The RET manifesto

Carl Niehaus says the Freedom Charter must be implemented, and the wealth of SA returned to the people


Unpacking RET in alignment to the Freedom Charter

By Carl Niehaus

A. The population of South Africa

1. The South African population is now 59.6 million people.

2. African people make up 81% of the population, Colored people 9%, Indian people 3% and white people 8%.

3. 51% of the population is female, while 49% is male.

4. About 65% of the population is less than 36 years old, with almost 30% of the population made up of children (less than 15 years of age).

5. 1.8% of households in South Africa earn income from ownership of capital, 73% of the population are working people (not necessarily working class), and 10% of the households survives on pensions, social grants, family allowances and income from other individuals.

B. The hardships in South African society: unemployment, poverty and inequality

6. In the first quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate in South Africa was 40%.

7. However, the unemployment rate of African people was 44%, that of Coloured people was 31%, that of Indian/Asian people was 19% and that of white people was 10%. Africans therefore suffer the most from unemployment than the rest of the population.

8. The unemployment rate for women was 43% while that of men was 37%. Women suffer more from unemployment than men.

9. The unemployment rate of young people between the ages of 15—24 years is 70% and for those between the ages of 25—34 years it is 47%. Young people therefore suffer more from unemployment than the rest of the population.

10. In terms of wealth inequality, research shows that the top 10 per cent own 86 per cent of national wealth and the top 0.1 per cent more than 30% of the national wealth; 3,500 individuals own wealth that is equivalent to 90% of the population.

11. In terms of income inequality Africans earn on average about 22% of what whites earn, Coloured people earned 28% of what whites earn, and Indian/Asian people earn 63% of what whites earn. Women earn 77% of what mean earn.

12. In terms of poverty, 56% of individuals lived in poverty in the sense that they lived on less than R1000 a month; 57% of females are living in poverty compared to 54% of males.

13. In racial terms, 64% of African people are living in poverty, 41% of Coloured people are living in poverty, 6% of Indian/Asian people are living in poverty while 1% of the white population is living poverty.

14. Young people and children suffer the most from the scourge of poverty; 67% of children live in poverty, 60% of young people aged between 18—24 years of age live in poverty, 51% of young people between 25—34 years of age live in poverty. This is compared to about 43% of the rest of the population.

C. Who owns, manages and controls South African society?

15. The ownership of the South African economy is diverse, but it is dominated by white- owned and controlled companies. Hence the concept of white monopoly capital, describes the concrete form in which capitalism finds expression in South Africa.

16. Capital in South Africa is majority owned and control by the white population, together with their European and American allies. An example is SASOL; it is about 30% foreign- owned largely by Europeans and Americans. The South African ownership is dominated by a number of white owned and controlled asset managers, with state entities such as the PIC and IDC owning about 20%.

17. A less diversified form of ownership is Arcelor Mittal, dominating over 60% of South African steel production; it is 70% foreign-owned with the state owning about 10% of the shares through the IDC and the PIC.

18. Another diversified ownership structure is Anglo-American plc, which owns 78% mining company Anglo Platinum among others. The South African state ownership through the PIC is 8%, the rest of the shares are distributed among white-owned and controlled and foreign asset management firms.

19. Yet another structure is the Bidvest Group. The state owns, through the PIC, 17% of the shares. The rest of the shares are distributed among foreign and domestic white owned and controlled asset management firms.

20. An example in the financial sector is the Nedbank Group, which is 11% state owned by the PIC. The rest of the shares are then owned and controlled largely by white owned and controlled asset management firms.

21. In short, the ownership and control of the economy is in white hands, with the PIC as the junior partner and it has been diversified into smaller holding by asset management companies, which on the whole control more than 80% of the companies in South Africa.

22. This does not mean that white monopoly capital has therefore ceased to exist, it continues unabated, under conditions where the shares are split into small amounts among the white owned and controlled asset management firms, but on the whole sum up to an overwhelming white monopolization of economic power.

23. In terms of management and control of the economy, 66% of top managers are white 15% are African, 6% Coloured and 10% Indian/Asian. Clearly the white population, together with the Indian/Asian population are over-represented in top management positions in South Africa.

24. Senior managers are 54% white, 24% African, 8% Coloured and 11% Indian/Asian. Once again, the African and Coloured population are under-represented in senior management positions in South Africa.

25. Women make up 24% of top management and 35% of senior management. African women in particular make up less than 10% of top and senior management positions, a far cry from the 40% that they make up in the South African population.

26. In relation to movement into top management positions, the Employment Equity Report of 2020 states that “both the White and Indian population groups are most likely to be recruited, promoted and trained at this occupational level when compared to any other population groups during the reporting period. A similar trend is observed within the female group at this occupational level. The preference of Foreign Nationals at recruitment disadvantages the designated groups at this level”.

27. The African and Colored populations are receiving the short end of the stick. They do not wield power in proportion to their demographic representation. The African population in particular, is severely under-represented and marginalized from positions of management and control.

28. The democratic state is embedded in a society with such a skewed and unjust distribution of power in the economy. The democratic state has for years failed to decisively deal with vested interests in the economy, and it has only allowed these power relationships to change cosmetically. For example, much of the transformation that has occurred is largely driven by appointments in government, and not in the private sector.

29. These vested white monopoly capitalist interests, also dictate which resolutions of the ANC are implemented in government, at what time, in what way and to what extent. In so doing they work closely with comrades within our movement who, when they arrive in government, turn against the resolutions of the movement, frustrate their implementation or indefinitely postpone their implementation (example is the nationalization of the South African Reserve Bank [SARB]).

30. There needs to be a clear understanding that institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, OECD, the ratings agencies, the mainstream media and some of the so-called mainstream analysts (legal, political and economic) advance ideas that protect the interests of white monopoly capital.

D. Radical Economic Transformation (RET)

31. Radical Economic Transformation (RET) is a program of action of the African National Congress, whose aim is to initiate a radical second phase of the National Democratic Revolution. The 2017 January 8th Statement says, “the ANC must have unity of purpose and display unity in action in advancing the NDR! The ANC must concentrate on radical economic transformation and ensure that the people become more prosperous. We must grow the economy, create jobs and return the land to our people!”

32. The NEC continued to say, our government must, “give effect to President Tambo’s vision for the nation and create a society that is prosperous. We must focus on radical economic transformation. The economy must be in the hands of the majority of the people; we must return the land to the people”.

33. The ANC NEC Lekgotla of 2017 defined Radical Economic Transformation as follows: “Radical economic transformation refers to a fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions, and patterns of ownership and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female”.

34. The NEC continued to say, “Our main objective remains the liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular. Its components include the creation of jobs, accelerating shared and inclusive growth, transforming the structure of production and ownership of means of production, and enabling the talents and productive potential of our people to flourish. At the heart of radical socio-economic transformation is an effective state that is decisive in its pursuit of structural change”.

35. RET is a long-standing approach of the ANC. It can be traced as far back as the African’s Claims in South Africa of 1943, which among other claims, demanded the complete destruction of racial discrimination, the right for Africans in South Africa to have an equal share in all the material resources of the country.

36. RET is a programme for the full implementation of the Freedom Charter, which calls for, among other things, “the national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people”.

37. RET is a programme which gives effect to the ANC Strategy and Tactics of 1969, which among other things, states that, “the main content of the present stage of the South African revolution is the national liberation of the largest and most oppressed group - the African people. This strategic aim must govern every aspect of the conduct of our struggle whether it be the formulation of policy or the creation of structures”.

38. Furthermore, the ANC continues to say, “whatever instruments are created to give expression to the unity of the liberation drive, they must accommodate two fundamental propositions: firstly they must not be ambiguous on the question of primary role of the most oppressed African mass and, Secondly, those belonging to the other oppressed groups and those few White revolutionaries who show themselves ready to make common cause with our aspirations, must be fully integrated on the basis of individual equality”.

39. The ANC therefore never wavered nor was it ever ambiguous about the leadership role of the African people and the primacy of the interests of the African people in our National Democratic Revolution. In this context, the ANC also asserted that, “in a very real sense the future of the Indian and Coloured people and their liberation as oppressed groups is intimately bound up with the liberation of the Africans”.

E. What is RET about?

40. Recognition of the of leading role of black people in general, particularly the African people. The 1969 Strategy and Tactics says, “the main content of the present stage of the South African revolution is the national liberation of the largest and most oppressed group

- the African people. This strategic aim must govern every aspect of the conduct of our struggle whether it be the formulation of policy or the creation of structures. Amongst other things, it demands in the first place the maximum mobilisation of the African people as a dispossessed and racially oppressed nation. This is the mainspring and it must not be weakened”.

41. Recognition of the primacy of the interests of the working class among black people, hence the need for a left, socialist-oriented, anti-imperialist mass-democratic strategy and political leadership. The 1969 Strategy and Tactics says, “In our country - more than in any other part of the oppressed world - it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation”.

42. The 1969 Strategy and Tactics continues to say, “This perspective of a speedy progression from formal liberation to genuine and lasting emancipation is made more real by the existence in our country of a large and growing working class whose class consciousness complements national consciousness. Its political organisations - and the trade unions have played a fundamental role in shaping and advancing our revolutionary cause. It is historically understandable that the double- oppressed and doubly exploited working class constitutes a distinct and reinforcing layer of our liberation and Socialism and do not stand in conflict with the national interest. Its militancy and political consciousness as a revolutionary class will play no small part in our victory and in the construction of a real people's South Africa”.

43. Recognition of the leadership role of women, especially African, working class women, in our struggle. These women continue to suffer from sexist, racist and class domination and exploitation. Gender-Based Violence—a structural product of white monopoly capitalist society, is visited upon black women. Indeed, the measure of RET is the extent to which black, particularly African, working class women wield power, are at the center and at the helm of strategic decision-making, have as much access to opportunities, skills and capital as males.

44. Recognition of the leadership role of young people. Young, black, working class people suffer heavily from the scourge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. The RET program should be driven by young people. Young people should be at the center and also at the helm of decision-making. They should lead in the articulation, elaboration and defense of the RET program in the battle of ideas. The focus is on black, particularly African, working class, young people, who suffer from lack of access to skills development and training, employment, and business opportunities. It is the responsibility of the state to account for the life-progression; career path, of each and every young person in the country.

45. Recognition of the leadership role of the state in the economy and a rejection of privatization of strategic state companies. The state should, on behalf of the people, own and control strategic sectors which have been broadly identified in the Freedom Charter. Countries such as China and Vietnam are fast-growing economies that have successfully defeated imperialism and colonialism. They are setting examples of state-led socio- economic transformation, that also enhances and guides a patriotic private sector that is led by their national, not foreign capitalist classes, lifting the vast majority of their populations out of poverty.

46. The ANC has passed resolutions along these lines, but there is no progress in implementation. The State Pharmaceutical Company and the State-Owned Mining Company which should by now be owning at least 30% of all new mining operations in South Africa, are examples. The issue of the State-Owned Commercial Bank, fully licensed and operating at the same level as the established big four banks, is another case of cold feet.

47. Our country is in dire need of infrastructure development, whose construction should be led by the state—a state-owned construction company should have long been established to lead in the delivery of mega-infrastructure projects such as building of dams and other water infrastructure, roads, revitalization, maintenance and extension of rail, building of power stations, etc. to maximize job creation, industrialization and skills development.

48. The state should use these sectors, and control associated value chains, for the benefit of the people, to build industries, support black and women entrepreneurs, create decent jobs for the unemployed and provide business and training opportunities to young people.

49. The state should unashamedly, establish strong bonds and partnerships with black entrepreneurs particularly Africans, women and young people, hold these forces by the hand to create and vigorously pursue economic opportunities nationally, on the African continent and the entire globally.

50. RET is about full implementation of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is the only socio-economic programme that is capable of rallying the progressive forces for radical change. The ANC and its allied structures cannot go back to basics or undergo renewal unless a renewed commitment to the full implementation of the Freedom Charter is established and acted upon.

51. An important element of the Freedom Charter is that the return of the basic wealth of our country to the ownership of the people as a whole: the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks (including the South African Reserve Bank), and monopoly industries (which includes the large mining houses, insurance companies, steel chemical companies such as SASOL, Arcelor Mittal and Evraz Highveld Steel, cement and construction companies), should be transferred to the people as a whole. This means that such companies should not be owned by a few individuals, be they white or black - they should be owned by the state, for the benefit of the people as a whole.

52. Land expropriation without compensation, is a key demand that should be defended and advanced. We all know that the land was forcibly stolen from African people by white settlers. In 1969 the ANC said, “South Africa was conquered by force and is today ruled by force. At moments when White autocracy feels itself threatened, it does not hesitate to use the gun. When the gun is not in use legal and administrative terror, fear, social and economic pressures, complacency and confusion generated by propaganda and "education", are the devices brought into play in an attempt to harness the people's opposition”. The ANC continues to say, “Whether in reserve or in actual employment, force is ever present and this has been so since the White man came to Africa”.

53. The system of white domination is alive and well today and it has to be defeated. It may not use force at the moment, but it uses, “legal and administrative terror, fear, social and economic pressures, complacency and confusion generated by propaganda and 'education' ”. Every time RET demands are raised, economic pressures from rating agencies, IMF and propaganda from white monopoly capitalist media is used to instill fear and make people scared of supporting RET.

54. The return of all the land is non-negotiable. We do not need Imbizos, unending public consultations to ask people the obvious demand for land, we do not need to set conditions under which this or that piece of land can or cannot be taken, nor is the issue of land to be confused with food security. Those who raise “food security” and seek to put conditions under which land can be taken back to its historically rightful owners should have done so during wars of resistance, or during the armed struggle. Our freedom is not negotiable nor is it conditional.

55. Control and ownership of the financial system, particularly the South African Reserve Bank and the banking system as a whole, is another key pillar without which RET cannot be achieved. No post-colonial country has ever guaranteed its sovereignty without control of its central bank.

56. The Canadian Prime Minister McKenzie King, understood this very well when he said: "Once a nation parts with the control of its currency and credit, it matters not who makes the nation’s laws. Usury, once in control, will wreck any nation. Until you control the issue of currency and credit is restored to government and recognized as the most sacred responsibility, all talk of sovereignty of parliament and of democracy is idle and futile".

F. No unity, no renewal without RET

57. The calls for unity will remain empty unless there is a program upon which unity is built. The RET is a program for such unity. We have voluntarily joined the struggle and have committed to making sacrifices for the liberation of the black people in general, particularly Africans.

58. Therefore, we need to be united around a common program, the colors of our flag as a movement mean nothing without a program of action. The commitment to shift economic power to African people, the majority of whom are working class, is at the core of the struggle for national liberation.

59. We reject unity that is based on abstract formulas and which is based on a liberal approach to those who deviate from the core of our national liberation struggle in theory and in practice.

60. We reject unity that is not based on a clear commitment to the core of the national democratic revolution which is to shift economic power to African people the majority of whom are working class.

61. We reject unity that is based on this or that individual agreeing to share positions of leadership.

62. We reject unity that is based on blind loyalty to this or that leader, unity that is based on money-politics, regardless of whether the leader deviates from the core of our national liberation politics in their public and private pronouncements.

63. It is our firm belief that there cannot be organizational renewal without a return of the ANC to its socialist ideological orientation. The 1969 Strategy and Tactics remains the seminal guideline of our approach to the National Democratic Revolution. There cannot be organizational renewal without a re-commitment to that approach.

64. There cannot be organizational renewal without a re-commitment to the full implementation of the Freedom Charter.

65. There cannot be a return “Back to Basics” unless the basics are defined by our revolutionary theory and we commit to a clear socialist ideological orientation, which places black people in general, particularly the African people—the majority of whom are working class, at the center and at the helm of our organizational activities.

66. We regard white monopoly capital as the primary enemy of the national democratic revolution. White monopoly capital, by monopolizing power and resources in the hands of the white population—with a few black allies who have united with it to exploit the black working people, causes on-going suffering to the majority of the people. The primary objective of RET is to destroy white monopoly capitalist power.

67. In whatever structures, policies, strategies, laws and measures we adopt, the RET program demands that we constantly ask the following simple questions: How are the short and long-term ownership and control interests of black people, particularly the African people, promoted? How are the short and long-term ownership and control interests of the working class promoted? How are the short and long-term ownership and control interests of women promoted? How are the short and long-term ownership and control interests of young people promoted?


Via the Daily Maverick.



Letter from Carl Niehaus to Ferial Haffajee in relation to the Daily Maverick article on the document. 

Associate Editor of the Daily Maverick Ms. Ferial Haffajee

Cc. Editor of the Daily Maverick Mr. Branko Brkic

Monday, 15 March 2021

Dear Ferial,


I see you are still on a mission to try and remove me again from the ANC Head Office, as you managed in 2009 when you were the editor of the Mail & Guardian.

I also see you are relying again on the very same dubious ‘sources’ who then peddled half- truths and lies about me to you. Just like you, they won’t succeed in bringing me down.

I am battle hardened and ready for you.

Let me for now deal with two blatant lies that you are peddling in your article:

1.  ANC members who support and promote Radical Economic Transformation (RET), like ALL ANC members should do, are not a faction at all, but give expression to, and promote, the official economic policy program of the ANC. The paper on Radical Economic Transformation that I have written spells this out unequivoically, but of course you selectively qoute, and de-contextualise, those parts of the paper that serves your propaganda agenda.

2.  Your assertion that the Secretary General of the ANC is going to run for the Presidency of the ANC is simply an assumption, to which you added the old propaganda trick of conflation. In doing so you are peddling a lie. There is no decision, neither by the ANC members who promote the ANC’s official Radical Economic Policy Programme, nor by the Secretary General of the ANC, comrade Ace Magashule, about running for President of the ANC. That is simply not how the ANC operates. As a longstanding journalist you know that very well, but you are pushing this deliberate lie in order to target the Secretary General of the ANC, myself, and other loyal members of the ANC.

As I have tweeted earlier today, your so-called ‘analysis’ of my RET paper shows that you are not sensitive to black (especially African) suffering. You minimize and trivialize black suffering simply as lies, and in doing so expose yourself as a race-denialist, and apologist for neo-liberalism.

This reactionary clap-trap is really unacceptable. Why do you problematize the articulation of suffering from the African perspective? Do Africans not have the right to voice out their pain, and what is happening?

All of this requires a more detailed response, and I herewith demand my right to reply to your stratcom-like propaganda on the Daily Maverick platform, and that my reply be carried as prominently as your article.

If you think you can destroy me, and undermine the liberation ideals I stand for, I suggest that you better think again. Not this time!

I will confront you head on, and expose you and the Daily Maverick for the reactionary propagandists that you are.

So there you have it, bring it on! I am ready for you. Sincerely yours,

Carl Gerhardus Niehaus