South Africa


Response to Jeremy Cronin on the Question of Opportunism

Former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils at the launch of ìSidikiwe! Vukani! No Voteî campaign at the Wits University on April 15, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Bafana Mahlangu)

The South African Communist Party (SACP) clearly helped propel Zuma to power in the most opportunistic fashion. And the whole of South Africa witnessed that from the time of the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007, and even before. I stand by that view without equivocation.

Jeremy Cronin has strongly defended the SACP’s position on the recent national general elections and taken issue with me: “The SACP played a key role against kleptocracy and its campaign against State Capture was neither opportunistic, as claimed by Ronnie Kasrils, nor a blind Ramaphoria cult.” (Daily Maverick 16 May in response to my earlier DM contribution “A Curate’s Egg of an Election”).

The SACP’s record of opposing Jacob Zuma’s kleptocratic period of State Capture needs to be dissected. Jeremy Cronin is aware that he and the party leadership ignored my warnings as early as 2005 against supporting Zuma, even before his rape trial, but at the very time his corrupt relationship with Schabir Shaik was made public in the courts of law.

The party clearly helped propel Zuma to power in the most opportunistic fashion. The party supported Zuma with zeal to remove Mbeki and was virtually at the forefront of the campaign. When the Guptas used the Waterkloof Air Base courtesy of President Zuma and the scale of state spending on his Nkandla residence became a public scandal, they defended him to the hilt and covered up for him in Cabinet and Parliament, thus letting him off the hook.

Zwelinzima Vavi as Cosatu leader had begun to acknowledge his own error in trusting and supporting Zuma as early as 2010. It took the SACP several years before it woke up sufficiently for general secretary Blade Nzimande to admit to their error and apologise. The climax of such self-criticism was at the SACP’s July 2017 congress after it had become clear that the party had lost favour with Zuma, who by then had become the prisoner of the Guptas and his own greed.

The take-off of the SACP’s love affair with Jacob Zuma was not his Communist credentials for these did not exist (or if they ever did were unceremoniously dropped in 1990 when the party went public), but rather a personalised hatred for Mbeki and not simply anathema for his policies.

Zuma is the best bet for the Left,” Nzimande said to me in 2005 in front of a dozen leaders, to which I responded that amounted to opportunism. I stick to that opinion and believe my view has stood the test of time no matter what Cronin claims.

Should the SACP have opposed Mbeki for policies such as GEAR and his Aids denialism? Yes, indeed, and if they felt they were getting nowhere they should have been more mature than leaping from the frying pan into the fire.

Which brings me to the party’s July 2017 Congress (five months ahead of the ANC’s elective conference later that year) where Cronin’s current criticism lies. His disagreement with me relates to my opinion that the SACP should have fielded independent candidates in the 2019 national election as urged by many of its delegates at the July 2017 Congress. That pressure was neatly diverted by the leadership urging that the party should wait for the outcome of the ANC’s December conference later that year.

It is history that Ramaphosa defeated Zuma’s chosen successor by a very small majority which was hotly contested. I do not deny that the party played a role in that. Jeremy Cronin’s claim, however, as to the magnitude is in my view greatly exaggerated. And in my opinion, the SACP has yet again placed itself in a position of tailing behind the ANC to its detriment as would-be leader of the working class in the struggle for socialism.

Cronin’s argument proceeds as follows: He argues that not opting to field independent party candidates in the 2019 elections enabled the SACP to play an active and often the key role (my emphasis) within the ANC movement in the struggle against the parasitic kleptocrats and this was in the first place decisive in Cyril Ramaphosa being elected party leader by a narrow majority at its December 2017 conference.

It follows in terms of his argument that strategy enabled Ramaphosa’s ANC to win the majority vote in the recent 2019 elections. It is obvious that if Ramaphosa had not been the ANC’s 2017 choice he could not have represented the ANC in 2019.

I dispute Cronin’s claim, however, that the SACPs strategic choice was the decisive factor for Ramaphosa’s 2017 and 2019 triumphs. One needs to have a broader view than that. Without denying the SACP’s assistance in supporting Ramaphosa I would argue that the key factor behind his succeeding Jacob Zuma by far was the shock and awe that hit home in the 2016 municipal elections when the ANC could only muster 53% of the vote. That dismal performance was the people’s signal of displeasure with the ANC government of which the SACP and its Cabinet ministers and deputies were very much a part, notwithstanding that they were voting at the municipal level.

That disastrous showing at the polls significantly affected the outcome of the ANC’s December 2017 Conference and, I would argue, turned the tide against the Zuma grouping. Even hard-nosed Zuma supporters, such as for instance DD Mabuza, Fikile Mbalula and many others, saw the writing on the wall and were terrified of the likely outcome of the 2019 election with a Zuma candidate at the helm. The ascendant mood running through the ANC was that Zuma’s candidate had to be dropped.

There were numerous other factors which affected the anti-Zuma mood within the ANC. For example, has Cronin forgotten the exemplary role of the then Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, calling Zuma to account? The critical role of the media and of the public produced enormous pressure, as did the role of the parliamentary opposition where ANC MPs and government ministers could only howl and cry foul in his defence – while secretly worrying for their future.

In any event, Cronin can only make claims about how actively SACP members campaigned for Ramaphosa in the run-up to the ANC’s December 2017 conference that helped produce that slender majority in his favour. I agree their votes were necessary then and I, like many outside the fold, was relieved that Ramaphosa had seen off Zuma’s candidate.

There was no reason, however, why the party could not have campaigned for him up to that point and thereafter proceeded to organise in their own name on an independent platform for the 2019 elections. This would have required a working agreement for an electoral pact with the ANC which would certainly be possible and capable of working in favour of both given our proportional representation electoral system.

Cronin points to the SACP’s impressive membership figure. If the party has confidence in those numbers, and the determination of its cadres, then surely it must believe in their ability to raise a respectable vote in any contest. While an attempt was made to field a few candidates in the 2016 municipal elections they barely gave themselves the time to organise.

Cronin avoids a debate about the party having the courage to change tack, yet he approvingly cites Reggie Debrey’s 1960s thesis about a revolution’s “struggle within the struggle”. He doesn’t seem to appreciate that should take place within the SACP and not only in what he refers to as “the ANC movement”.

This has been the SACP’s rationale for remaining “within the ANC”. Such an approach shows a complete lack of belief in what an independent SACP could, in fact, achieve in mobilising the working class together with left, progressive and anti-neoliberal forces for the issue is not only about an electoral contest.

This does not mean ditching the ANC or being unconcerned whether a Zuma-type faction prevails but being far better placed to articulate a socialist perspective in a country where class struggle has come to the fore and crony capitalism, narrow nationalism and racist demagogy – within the ANC as well as to its right – needs to be countered.

Holding back in this respect, where the SACP’s concentration and energy has been so strongly focused within the ANC, has seen a vacuum for socialism opening up to the left of the movement, both in the country’s discourse and political choices, strategy and tactics come national elections at all times. This neglect has dangerous consequences in the present period and for the future. The question is often posed: should the SACP remain inside the ANC tent or have a separate existence? But that question is posed incorrectly. I would rather pose it as follows: should the SACP remain inside the ANC tent or have an existence outside for the mutual benefit of both?

I do not claim to be the oracle of the left. There are many comrades far closer to the working class and active politics than myself. I include those within the SACP, or for that matter the SRWP despite their dismal electoral showing, the trade union movement – Cosatu and Saftu – and beyond encompassing civil society, grassroots organisations in communities around the country, women, youth and cultural formations, and revolutionary intellectuals, many of whom are ANC members.

We need to be creative, tolerant, open-minded, non-sectarian and non-dogmatic, given the bleak status of the socialist project in our country at present. What many have been striving to do is encourage a debate about how the left can best raise the political consciousness of the working class to a level of class consciousness to build socialism and create its necessary organisational forms. The problem is that very few appear to be prepared to think outside their own tent. We need to find a modicum of courage to question the old tired formulas, and creatively relate to the challenges of the current period characterised by unemployment, precarious labour, gender-based violence, homophobia and xenophobia, right-wing religious populism, threats of global warming and destruction of the ecosystem.

I wrote in my Daily Maverick contribution: “At the moment in the immediate wake of a successfully organised election the mood for Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’ is hopeful and expectant… yet danger still lurks within the ANC. Many corrupt elements are toeing the Ramaphosa line but hoping to continue with careers based on patronage and self-serving deceit.”

I am by no means writing off any hope in the election of Ramaphosa. The degree of relief in the country is palpable and I share that. I believe he is serious about cleaning out the Augean Stables of corruption at all levels, strengthening state structures and agencies to do so, putting right dysfunctional departments, and tackling the rot in state enterprises as well as in the ANC itself.

This will take enormous political will and energy and he is deserving of all the support that can be mustered. I wish him and the ANC well in this regard. I have my doubts and reserve judgment, however, about Ramaphosa’s intentions regarding the country’s economic system where both he and the country will stand or fall.

I posed the same fundamental question as Jeremy Cronin: whether the Ramaphosa Presidency will break from the neoliberal economic stranglehold our country embraces? Neoliberalism has been an unmitigated disaster, both in global terms and in our country, resulting in the virtual stagnant economy, huge unemployment and the horrifying fact that we have become the most unequal society in the world.

There are two immediate points I would like to highlight.

First, continuing with our present economic prescriptions negates any cause for optimism. In fact, quite the contrary. Our government has been managing the neoliberal economy and serving a vision and prescripts inspired by the World Bank, Harvard Business School and the likes of Goldman Sachs. To them a redistributive approach along the initial RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) lines or anything post-Keynesian is anathema, never mind that the dirty word in their vocabulary is “socialism”.

Given the support the SACP has provided Ramaphosa they have a heavy responsibility to influence him and the ANC in working for an alternative economic system that serves the people and not the global free market profiteers. Are we going to yet again see SACP-appointed ministers and deputies simply carrying on business as usual? If the SACP had earned an independent place in Parliament I contend it would be in a far better place to influence government, more especially with a broad left movement in support, and a public and working class that can hold all accountable.

That brings me to my second, not disconnected, point: As I write a vicious attack has been launched against the current Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, over her decision to implement an ANC resolution to downgrade the Israeli Embassy to that of a liaison office in South Africa. The Israeli lobby, as cited by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ (SAJBD) mouthpiece Zev Krengel, has crudely labelled her as the “single biggest enemy” of South African Jews, as reported in that apologist of Israeli crimes, the Jewish Report (16 May 2019). That, of course, implies that she in Zionist terms is an “anti-Semite” which is libellous and far from the truth. That’s the very same Krengel who has been invited to ANC conferences since Polokwane, 2007, as a favoured guest. I doubt whether he would have found the courage to launch this vile onslaught had he no “friends” in the ANC just as he had verbally abused retired Ambassador Mohammed Dangor for the same “crime” as Sisulu at the time of the resolution to downgrade Israel’s presence at the 2017 conference.

Ramaphosa needs to stand firm by the ANC’s resolution to downgrade ties with Israel and not fall prey to their cynical plea that South Africa has a role to play as an intermediary between the Zionist state and the Palestinians. We can have no even-handed approach to the two adversaries for that is a conflict created by Israel in its dispossession of Palestinian land and rights. We can only be firmly on the side of the Palestinians.

Krengel and his ilk wish to neutralise the ANC by suggesting it is well placed to be an impartial referee. Everyone in the ANC needs to be aware that the Zionist lobbyists do not care a fig about ANC processes or about democracy and are willing to slander the entire membership to further the agenda of a foreign state.

Yet there are those crony capitalists within the ANC on both sides of its factional divide who have been keenly interested in the further development of the existing business ties with Israel, more than ready to have their palms greased like Judas with silver coins. The Israeli connection comes down to the fundamental issue of our economic choices and who we are prepared to do business with.

The controversial arms trade with Saudi Arabia, for which government has shown a keen interest, is yet another such issue for, in terms of control regulations, South Africa has been committed since 1994 not to sell weapons to a country involved in an aggressive war against another.

This issue is not disconnected from my debate with Jeremy Cronin. In my article I referred to the pledge made by ANC supporters gathered at party headquarters after the election victory to build the ANC. I reiterated that they should be pledging, among other things, to smash corruption in government, state and business, which means in ANC factions at all levels – national, provincial and local – and in our business deals with foreign states.

In response to an immediate challenge they and the SACP should be rallying to the defence of Lindiwe Sisulu, and potential interference by the representatives of a foreign power. This is the first battle where the Ramaphosa Presidency has to reveal itself. It is encouraging to note that the ANC has registered its support for Sisulu in the wake of the Zionist attacks to malign her. The same solidarity must be shown by the President and government. One watches the SACP’s position with interest in the light of Cronin’s rationale about how best to strengthen and influence the ANC, as the ruling party, and hold it to account. If the SACP panders to opportunism, second time around, it will come under fire from within and without.

I would rather see it find the way to return to its past glory by once again, with the centenary of its existence coming up, winning the confidence of the working class and the masses. DM


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