Guest Column

OPINION: Cronin attack of Zille virtue signalling at its worst

2019-08-17 07:00
Former deputy general secretary of the South African Communist Party Jeremy Cronin gives the Chris Hani Memorial Lecture at UKZN’s Westville campus.

Former deputy general secretary of the South African Communist Party Jeremy Cronin gives the Chris Hani Memorial Lecture at UKZN’s Westville campus. (Sbu Mfeka)

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There is no connection between Zille and Zuma. Zille is entitled to have an opinion, and her opinion will carry weight as we see the ANC/SACP marching us further down the road of NDR to perfect communism, writes Sara Gon.

It is strangely reassuring to see Comrade Jeremy Cronin of the SA Communist Party (SACP) criticising Helen Zille's views.

He begins to dwelling on "what, to use her terms, that arch 'communist concept national democratic [NDR] revolution' actually means". Cronin, however, fails to explain either what he means by the concept, or what he thinks Zille means.

The ANC has made it absolutely clear that the policies it is implementing or is proposing are in accordance with the inexorable march of the NDR. The end result of the NDR is a utopian communist state with the ruinous ideas of expropriation without compensation, prescribed assets, and the National Health Insurance shortcutting us away from utopia into the mire of junk status.

Cronin then discusses Zille's "Cold War litmus test". She essentially argues that state capture was not simply an aberration of the "Zuma era", but an essential element of the NDR programme to which Cyril Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan, while certainly less corrupt than others in the ANC, remain committed and are thus inextricably part of the problem.

Cronin regards this analysis as being both "tactically and strategically inept". All he says to support his view is that "it ends up with exactly the same positioning that the Zuma fight-back campaign, routed through the Public Protector, seeks to achieve around investigating campaign donations to Ramaphosa".

How this symmetry is reached is unfathomable. It is difficult, nay, impossible to understand how this analysis compares favourably or at all with the Zuma fight-back campaign.

In a moment which he describes as "post-New Dawn depression" he turns his attention to Zille's advocacy of "a far-reaching realignment of South African politics, to build a new 'centre majority' of South Africans".

It is reassuring if somewhat depressing that Cronin recognises that we are in a state of depression, but he asks "Who is to be in? And who is to be excluded from Zille's envisaged grand realignment in defence of constitutionalism and non-racialism?"

Any realignment in the political sphere would be on classically liberal principles. Those who support the principles choose whether to join the programme or not. Exclusion will simply depend on the fact that those being excluded don't support liberal principles. The nature and form of the "realignment" presumably is yet to be articulated. 

Cronin proceeds to state that it's too simplistic to divide the ANC into "good guys" and "bad guys". Our response to that is simply when an ideology and the practice of that ideology result in disastrous and destructive governance, the "good guys" also become the "bad guys". This is either because they are unable to halt the slide or unable to change an ideology that achieves disastrous results.

Cronin engages politely, but somewhat patronisingly: "Zille, for all of her undoubted pluckiness, can be extraordinarily muddle-headed." He refers to the Twitter furore over her 'colonialism' tweets. Certainly different phrasing might have triggered less outrage, but factually it is correct. Views on the subject are entirely based on opinion not on facts. No meaningful debate can be held on such topics, borne out by what Cronin goes on to say.

Cronin deviously suggests that Zille praised colonialism, for "having brought, amongst other things, piped water to the dark folk of the world". If Zille referred to "the dark folk of the world", we couldn't find it. At best, the comment is Cronin's opinion of what she said, distilled through his political prism; at worst it is a lie. If she didn't say it, it is a lie. This signifies that Cronin fears the significant debate to be held over the horrors and the benefits wrought by different colonialisms, in different parts of the world, at different times. At the moment, debates like this just cannot take place.

Cronin tackles Zille's "confusion over the idea of a NDR and her colonialism muddle" as being related. He refers to the SACP and ANC's adoption of the NDR in relation to Lenin's "colonialism of a special type". It was "special" because it was imposed from within. This analysis neither diminishes nor confuses Zille's views on the NDR. The fact that South Africa's colonialism experience was imposed both internally and externally doesn't make that much difference. Lenin fashioned a new category for an anomaly.

Frankly it doesn't matter why the NDR was adopted. It was a strategy of the Soviet Union based on classic Marxist-Leninist policies. How the issues it sought to resolve or improve came about don't affect the adoption of the NDR. The NDR was adopted because the ANC and SACP saw it as a solution to a problem. The sarcasm of saying that the NDR wasn't to "proclaim a struggle against piped water" just displays an attempt to attribute something false to Zille.

Cronin says that the structures of apartheid/colonialism in our system are still largely untransformed. In the early years of ANC rule, however, significant gains were made. Yet, persisting inequalities exist almost entirely because of the ANC's policy choices and policy execution: BEE, cadre deployment, economic stasis. Constantly invoking South Africa's history holds us back and no more so than in the adherence to a failed ideology that led to state capture. Our history should inform our future, not dictate it.

Cronin welcomes the human rights campaigning of Helen Suzman or the Black Sash in the granite years of high apartheid. But he fails to acknowledge that Suzman's human rights campaigning were embedded in strong, classically liberal principles.

Laughably, he then attributes vulgarised versions of the NDR to the Zuma-aligned grouping. But Cronin's complaint that "that's no excuse for Zille's cut-and-paste Cold War-era hatchet job – particularly when the stakes are so high" is seriously deficient.

There is no connection between Zille and Zuma. Zille is entitled to have an opinion, and her opinion will carry weight as we see the ANC/SACP marching us further down the road of NDR to perfect communism – destroying the country in the process, despite all advice.

The sad virtue signalling with his awful experience with security police during apartheid in 1976 adds nothing to the debate; it has no correlation to Zille's views. It is just virtue signalling.

It is his article that is muddled. Is Cronin desperately trying to make sense of an NDR on the road to a communist utopia that has hit the skids?

- Sara Gon is a policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    jeremy cronin  |  helen zille
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