scandalise the ANC. This is what O.R. Tambo did when confronted with the serious dilemma of the Gang of Eight in the 1970s.

Dr Zamani Saul is the Premier of the Northern Cape and the ANC’s provincial chairperson. Follow him on Twitter: @zsaul1

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