Mr. Jeremy Cronin - it's not how you start but how you finish

2016-07-28 17:03

Sad to observe Jeremy Cronin succumbing to the ANC nationalists

Racial utterances dished out by some African National Congress (ANC) nationalists in the past confirmed the fact that black people can be racist. In August 2002, the Deputy General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and member of the ANC's National Executive Committee, Comrade Jeremy Cronin, found himself on the receiving end of raw racism. Cronin had accused the then ANC President, Thabo Mbeki, of abusing and centralising power.

Cronin termed this "the Zanufication of the ANC" - a clear reference to the Zimbabwean ruling party, the ZANU PF, which has been perceived by some observers as undemocratic. A prominent supporter of Mbeki and member of the ANC's NEC, the late Dumisani Makhaye, responded swiftly in defence of Mbeki. The then Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) for Housing in Kwazulu-Natal, Makhaye, lambasted Cronin for attacking Mbeki and accused Cronin of being a "factory fault". As if that was not insult enough, Makhaye rubbed more salt into Cronin's wound by reminding him that ANC did not need "a white messiah" to save it.

Suddenly, Cronin was no longer a comrade; he was a white messiah and factory fault. I asked myself why these racial undertones now? What happened to the ANC's philosophy and policy of non-racialism? What happened to the ANC being a broad church? Some SACP leaders tried to defend Cronin. Makhaye retorted and called them, together with Cronin, dogs: "There are dogs who are biting the ANC and these dogs are calling themselves our friends. The ANC would not be defeated, the ANC is strong. Some of us are prepared to die for the ANC and to kill for the ANC" (Independent Online, 18/08/2002).

You see; the former President of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, wanted to kill for Jacob Zuma long after Dumisani Makhaye would kill for Mbeki. But I digress; let's go back to Cronin. I had thought that the ANC would come down hard on Makhaye for crossing this line. Members of  non-racial party should not be allowed to refer to their comrades as "factory fault", "white messiah" and "dog"? I was wrong.

Smuts Ngonyama, who was then the Spokesperson and Head of Mbeki's ANC Office, came out in defence of Makhaye and praised him for the work well done. The message was clear: it was a white man (Cronin) who was wrong and he should apologise. Who does this guy (not comrade) think he is? We open up the ANC to them and embrace them, now they think they can talk to us the way they like?

I guess that was the thinking of most ANC comrades as they were driving, or rather were being chauffer driven, to the venue of the August 2002 ANC NEC meeting. They were obviously ready for Cronin. He was shouted at, called to order and instructed to apologise. Cronin had to endure humiliation in order to save his political career. He apologised for "the clumsiness" of his remarks and his "uncomradely" criticism of the ANC. Cronin further regretted that his clumsiness could have portrayed the SACP as an opportunist ally of the ANC.

My observation is that sometimes the ANC, or some powerful people within the ANC, display an attitude which seems to suggest that Indian, coloured and white comrades within its ranks are welcome as long as they don't talk too much. It is as if they are being done a favour by being embraced by the ANC which is essentially a black African party. This thinking is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, the ANC is supposed to be a non-racial organisation and a broad church. Any attitude which seeks to oppose the non-racial principle is contradictory to the ANC constitution. Secondly, most of these leaderss who are not black Africans are comrades and in the upper echelon of the liberation movement in their own right. They deserve to be respected for their contribution to the liberation struggle and their current roles despite their tribal, ethnic and racial background.

Jeremy Cronin was in the trenches during the apartheid era and he suffered seven years of political imprisonment at the Pretoria Maximum Security Prison. In whatever assignments he had been given in Parliament and the government, Cronin did a good job. He surely did not deserve to be called a dog, white messiah and factory fault. Moreover, his criticism towards Mbeki concerning the centralisation and abuse of power was genuine.

I guess Cronin had hoped that things would get better when President Jacob Zuma took over the ANC leadership. He may have expected that the ANC would once again become a non-racial party where all comrades are equal despite their race. Unfortunately, this didn't happen; the number of black nationalists in the ANC increased. Zuma has recently suggested that it was wrong for Cape Town to be governed by the non black Africans. Peter Bruce wrote "Unable to campaign on his record and frightened by polls that show the ANC behind the DA in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, [zuma has] reached for the only lever he knows he might be able to count on. Why do blacks vote for a white party? he asks of black voters who might be considering voting DA. If the Chinese can rule themselves in China, and the Indians in India, why can’t we (he means blacks, not South Africans in general) rule ourselves here? This point, of course, being useful in Cape Town" (Financial Mail, 26/07/2016).  I suppose this was a final blow to Cronin's principled crusade. Zuma consoled him by appointing him a deputy minister.

An English adage which says ‘It's not how you start, but how you finish', reminds me of how Cronin dumped all his principles for expediency. Cronin will go down the history as an excellent theorist of socialism. History will further record that he was once principled until he succumbed to the nationalists in the ANC. In 2014 Cronin published articles attacking the Public Protector regarding the Nkandla Report and waging verbal wars with fellow socialist, Irvin Jim. If you can't beat the black African nationalists, you may as well join them, I guess, is Cronin's thinking.

Another version of this opinion piece appeared in the Politicsweb.

Dagada is a South African academic, analyst, and consultant. He is on Twitter: @Rabelani_Dagada

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