Member of Parliament of South Africa
and National Executive of African National
Deputy General Secretary of South African Communist Party
This interview with Jeremy Cronin MP by Dr Helena Sheehan was recorded on digital video on 24 January 2002 in his offices in the South African Parliament in Cape Town. It is a follow up to a previous interview recorded on 17 April 2001 at University of Cape Town. These interviews were intended for publication and these transcripts are accurate, whatever has been said in response to the considerable controversy they have caused.
HS: We're taking up this interview from where we left off some months ago. So, Jeremy, I'd like to just take up the story from the 1990s, the period before the 1994 election, but I'd like to concentrate particularly on the period since 1994. So the story Ö
JC: I think that the period before 1994 is important, because it begins to show what's going to be at play through the latter part of the 1990s into 2000. What's at play includes the confusions and uncertainties and weaknesses of the liberation movement itself, which were beginning to show themselves already at the beginning of the 1990s. So it's not as though there's some kind of huge dramatic watershed in 1994.
The 1994 breakthrough is the result obviously of both external and internal south african realities. In both cases, from a left perspective, both the domestic as well as the external realities are of a mixed kind. It's not as though it's an entirely favourable set of circumstances, which permits finally some kind of democratic breakthrough in South Africa.
Externally, through the latter part of the 1980s, the soviet bloc, which had been one very important material support base for the ANC and indeed for other 3rd world national liberation movements, not least in southern Africa, were clearly in full decline. I mean, long before they actually collapsed, it was quite apparent that the levels of support had melted. Even strategic understanding of national liberation struggles in the south, these things were diminishing quite considerably. When I was in Lusaka between 1987 and early 1990, somewhere in the middle of that, I remember comrades from the SACP being called into the soviet embassy and told that we could no longer expect the same levels of support. We needed to move rapidly towards some kind of negotiation. The ability of the Soviet Union to sustain that kind of cold war position was diminishing quite rapidly.
So there was that and then in the endgame, in the run-up to the negotiations, there was quite a lot of activity. I was located in the internal political committee as it was called in the ANC headquarters in Lusaka and we were beginning to do brainstorming exercises and strategic planning around negotiations in 1988Ė89. We were being briefed quite a bit by Oliver Tambo, who was then the ANC president. The soviets were saying and the ANC led by Tambo was saying that it's very important to be quite pro-active in the negotiations process. The comparison with what had happened in Zimbabwe where ZANU and ZAPU had, out of the blue, found themselves pitched into the Lancaster House negotiations was underlined very firmly to us.
The anecdote which Tambo told, I don't know if it was true, but it was pointed and it was that on a given day, it must have been in 1979 or early 1980, Mugabe was pulled in by Samora Machel and given a one-way air ticket to London and told: "You go and negotiate with the brits. If you fail to reach a settlement, well that's fine, but you're not coming back to Mozambique." And Joshua Nkomo head of ZAPU, on the same day was given exactly the same message by Kenneth Kaunda in Lusaka. So Tambo was saying that we must be in command as much as possible of the process ourselves and set the agenda. So, although it was fairly late in the day, nonetheless, the ANC poised itself, positioned itself, quite well in terms of the negotiation process. Tambo described it as an inverted pyramid and said that the opposition must be at the apex of this inverted pyramid and behind that would assemble a whole range of our own people, the UDF and COSATU and so forth, the southern african region, the OAU, the UN and so on. By and large, that succeeded. So there was from a negotiations point of view, a fairly clear strategic direction led by the ANC and the other forces, like the apartheid regime, were always off balance from a strategic point of view.
All in the midst of it the people who were giving us the worst advice often was advice not to be tough. For instance, one of the key demands was that there needed to be some arrangements before going into elections, that we could not allow the first democratic elections to be run by the apartheid regime, that there had to be some kind of interim government arrangement. They said that it's impossible; it's unprecedented internationally, and so forth. This was what the soviet embassy was telling the ANC/SACP in the late 80s and clearly they were just desperate to remove the burden of solidarity and support, which had been very substantial though the later 60s, 70s and 80s.
So there were those pressures, the beginnings of the collapse of the soviet bloc, which were obviously fundamentally unfavourable circumstances for us. Equally unfavourable was the decline of the region. The progressive or relatively progressive regimes in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, in particular Angola, were really beginning to feel the brunt of the destabilisation programmes launched from the south, but also the consequences of their own errors, structural adjustment programmes and so forth, so that levels of support were also beginning to dwindle quite considerably.
On the flip side, positively, in terms of the international situation, one: the broad anti-apartheid movement had grown to considerable strength. I mean, I don't think that when looks at other oppressed peoples, the chileans early on in the 70s, the palestinians currently, or the kurds currently, then I think the levels of global support the anti-apartheid movement received in South Africa were unprecedented and was one of the high points perhaps of the of post-1968 ferment of social movements and one of the great achievements of that post-68 movement. It was this global anti-apartheid movement, which had produced then by the mid-80s, from 1976 onwards, a growing movement of sanctions imposed reluctantly by northern governments, but increasingly imposed, and the early 90s became the crunch period, because the financial sanctions in particular meant that the south african government and business in South Africa were very exposed and were going into a cul-de-sac.
HS: It also meant that the people who were engaged in that internationally had a lot of hope about what would happen in South Africa.
JC: I'll come to that in a moment, because that became its own burden, a responsibility and a burden on the movement in South Africa.
HS: I'll give you just a small anecdote, which is very recent. You know the anti-apartheid strike at Dunnes Stores in Dublin in the 1980s? You know the song that Ewan MacColl wrote and my daughter sang on that CD I produced? Just since I've arrived back here in South Africa, there's been a picket on the SA embassy in Dublin by the same trade union. Do you know about it?
JC: Around what?
HS: Around trade union recognition and national wage agreements. It's the Irish workers who work at the SA embassy in Dublin. The embassy is claiming diplomatic immunity and not recognising the union or paying nationally negotiated wage increases since 1998. The irony of it being the same union is playing badly for SA. The 1980s strike was an almost unprecedented thing. These were just girls on the checkout in Dunnes Stores who wouldn't process outspan oranges and lost their jobs. I am told in my e-mail that there was a big photo in The Irish Times of the picket on the SA embassy from that union. It's just a small anecdote, but Ö
JC: It captures something.
HS: Anyway we want to discuss the expectations and events in larger terms. However, this is how it is playing in Ireland at the moment. People in the trade union movement, who were active in the anti-apartheid movement, ask: how can this be the ANC ?
JC: I'm glad to hear that they're not just keeping quiet, that they actually are picketing and mounting actions. I've not been aware of it in South Africa.
HS: There was a tiny item in The Cape Times one day saying that there was a strike threatened and that the department of foreign affairs said they were confident it would be settled soon, but it wasn't settled. Anyway back to the early 90s Ö
JC: Clearly there were the domestically popular forces. The guerrilla struggle had never really got going and its principal impact was at a propaganda and mobilisational level rather than as a guerrilla struggle that was particularly liberating areas, for instance. I think the ANC liberation movement was slow really to understand the reality of the SA terrain. They spent a lot of time through the 60s, 70s and 80s trying to be something like Vietnam or Cuba, or the example that we had in our region, the struggle in Zimbabwe or Angola or Mozambique.
There was a kind of disjuncture between a principal focus of the ANC liberation movement through the 80s, which was very much on assembling an army that was going to fight a guerrilla struggle, and the actual reality that was propelling the struggle here at home, which was largely a struggle of mobilised popular forces on the terrain of an unevenly but relatively developed capitalist economy.
So the principal sites of struggle were in factory workplaces, mine compounds, consumer boycotts, civic struggles, struggles in churches, struggles in the media, in the schools and so forth. So it was within the texture of a relatively developed capitalist economy that the struggle took place and it was characteristically the struggle of a people that was the majority black population, but was included into the texture of a capitalist economy as consumers, as students, as workers, as commuters, who were deeply included in it, but also then excluded racially. A lot of the struggle took place in that disjuncture between the exclusion and inclusion. Exclusion into a township was used then as a weapon, so that the township became a kind of semi-liberated zone. The black campuses stuck away far away in a bantustan became zones to challenge the ways in which they were being integrated at the same time as students, as consumers, as users of buses or whatever. I think that that reality remains very resonant now in the present.
HS: In what way?
JC: Because I think that if you look at the evolution of 3rd world national liberation movements, by and large they did a lot better than we did and liberated themselves a lot sooner. Inspiring examples are of a Vietnam or Zimbabwe or a Mozambique. The beginnings of independence happened before independence in liberated zones, which were often of a considerable extent, and eventually the countryside surrounded the capital city and the colonial power departed hastily.
But they then arrived in a post-independence situation, essentially with the popular mobilisation that had been largely of a peasant army recruited, fed, equipped in a remote countryside, where the writ of the colonial or neo-colonial power was shaky. So what liberated the city was often some kind of peasant army, usually led by urban working class, intellectuals or professionals of one kind or another. But the mass base was this peasant army. So what you see, say in Zimbabwe, what is now playing itself out in Zimbabwe, is that the liberating force post-independence, the very upper echelons become the government, the next layer become the generals and senior officers in the security forces. Others get integrated into either parastatal functions or the security forces and then the rest are demobilised back into often a very remote countryside.
You see then written into that is the tendency for the bureaucratisation of the struggle, there being real popular energies and real heroic struggle inspired by liberatory ideals but continued, very often with good intentions by the new bureaucracy, but the institutionalisation that it assumes and then the remoteness of the mobilised mass base, there's a great disjuncture between them. A geographical and social distance opens up.
HS: Was there much of an atmosphere of analysing this, what had happened in the rest of Africa, and reading Fanon and so on ? Was there much of an atmosphere of that in the movement ?
JC: In South Africa? Well I think that the leading cadres of the ANC, not all of it, but the bulk of it, was in exile through this complicated period in southern Africa and in Africa of the 70s and 80s. So there's an experience of high expectations and expectations even beginning to be fulfilled, for instance in Mozambique there were outstanding advances made in the second half of the 70s after independence, in health care, education, democratisation of many things, but it lost its impetus.
JC: Mainly because of brutal destabilisation through RENAMO, armed and equipped by Rhodesians and then taken over by the apartheid regime, but also because of mistakes made by the liberation movement, but also because of the socio-economic reality that the liberation movement was essentially a peasant people's army. It was hard then to sustain a popular dynamism and a popular energy through the 80s and I think that has been another reality.
The fact that our liberation was different, slower, less successful, the model we were using probably was inappropriate to the reality of who was fighting the struggle and the way in which they were fighting the struggle. It's a very important asset now in the present. I think there are tendencies now of what some of us refer to as the zanufication of the ANC. You can see features of that, of a bureaucratisation of the struggle: Thanks very much. It was important that you were mobilised then, but now we are in power, in power on your behalf. Relax and we'll deliver. The struggle now is counter-productive. Mass mobilisation gets in the way. Don't worry. We've got a plan. Yes, it'll be slow, but be patient and so on. That kind of message has come through.
HS: Then In Zimbabwe there's been the maoist remobilisation of the movement for specific purposes.
JC: I'll come to that. Post-independence, probably you have to demobilise and incorporate in some way a peasant army, but it's not that easy to do the same to a trade union movement, even if that's what you want to do, stupidly perhaps you might want to do that for whatever reason, or to demobilise a student movement or civics or women's organisations or whatever or the press, traditions of progressive campaigning journalism and so forth.
So those energies are still present. They've been dispersed. They're confused. Often they get suppressed by the very forces that they aligned themselves with originally, the broad ANC and so on, but it bubbles through a great deal. I think therefore there's a lot of fluidity still in the situation, which should be neither underrated nor exaggerated. There are levels of disorganisation, demobilisation, disappointment, demoralisation. I personally don't think it's all played out at all.
There were already the signs of all of what I'm talking about present prior to 1994, in the multi-party negotiations period and I wrote about it at the time in a piece which John Saul refers to, which I think I called "The boat, the tap and the Leipzig way". I was trying to typify/characterise what I thought were three different views about the mass mobilisation, popular involvement in this period of negotiations.
The position in the ANC, which I characterised as the boat position, was: don't rock the boat. Basically the royal road to democracy, to achieving our strategic objectives, was negotiations and nothing should be done to rock the boat in that process and, if we mobilised people in the midst of the negotiations, the apartheid regime would walk away or unleash its own mobilisation of one kind or another, the dirty war and so forth. So don't rock the boat. That was coming through from very senior quarters in the ANC, some of those elements in the ANC who were taking that position in the early 1990s, are very powerful inside the ANC at present.
The second position, which I characterised as the tap, was the attitude of: mass mobilisation is important, at particular moments, so it has to be turned on and off. In my view, Mandela typified that perspective. He had an understanding and an experience from the 50s, his own experience from the 1950s, of mass mobilisation being very much at the heart of the revitalisation of the ANC. As a youth leader in the late 1940s, it led a revolt of the activists against a rather moribund, middle-class ANC leadership at the time and that had spearheaded a decade on ANC revitalisation, of strikes, of stay-aways, of boycotts, many of the tactics of mobilisation which became so central in the 1980s again. So you had a feel and an understanding of that, but tended in my view to have a somewhat mechanical attitude to popular participation.
The third position at the time we called the Leipzig way, in the light of events in Leipzig, was that sustained and continued popular pressure was critical for the negotiations itself. Far from undermining the negotiations, it would serve two purposes. It was critical in exchanging the balance of forces in the negotiations process itself. We used to say at the time, obviously I was a leipziger, that what transpires in the negotiations was as the result of the balances of forces outside of the negotiating chamber.
And that wasn't a static reality. The regime,the apartheid regime at the time, understood that very well and was unleashing a very brutal, low-intensity warfare strategy against us, the assassination of key cadres, including Chris Hani But that was just one of the thousands of key cadres. It wasn't the negotiators, I was one of them, we weren't particularly targeted, it was the critical organisational link between the organisers and the massed ranks, which was our one strength at the time, but were being targeted for assassination. Then also the general unleashing of violence: random, terrorist violence against trains, taxi-ranks, schools, townships and so forth, to sow confusion and demoralisation and so on and basically to knock away the link between the ANC leadership and its one strength. We needed to mount, not our own counter-terror, but we needed to mobilise mass forces partly to defend ourselves in the face of this so that, and this was critical, so that they were themselves part and parcel of the negotiation process.
I would say that none of those 3 schools of thought within the ANC had a clear-cut hegemony over the process within the ANC itself. It was a contested perspective and there was mutual suspicion. The donít-rock-the-boaters thought that many of us were endangering the negotiations process and delaying it with some of those strategies. We really felt that they were not understanding what we were up against. So there were waves of significant mobilisation in that period. I think that those waves were critical in actually bringing about eventually the negotiations and the relatively favourable outcome to those negotiations.
After the Hani assassination, there was a major mobilisation wave that occurred then in a response. That was clearly critical. Within three weeks of his assassination, the final outcome to the negotiations was then settled and the elections then happened in exactly one year and three weeks after his assassination. It was mass mobilisation that did it. What was interesting was that in the course of the mobilisation, the response to Hani's assassination was: we must go and kill whites and what are we negotiating for? The ANC was able to inject political leadership into that to say: no, the assassins want you to say that. We have got to now demand the immediate implementation of the process leading up to elections. We were well able to do that.
In doing that and also getting mobilised massed forces to take up the national negotiating demands, we began to find they were also taking up their own local negotiating demands. So they would take up the demand for one-person, one-vote elections and so forth, for a unitary dispensation and so on, but at the same time in their mobilisation they would raise issues around non-access to the local town hall for meetings or the treatment that the white police were meting out to the people in the township in this particular police station and so on. They began to find that for once, their counterparts, the white mayor or the white police commander or local white business (for example, there were boycotts of shops in this process) began to negotiate with them, something that they hadnít particularly found before.
So in my opinion itís very important to understand what happened in the 1990s, but to hold onto that as an understanding for the future: that the negotiations themselves were mass-based and there were local-level negotiations happening. The transformation of South Africa wasnít just the product of two wise men, a DeKlerk and a Mandela, shaking hands on a deal and having the farsightedness to understand that South AfricaÖ
HS: Thatís important to explain to the rest of the world.
JC: It is very important, yes indeed. There is this kind of elite pacting, which is of course the desired outcome in US think-tanks and so on, and the view of how negotiations have to be if they are going to be successful, and indeed the model that was imposed on Nicaragua and the Philippines and so on, with some success and those countries from an imperialist perspective, whereas the negotiations and the outcomes were different here. But you can forget that, even the participants themselves can forget that, and begin to imagine that South Africa was delivered into freedom by two great men. It helped, that there was a degree of strategic maturity from DeKlerk and a great deal of strategic intelligence from someone like Mandela, but the outcome would have been quite different if we had simply folded our arms and allowed two gentlemen from two different sides to do it.
There is a retrospective attempt, including from within quarters of the ANC itself, to portray the outcome like that: you see, we delivered, and now from on high again, we will continue to deliver transformation and change and so forth. So itís good to remember what happened in the negotiations and to draw the right lessons rather that the wrong ones. Just as prior to 1994 it was at play, that continues in its different ways now to be at play.
HS: So, Jeremy, what was the thinking about the whole traditional left demand for expropriating the expropriators? I mean, one of the things that is said is that, basically they have got away with it. They had to give over state power, but they got to keep all of the wealth. What was the thinking about that?
JC: I think that first of all that it was not just some of the left critics saying it, but we were saying it ourselves at the time. However, Iím not wrong in saying that, as a liberation movement, we were not so well-positioned, intellectually, theoretically, in terms of policy formation, in terms of socio-economic transformation. It was understandable, but not strong enough to forgive ourselves too easily. We had been very focused on the political tasks, democratisation, mobilisation, fighting a guerrilla struggle and so forth. I think the ANC and broader liberation movement proved itself quite adept, quite smart on the broader political terrain in terms of building a global consensus on what we were trying to do in terms of out-manoeuvring the apartheid regime, exposing what it was still doing in the midst of the negotiations and so on.
So the political terrain was one that I think we were quite good at. The socio-economic terrainÖI donít think we were very literate, all of us. Weíd not profoundly thought about that. We began to spot that as the SACP and key comrades from the ANC late in 1992-93 and began to say that weíve really actually got to put a lot more effort into that. While we are busy dealing with a low-intensity conflict, the terrible violence, assassination and the complicated negotiations, weíve actually got to prepare for governance in terms of socio-economic policy as well.
There continued to be some parallel processes, but there was a beginning of momentum. It didnít come from nowhere. Obviously many of the struggles of the 80s were on the terrain of the socio-economic: education struggles, trade union struggles, civic struggles and so forth. They had begun to advance, but they tended to be sort of bottom-up, grass-roots type solutions, not wrong ones and very progressive ones, but they would often be about a developmental issue in a particular township or in a remote rural area, or changing the syllabus in a school or whatever.
So there were popular demands, which were not just of a political kind, but of a social and economic and transformational kind. The unions had obviously also advanced largely trade union kinds of demands around labour market reforms and so on. So the important components of socio-economic policy were relatively in place. Those energies then got taken up by the reconstruction and development programme process, driven often by those forces and then more by the social movements within the ANC fold. They were taken up by some of us who were policy-makers in the ANC, often university graduates returning from exile, who were part of the middle-ranking ANC leadership at the time, but the senior ANC leadership was not very focused on that.
So that was one relative shortcoming as we moved towards 1994. The other perhaps more important one was just the confusing global time in which South Africa came to independence. The models were down by 1994. I suppose in the SACP by and large we imagined that what we would do after independence would be not quite what they had been able to do in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe or Cuba, because perhaps the balance of forces wouldnít be quite that favourable, but it would be something aspirationally moving in that direction. That simply had come tumbling down by the time we got to 1991. It wasnít a plausible argument because things had gone terribly wrong. The first who needed to admit it was the SACP itself. Otherwise we would be condemned to repeating history, which was no longer such a good instructor.
HS: So you were left with a kind of abyssÖ
JC: Everyone points that out, that collapse, but there were other collapses as well. The radical 3rd world project which had looked quite promising in the late post-Vietnam victory period, certainly in Southern Africa, as I said earlier. In Zimbabwe remarkable gains had been scored at the level of landÖthe beginning of land reform, health, educationÖvery, very important progressive social and economic transformation.
HS: Also all the 1st world ferment had collapsed.
JC: Yes. So there were examples that looked inspiring, but the experience of the leading cadres of the ANC in exile was of all of it turning terribly sour, of venal corruption and of bureaucratisation setting in in many other countries.
HS: And the ferment in the 1st world dying down tooÖ
JC: Well exactly. The post-68 ferment. So the social movement ferment was not at its pinnacle in the early 1990s. Neither was the more progressive social democratic project, that had been punctured by globalisation. So where it had been at its most inspiring, in Sweden, in the Netherlands or whatever, it had become rather venal, rather uncertain, often out of government, now at this stage.
HS: In the early 80s in the european social democratic parties, when the Mitterand government first took power in France and PASSOK in Greece, there was a lot of hope about what the left could do with state power vis-a-vis the global economy. That died very quickly. There was also a stronger left in the British Labour Party then than later in the decade.
JC: Yes and that had been marginalised and so forth. As you said earlier, the ANC and its alliance found in government with an overwhelming majority in 1994 with the hopes and expectations and huge investment of solidarity and support of progressive forces around the world, so carrying a huge responsibility and flying the flag.
HS: A lot of it was reacting to the fact that everything else was at such a low ebb and then there was this, which was on the upgrade, and that was immensely important to the rest of us.
JC: And we knew it was important and we knew and know still that we have a huge indebtedness also to all of those progressive forces. Not just as a trade-off or payback or whateverÖ
HS: I know.
JC: It was more the investment of moral energy, of hopes, of denting the triumphalism of neo-liberalism, which was at its zenith in the early 1990s. So there was an imbalance between our capacities, the balance of force realities, the availability of models and the duty and responsibility we had as a left in South Africa. I think that now in 2002 we need, in discussion with comrades all around the world and in our own discussions here in South Africa, to pick through all of that in ways that are honest, sober, not demoralised, nor overburdening ourselves or anyone else with undue expectations. I think we are in the midst of that.
What for me, then, moving now beyond 1994, what would be the main points of reference ? I think that we managed belatedly but significantly to fight the elections of 1994 with a very progressive and quite comprehensive election programme. It was actually a 100 page reconstruction and development programme/election manifesto, which is interesting, because normally parties that become more and more just electorally focused like election manifestos that are third wayish, which are as vague as possible and have a feel-good character about them, but which are not terribly specific about anything.
The ANC, perhaps in its naivety, went into that 1994 election with a fairly complex, fairly extensive, but as I quickly discovered, not really extensive, detailed enough, programme which was called the reconstruction and development programme (RDP). At the heart of it was a commitment to understanding that the way forward in South Africa had to be connecting economic growth with development and development with growth. The problems in South Africa, the economic problems, had to do, not with the absence of infrastructure. Certainly in our region, certainly in our continent, there was considerable infrastructure. They were not with the absence of resources, although there are never enough resources in a 3rd world country, but that wasn't the particular problem in our situation.
We were a relatively resource-rich country, but with the huge inequalities and structural disjunctures in the system. That was the problem. There were inequalities and disjunctures of all kinds. First of all, there would be the skills disjuncture. So for a country with our relative levels of development, a large part of the population was relatively unskilled. There is the domestic market, so for a country with our level of GDP, our levels of productivity and so forth, we've actually got a tiny domestic market because of the massive apartheid inequalities, which continue to this day. The infrastructure is very uneven. There is a sophisticated financial sector infrastructure. There is a quite sophisticated transport infrastructure. But all of it is infrastructure that has developed and under-developed simultaneously in the country and the region.
So the reconstruction and development programme was that we needed to invest very substantially and to mobilise energy and resources into major programmes of redistribution towards the poor, towards the marginalised, towards rural areas, towards townships within the urban landscape. That was the only sustainable way of actually getting the growth that we undoubtedly needed. This effort at major growth through development would require an active public sector, which we also inherited. We inherited a very distorted, but very substantial, public sector from the apartheid past, which had been run as a kind of white welfare state. The big parastatals had been used to provide electricity, transport and so forth to the white minority and also to the white capitalist economy. So we had huge parastatal assets, but on the wrong mission.
There was going to be a major need then to restructure, but to restructure them to play an active and strategic role in redistribution and development for growth. Also clearly there were, alas, considerable private sector resources and capacities inside of our economy. Therefore the emphasis in the RDP, and I think probably it was the right emphasis, to get back to your question, was less about confiscation, but about coaxing, disciplining and persuading the significant private sector in our economy to be part and parcel of a major restructuring of their economy, in their own interests, otherwise there was no sustainable future for capitalism in South Africa. There might be short-term quick profits out of some kind of short-term export-led perspective, but that unless lots of effort went into infrastructural development, addressing the socio-economic backlogs, the marginalised, the uneven domestic market and so on, south african capitalism itself would never be competitive globally.
HS: It puts me in mind of the discussion of alternative paths, the whole debate around the new economic policy, in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. I have been thinking about it again in connection with the work I am doing on Bukharin at the moment [writing an introduction to the english edition of Philosophical Arabesques, a manuscript written by Bukharin in his last year, the time between his arrest and execution, which has only come to light in recent years] Bukharin is the personification of the path not taken.
JC: Indeed. I personally think that still has to be the strategic direction that we pursue. I donít think that there are too many alternatives. I think there are real possibilities down that line. But that perspective has suffered some setbacks. I think the critique from the left that you refer to, with the John Sauls and so on, would portray the setbacks as definitive defeats of this kind of perspective.
HS: You can understand how they see it that way sometimes.
JC: I can understand. If we come to be sitting here and talking in 20 years hence, they may prove to have been right, that the trajectories that we can see setting in 1996 in South Africa have now produced 20 hence a total outcome. But I do think that even empirically one can show that itís not unchallenged. There hasnít been unilateral reversing of that kind of growth and development perspective, but certainly there have been setbacks to that perspective. But the alternative agenda itself is not a secure perspective and has often failed to deliver on its own expectations and projections. So there is a considerable ferment and that comes and goes according to global realities, according to whatís happening out there, but also according to realities here at home. Iíd like to talk about those as we go along. But just to get back to the unfolding of the historyÖ
The RDP also put a premium on popular mobilisation so that it described itself not only as a people-centred but also as a people-driven programme. Those in the ANC ranks who were those of the don't-rock-the-boat persuasion or of the we'll turn the forces on-and-off like a tap persuasion, would always talk about the people-centred character of our policies. I think quite genuinely as well. I don't suspect that Mandela or Mbeki are careless about popular suffering, poverty, unemployment and so on, but their emphasis tends to be on the people-centredness of the policies to be delivered from governmental positions rather than the other important dimension which is the people-driven character of it.
The new economic policy parallel that you're taking about, really it's a kind of multi-class project. We have popular working-class forces at play, but you're also trying to work somewhat co-operatively with capitalist forces. Just as in the negotiations, which were by definition partly a co-operative process, you had to bring to bear popular energies, popular aspirations, popular power, so too now in this complicated thing we are trying to do, which is against the logic of capitalism, in order to reconstruct and develop our economy. You can't just arrange that through elite pacting. You've got to ensure that trade unions are mobilised and energetic and powerful and watching every move, that poor communities are able to articulate their concerns and frustrations, that they're able to add power to the process. Otherwise it gets deflected off into the short-termism of profit taking and so forth, which is inevitably where capitalism steers you, if you give them a monopoly of political and strategic direction, but I think that's what's happened a little bit.
So for a combination of reasons, one would be the sheer power, the ideological power and hegemonic power of the neo-liberal model and the weaknesses of the left, which include policy weaknesses, which may have been with us through the 20th century, but had become more apparent in the 1990s, the failure of the paradigms, the ANC itself or significant parts of the ANC got seduced. Whether from panic or deep concern, laden with the responsibilities of governing, they were seduced or persuaded of certain aspects, not necessarily the whole package, but core aspects of the neo-liberal paradigm became very influential in government circles and in leading parts of the ANC.
HS: Or even just had the sense that there was no alternative.
JC: Yes. Sometimes the left critique uses the language of betrayal and sell-out, the venality of corruption and so on. You find cases of that, but I think that's too easy actually. Itís simplistic. It's a neat, easy left critique. Not that I'm saying you should give those who implemented wrong policies an easy run for it, but it's too easy on ourselves, because betrayal too easily excuses the left.
Why was neo-liberalism able to come up with proposals around restructuring South African Railways ? Was it because they were powerful and because there was a sell-out and betrayal ? Was the left that articulate and clear-cut about how we wanted to go ? It's a mixture of those things. I think very often we've been weak in the policy process, in the institutional process, right through the 20th century. I think that with issues of management for instance, public management more than private sector management, the left has not really thought about those things. There are huge gaps in the left discourse. We don't really have a powerful marxist tradition about power.
HS: Yes and there's a strong sense out there that the left just can't handle power.
JC: Yes. So we are left with the prussian state and as Lenin perhaps Ö
HS: There is also the whole question of the authoritarian way in which GEAR came to be policy. Who was consulted? Was it the position of the majority of members of the ANC, let alone the people who vote for the ANC ?
JC: We are about to go into bilateral with the ANC. We ought to talk about this. COSATU is putting a lot of emphasis on the policy process, correctly, because there have been huge problems. The RDP was informed by popular aspirational struggles. Increasingly policy is formed by directors-general of government departments and their senior management, or even worse still, by external and very often private sector consultants from the EU or North America or whatever. So lots of policy is formed in that way.
Therefore the ANC and its cadreship, never mind the broader alliance, are very often distant from key policy formation, partly reflecting our own weaknesses, but also partly reflecting the capacities and energy and the sense in key places that there arenít alternatives and the americans know best or the World Bank know best. You can be suspicious about it, but frankly, if you ask a programme for water delivery, they come up with something and we're not very sure. The policy process: I think that's important and it's a question of strengthening the ANC to begin with, but another factor is thatÖ
HS: There is still the problem of how GEAR came to be policy is the first place and how policy is formed, a sort of authoritarianism and even the intimidation of anyone who even raises questions about it. There's a really bad atmosphere.
JC: That is a problem about GEAR. That's a definitive moment, I think. When you go into government armed with a progressive policy perspective and I think one that remains broadly the right one. There's a major offensive against the RDP from the private sector in South Africa, an attempt to portray it simply as a kind of wish list and an impossible wish list, a kind of letter to Father Christmas, and the reducing of it to a set of delivery targets. The ANC in government fell into this. So the heart of the RDP is: x number of houses will be built within a few years, x number of water tap connections will be made and so on. So it's translated into this kind of bureaucratic management by performance objectives.
Then the ANC is judged, and judges itself, against these targets, which is a massive reduction of what it was about, which for me was much more the strategic understanding of what we were trying to do: linking growth and development, understanding that it was a multi-class project that involved certain compromises and concessions to capitalism, but at the same time working against the logic of capitalism as best as one was able, focused on an export-orientation but on a domestic infrastructural development and so on. That was and I think remains the essence of that programme.
The other component was the illusions, which were probably left illusions, about state power, a kind of tap notion about state power, that you remove control over the lever and you take over the lever yourself and then it's a kind of neutral instrument that you can turn on and off. Of course state power isn't like that. It's a highly contested terrain. All the sort of leninist stuff about it's either one thing or another, it's either a dictatorship of the proletariat or of the bourgeoisie, it's not helpful, certainly not helpful in the south african circumstance, and encourages illusions of all kinds.
HS: A lot of younger party members are still reading that and thinking that way.
JC: Yes. So if it's not then the dictatorship of the proletariat, which it clearly isn't at present, and hopefully it never will be that, dictatorship itself is not a happy word. If youíre saying that it's one or the other of these alternatives, then you're encouraging the right wing of the ANC to say that clearly we're not going to get away with having dictatorship of the proletariat, then your own theory says what we've got to implement now is some kind of dictatorship of the bourgeoisie until some later 2nd or 3rd stage, or whatever.
You've got to understand the huge complexity and contested character of this thing. Another component in the difficulties of implementing this RDP, which needed to be led by the public and parastatal sector, but the ability of the public and parastatal sector with a parlous budget, which the apartheid regime had deliberately indebted through pension funds and so forth. They hobbled the key parastatals, turned them into basically pension-paying institutions, paying, obviously the white bureaucrats and state workers and so on. So the capacity to use them from that new position of apparent power to drive the socio-economic programme was impaired massively by such realities.
HS: What about the argument that some people (AIDC, Jubilee 2000, etc) in the last years have made about the decision to pay the debt of the previous government ? There is the whole argument about paying twice for apartheid.
JC: Yes. That was one of the complexities that we get post-1994. The ANC government's argument, which I think has some merit in it, is that the apartheid debt is not overwhelmingly an external debt. It's a very small component of the debt. The debt is actually a domestic debt and that's the ironic product of the financial sanctions imposed in the latter part of the 1980s. We therefore have to address it with considerable care. A major default on the pension fund for instance would impact upon working people.
HS: Some of them were the people who interrogated and torturedÖ
JC: We need to think that through. The moral position of the apartheid debt: it was run up in order to arm and equip the apartheid army, to destabilise the townships and to assassinate people and interrogate people and so on. That moral argument needs to be looked at seriously, but weighed against the likely impact of a refusal to handle this thing intelligently and strategically from an economic point of view. For me, the priorities are less about moral punishment of those guilty and more about how sensibly can we shepherd our resources in ways that deepen trust. For me, that's the argument.
HS: But the argument is that the money that was being used to pay off that debt should have been used to implement the RDP. That's the argument that's being made, as I understand it.
JC: I think the RDP problems are less resource problems. The resources are there. It's the ability to use and marshal those resources intelligently and effectively with a kind of unified strategic perspective. I think that's it's less that we have continued to pay off apartheid debt that has impeded our ability to move ahead Ö (end of tape 1)
HS: Jeremy, I wonder if you could address the article written by John Saul in Monthly Review a year ago called ďCry for the beloved countryĒ, which set out a somewhat bleak picture of contemporary South Africa, which has been influential among the left abroad. It has also been discussed, with much assent, by the left here.
[Since this interview took place, Jeremy Cronin has written a reply to the John Saul article. It will be published in Monthly Review in June 2002.]
JC: I read it once quickly and found it sort of irritating, perhaps threatening, because it was written out of a perspective not dissimilar from my own, and obviously reflects a grave disappointment in what was happening in South Africa. He talks in the opening paragraph, I think, about a tragedy being played out here in South Africa. Existentially, subjectively, that kind of reading of the situation, is a hard one to accept, personally, because Iím clearly a middle ranking player in this tragedy, if thatís what it is. The other thing about is that itís elusive where itís headed, so that was part of my irritation. There werenít many things that I found myself disagreeing with on a first quick reading. He was saying things that we were saying, indeed, as ANC members inside of ANC structures, as ANC MPs, as the SACP formally, in regard to many aspects of government policy, the trajectory of events. Yet there was something elusive about it, which was extremely threatening perhaps, but also irritating and demoralising and demobilising.
So spurred on by the prospect of this engagement with you now this morning, I had a 2nd and 3rd and 4th reading of it. What Iím coming to conclude is that I think it almost needs a kind of textual or literary criticism to unpack what I was finding unsatisfying about it, which now I think I can characterise a little bit better. By and large I agree with what heís saying. There were prospects in the SA situation at 1994. Heís very careful to say that those prospects shouldnít be exaggerated, that it was a complicated global situation. Clearly the conservative forces in our country were not defeated. It was a strategic and tactical setback that they were not eliminated from the scenery. Heís careful to make all of those qualifications.
Itís also not wrong in my view to say that there are key moments in which there were alternative policies, which were not pursued for whatever reason. He puts a lot of emphasis on the point that we were about to get to on the previous tape, mainly mid-1996, with the unfolding, with the announcement of GEAR (growth, employment and redistribution programme) as the key macro-economic policy. I agree with him it was a key moment and I agree with him that it was a wrong choice. It was not a choice that had to be made.
So whatís my problem with him? The organisational challenges say facing something like the South African Communist Party are complicated. He in the end appears to favour a going it alone. He thinks that for there to be a left in South Africa of any significance, itís going to have to be a left that defines itself in opposition to the ANC. He detects some evidence of the emerging possibilities of such a project in NGOs and a little bit in COSATU. It starts to look a little bit depressingly like the left in North America, the left that he sees emerging here.
HS: Oh no. It couldnít be as bad as that.
JC: Not to belittle the challenges and difficulties that comrades there are confronted with, but you know Ö If it doesnít end up there, then so much the better, but thatís where his hopes, which are now somewhat dashed hopes, are now manifested.
HS: There are people in South Africa who agree with all of thatÖ.
JC: Yes. Many people in South Africa. That could be the choice that the left in South Africa is left with. The alternatives are uncertain. So at one level thereís not much I disagree with, but I think, and thatís where the literary criticism becomes important, I think of the way in which itís all weighted, in the rhetoric, in the tropes of the argument. Thatís the crux of the problem. Thatís where I think that itís quite problematic in what heís doing. Heís actually shutting down thoughtfulness about some possibilities.
So going all the way back to the thing we discussed, actually Iíd forgotten even about the article, but this article that I wrote about ďthe boat, the tap and the Leipzig wayĒ, he generously quotes it, and what he says is: as Jeremy Cronin, SACP figure, said at the time was that there was a tendency to treat popular mobilisation during the negotiations as something that you could turn off and on. Thatís how he characterises this article. I suddenly realised that the first time I read it I was quite pleased to see myself being quoted and then I suddenly now on re-reading it realise that isnít what I said. What I said was that there was a contest inside of the ANC around popular mobilisation: on one side condemnation and on the other side a rather mechanical use of it and then a third position, which was an important position and which to some extent at certain moments became the hegemonic perspective within the ANC, was that it was integral to the entire process of transformation, leading up to the elections and beyond it. That was and remains an important position.
So thereís a tendency to acknowledge things, but then to suppress the dialectical, uncertain and contested nature of positions. So at one moment thereís a fairly subtle understanding from him, that itís a process and that itís contested somehow and then a the next moment thereís a language of closure and foreclosure. So youíre talking of a tragedy playing itself out and tragedies have inevitable endings, which are written into the first act at some bad mistake thatís made, some kind of flaw in a personality, one of a movement in this case.
So there is a tragic trope that informs the thing. You see that all the time. He says itís very complicated, but against what do we measure the unfolding SA process ? Well we donít know, but letís look at an earlier Monthly Review for instance, where he saw, and Magdoff and Sweezy argued that a revolution was on the cards in South Africa, but the worse that could happen would be a stabilisation of the capitalist project. Heís now saying: letís face it, that is what is happening now, the stabilisation of the capitalist project.
But how stable is capitalism in South Africa ? In the third world context GEAR was an attempt in my view to put a capitalist hegemony over the transformation process, but in order to do that, it needed to deliver. As it itself said, it stands for growth, employment, and distribution, and it said that, if we privatise, if we consolidate a black bourgeoisie, if we create an investor friendly economy, we will produce, through direct massive flows of funds, direct investment. This capitalist path will assure us of levels of growth of employment and redistribution, which are the answer to the challenges facing South Africa. Well that actually lies in ruins.
HS: Yes. Even in its own terms, it hasnít.
JC: Even in the leading financial press this week, it is secretly agreeing with the critique of GEAR, because some of the macroeconomic constraints are now proving to be constraints on capitalist growth. So the neo-liberal paradigm is not as stable. It is a paradigm that is unable to stabilise the situation. So Iím in agreement with that. It was a bad choice. It may well have set in motion certain accumulation trends and so forth, which are going to prove difficult to reverse, and will lay down a trajectory which makes it more complicated for a left agenda, but thereís no definitiveness about it. The portrayal is one sided. So the left project had a moment of hope in the RDP. Heís rather sceptical about the RDP, but sees it as the best thing on offer in South Africa with all its weaknesses, versus the neo-liberal project, and the neo-liberal project has won.
I think itís far from clear. On the balance of things, I think that between 1996 and now, the right within the ANC, the neo-liberal agenda, has probably won more rounds than the left agenda, but that itís not the end. Itís not uncontested. Nor has it been a straight line, a tragic unfolding of the inevitable. It is quite wrong to portray it like that.
He talks for instance, and it is close to my heart, he talks in passing at one point about Saki Macozoma, who at that point was the chairperson of Transnet, which was the big transport parastatal. He was making some other point, but he referred to Saki Macozoma as the chief executive of the soon to be privatised Transnet. Now it was published in January of last year 2001 and I presume he wrote it some months before that. Now itís interesting to note that the soon to be privatised Transnet hasnít been privatised.
In fact thereís been a major reversal on that front. In the areas in which the soon to be privatised process was to happen, thereís been some partial privatisation. So the South African Airways had been 20% privatised to Swiss Air and the next big move was going to be in terms of concessioning out some of the freight lines in South Africa. Now that has been completely reversed, as a result of protracted period of negotiation, internal ANC in turmoil, COSATU, government debate, negotiations, engagement with the parastatal management and so forth. Theyíve abandoned that perspective, and ironically, but more or less as a result of the challenges that we mounted from within, and also as a result of the post- September 11th fallout, the 20% having been privatised to Swiss Air from South African Airlines has been renationalised. Swiss Air has gone bankrupt virtually and has had to sell its 20% stake.
So that makes two points: 1) thereís an internal challenge to this tragedy and we are not playing a solo as the left within the ANC or as the alliance partners of the ANC. Clearly weíre up against tough challenges, but weíre not without successes in this period. 2) the very neo-liberal agenda itself is losing wheels and losing direction globally, not just in terms of moral high ground, but also just in terms of the practicality, of the programmes, even in the north, but especially in the south.
So I think about the whole other dynamism than the way he rhetorically argues. I think it comes down to reflecting... I donít want to subjectivise too quickly or too easily with that argument, but I think that knocking around in it are two emotional things, the one is a sense of investment and then disappointment, which in someone like John Saulís case would be a disappointment that played itself out twice: in Southern Africa, first with Mozambique, where heíd invested huge energies and expectations, and then now. Then there is perhaps also a kind of northern scepticism, a northern left scepticism, about the left project in general, not least the left project in the south. You know, I donít want too easily get into that, but I suspect that thereís something there. I think he sells the left short in South Africa and doesnít therefore equip us.
What the left in South Africa needs is a sense of programmatic perspective, help with that programmatic perspective, that policy perspective, not scepticism. Yes, we might be selling out. Yes, we might find it difficult to disagree with the ANC, because my MPís pay or whatever is dependant on being an ANC member. Those might be factors, but the key challenges are to engage with the transformation in South Africa with confidence and competence and with a capacity to argue things through in detail. I think thatís where weíve lost out.
For me some of the problems have been that weíve been able to lead a generic critique of globalisation and neo-liberalism, but then have not been able, when it comes to looking at the proposed concessioning out of freight rail lines, to be able to carry the argument at that level. I think thatís where people with intellectual capacity like John Saul and so on, who are sympathetic to south african left project, I would hope could help us. I would hope that itís in areas of that kind that he would be even more useful to us, rather thanÖ By all means be cynical or sceptical about us, to keep us on our toes, and to be critical, but in ways that donít end up by assuming that there is inevitable betrayal of the revolution. Thatís the trope finally I think that organises it. A lot of left or pseudo-left criticism, typical say in the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, in my view, that governments per se are inevitably bureaucratic, that liberation movements, black liberation movements, inevitably move off in these directions.
HS: But within the alliance, Jeremy, there is a bullying of the left.
JC: There is a bullying of the left, yes.
HS: There are some people saying that people like yourself and Blade (Nzimande) in the SACP and Zwelinzima Vavi and and Willie Modisha in COSATU are doing a kind of dance. You know, you come forward with this critique and then thereís a reaction and you back down and everything is left as it is. Dale McKinley was arguing this recently and it was circulating in the SACP and COSATU and people were agreeing with it, saying that it gives the illusion, even the legitimacy, of contestation and some kind of power for the left, while actually disempowering the left Iím putting my own words on what various people are saying, but I think that it captures what various people are thinking and saying, people on the left, both inside and just outside the alliance, and in the SACP itself. You know what I mean. Am I right ?
JC: Yes. I think that question, put another way, is: should the left be in the ANC? or should it launch a project outside of it?
HS: Yes. For many now that is the question. For others there is still a question of how the left should be in it, if it is in it.
JC: Ok, letís start with that. How it should be inside of the ANC and whether ?
HS: Because a lot of the people who are saying this havenít decided that it should it be outside the alliance. They are still struggling to find a way to be left inside it. That is what gives them so much anxiety when they see it unfolding in this way.
JC: All of those questions must be confronted, must be debated in the party and indeed inside of the ANC Ö
HS: You think that, but..
JC: I mean, there are no taboo questions, okÖ
HS: But thereís an attitude with some that.. you know that Ö
JC: Well, of course, we shouldnít be surprised. Letís step back. Weíre involved in a multi-class process. The SACP all the way back in 1928 made this strategic choice. The fact that it made it in 1928 doesnít mean that, because weíve stuck to it for this long, itís right now, but we may have made it and stuck by it for good reasons. Part of what we said was that there would be considerable turbulence in the post-independence situation, that the unity of the whole national liberation movement would be difficult to build, because of sheer oppression and persecution and so forth. .
Those would be the organisational challenges of the post-independence, post-democracy breakthrough period. The challenges would be much more to maintain the dialectic and to struggle for popular working class dominance, over a complicated multi-class front, a front to which nonetheless we were committed, we said at the time, and thatís what weíre living through.
So if thereís marginalisation, shouting down, suppression of views and perspectives, it might have to do with individuals who are nasty, with stalinist tendencies. It might have to do with a lack of imagination or any number of factors. But finally for me, a class analysis is also an important tool for understanding what weíre living through. I think it is almost characteristic of a lot of left people, including comrades inside of the SACP and COSATU, is that thereís the assumption that weíre living through a kind of tragedy, the sort of Stalin era is a version of it, or whatís happened in Africa with ZANU and so forth, is another.
All of these are elements of precedents of what is assumed to be playing itself out inevitably here. Itís the inevitability, the closure, the frozen penultimate. Everything is read as a sign of it. We told you so. There you are. They are selling out. They are betraying us. I think that one has to guard against that emotional, intellectual, conceptual tendency. Not not to ask the questions that it asks, but not to assume that everything is a sign of this inevitable tragedy playing itself out. I think there is a tendency to do that. In a way it can be a lazy tendency and a tendency that lets us off as a left.
Yes, perhaps we are talking about the soon to be privatised Transnet, but I think itís my responsibility as a Communist Party person who is an ANC MP involved with transport, to engage with it, and not to assume that it will be privatised. It may well get privatised. Iím not going to be happy about that. Itíll be a setback for the left. But if I work hard, and work hard with other comrades and colleagues, and challenge it, and also not assume that the ANC ministers responsible for it, who in this case happen to be also SACP members, are doing it out of some kind of bad faith or because theyíve decided all along to betray and this is the inevitable thing, but that theyíre doing it because they think itís the best thing and that we share some broad strategic and moral commitment to change in South Africa, so there is space for dialogue and they are not by definition the enemy, Stalin or Mugabe, but they might become that and that part of the responsibility is also to prevent them from becoming that.
Thatís the nature, for me, of what the left project has to be here and now in South Africa. Itís not running away from state power, as complicated as it is, as fraught with dangers as it certainly is, but to engage it and to use what positions of power we have. The left is not out of power. Itís not exactly entirely in power in South Africa. Far from it. But to use whatever positions of power we have to really give it a run for our money, to see whether we canít ensure that everything isnít reversed and that we have to get out of power to challenge power from the outside, from trenches outside of the positions of power.
Now it exposes us obviously to McKinley type allegations: youíre only there, because youíre enjoying your MPís salary or the power or whatever. I think itís the kind of criticism that gets thrown at us all the time, so that we examine ourselves to make sure. But I think the left in South Africa mustnít be shy of power. Itís not just institutional power. Itís also a certain mode of bringing popular power to bear on these processes as much as possible. I think the Saul-McKinley direction in effect can easily result in the evacuation of positions of power. Itís not because thatís what they intend, but is in effect, to fall short of the possibilities.
But I donít want to be over sure that weíll succeed. But I think it would be a renunciation of the possibilities of the situation, which remain in the situation, to abandon the ANC to the neo-liberals, which is really where that option carries us. Itís a powerful force inside of the ANC, but it has its own weakness and I think we need to draw heart from that. Itís the triumphalism of the 90s that has come somewhat unstuck. It has stalled as the dominant ideology. We have concepts to tell us why. We shouldnít be shocked at that. Its hegemony is ever more tenuous. Itís become less triumphalist than it was globally.
Its possibilities of being unchallenged in South Africa, less perhaps than in other situations, its prospects of success and of consolidation behind the GEAR type project, are not that great. It is proving to be disappointing to a range of thinking, including to an emerging black bourgeoisie, who are less and less satisfied that this is the answer, also including the established white bourgeoisie, who are less and less sure, as a bourgeoisie in a 3rd world country, even though this may well be the World Bankís view of how things go, that neo-liberalism doesnít result in underdevelopment and further marginalisation.
So I think that would be my response, but naturally Iím going to be one of the last to notice that the ANC has absolutely and effectively sold out and that what we should have done is to move out long ago and broken the alliance.
The other thing that Saul and McKinley talk about: that opposition is theatrical, that itís smoke and mirrors, that, apart from the little occasional bounce of criticism, that basically weíre cheerleaders for the ANC, itís insulting. There is robust criticism and itís not theatre. The strike against privatisation at the end of August last year has resulted in incredible fallout. Weíve not said weíre sorry. Weíre open to listen to ANC criticism around the timing of the strike, coinciding with the World Conference Against Racism and so on, but weíre not apologising for having supported the strike. I think it was raising the principle of privatisation. We didnít pretend to be criticising it and then back down or fill up the space so other left forces couldnít get in.
We shared and continue to share deep deep concern about certain agendas for privatisation in our country. Thatís resulted in a massive fallout and a very nasty attempt from key quarters in the ANC to expel the left, as you know. But in order to do that the ANC had to ÖWeíve been through an interesting few months, which I want to discuss with you. I donít know your reading of it is, but my personal reading and living through it has been that there was deep anger from quarters, presidential quarters, within the ANC, about the strike and the timing of the strike and so on. It was seen as an opportunity, as a sort of fallout from it, to maybe deal a very decisive blow of the kind that, for instance, the Labour Party in Britain had dealt at the time of the miners strike. It was seen as an opportunity to use fallout from the work in action to act to turn it around and to marginalise the influence of the trade unions and communists within the ANC.
I donít know if youíve seen the so-called ANC briefing document, which had never came from the NEC, because it was never approved. It basically alleged that there was a left conspiracy.
HS: Yes. I saw it.
JC: Now anyone who understands the history of Indonesia or Sudan or Iraq or Syria, where there were broad national liberation fronts post-independence, you see the right, national bourgeois section, rounding literally on the left and butchering it. I donít think that we are there. I think that weíre a different kind of society, but there are elements of that kind of project, of a brutal dealing with the left. Itís not an impossible scenario. Itís certainly been, I donít say masochist, but a very dictatorial dealing with the left. Itís something that is being encouraged all the time in the media in South Africa by leading think-tanks associated with big business and so on. That prospect, that agenda, was explored in the months after the August strike within the ANC and I think itís fallen flat.
What happened essentially was that the issues raised by the strike are issues importantly that are been raised not just by COSATU and SACP, but by thousands of ANC cadres themselves. The ANC still has some democratic instincts, so what it did with this discussion paper, a reactionary and worrying analysis in the name of the NEC, but never brought to the NEC, it then took it to 52 regional conferences right around the country. NEC members were deployed to it. Interestingly also COSATU and SACP delegates were invited to attend. This paper was presented. Sometimes it wasnít presented, depending on who the presenter was meant to be. Sometimes people embarrassingly read through it and other times they read it with passion and conviction. It was very hard to get a consensus on very nasty allegations about a left plot.
The feedback that came back to the ANC from its own base was diverse, but people said: we want the alliance. That was overwhelming. They donít want to get rid of COSATU or SACP. They see the ANC that weíre building, as being an ANC that is in the midst of an alliance. So many people had comments about the SACP in the ANC, seeing it in a moral sense, as some kind of guarantor that the revolutionary radical democratic credentials of the ANC havenít disappeared, havenít debacled. They said that that itís an ANC that is not uncomfortable in an alliance with the SACP and with COSATU. Also the mass base said: youíre mismanaging the alliance, collectively, so some people said itís the communist leadership or the COSATU leadership or the ANC leadership. There were diverse views, but the leadership was blamed for mismanagement of the alliance.
Also they said: well weíre glad that you raised these issues with us, but you know what COSATU has been raising about GEAR, what the SACP has been raising about privatisaton, weíre not sure if theyíre not right or wrong. Obviously some ANC were saying that and some werenít, but overwhelmingly what they were saying was: we donít really understand your arguments from government about these things, maybe itís just that youíve not talked to us often and weíre sure if you come back perhaps we will be persuaded. So the feedback the ANC got was: donít break the alliance, donít play games with it, and you donít have solid well-informed and convinced support for the very issues around the kind of policy.
So I think that thatís why the the press is reporting a climate that is better. Thereís a co-operative relationship and there is a preparedness, grudging in some cases, to listen to some of the concerns being raised, but weíve been here before. As weíre going to say on the weekend, when weíre going into a bilateral, that we welcome it, because what we want as the party is an honest rational discussion and debate about key policy issues. We think that some of the stuff, allegations about plots and conspiracies and raising the temperature and the decline and so forth, are being used particularly from the right of the ANC, but perhaps sometimes by an ultra-left in COSATU, to make it impossible actually to have that kind of alliance discussion around evaluating the policy and the restructuring of parastatals: Is GEAR working? What needs to be changed ? We may not reach agreement, but we want to influence those policies and create the situation wherein in an ongoing way, we evaluate policies.
We think precisely because some of those policies are encountering serious problems, not only mass rejection, but failure to deliver on them, the temptation is to distract with emotion and allegations of plots and so on. Itís very important that we donít play into that, which is what McKinley wants us to do. So we are going to keep solidly criticising what we think is wrong about the policies. We are trying to do so in ways that compel a proper policy evaluation, a proper policy debating processes, which involve the majority of ANC members, not just COSATU and SACP, so that where weíve made mistakes, we can correct them. Thatís what were trying to do really. Whether we succeed in the long term, thatís what weíre trying to doÖ.
HS: But, Jeremy, I also read the SACP response to the briefing document and it didnít really defend the left. At first I read it and I thought: thatís true, thatís true. Then I thought about what wasnít in it. I thought it was quite weak.
JC: Ok. Why ?
HS: I didnít really feel that it defended the left critique, the left position, in the alliance. It just said: oh itís not a conspiracy, but it didnít defend the ideological position of the left.
JC: I need to look at it again. It was some months ago now.
HS: It was also published to the public. It was in the Mail & Guardian.
JC: Yes. I suppose because the priority was to try to reverse the quite nasty agenda, the conjunctural priority was that. Itís not as though that particular paper was all. IĎd like to look at it again. Then maybe I could defend or not. You may very well be right. But the SACP position wasnít just that intervention written very quickly, into the full situation, where frankly some of the worst elements in the ANC were being unleashed into a kind of space within the ANC, to heighten things and to allege that it was a hard nose conspiracy to overthrow the ANC leadership, the kinds of things that preceded right wing coups in Iraq, Syria and Sudan and so on.
I donít think that we were there, but I think that those behind it, controlling it, were, cynically giving it some space in order to create a particular kind of ambience to frighten the left. So the response was perhaps a stopgap one. But itís not as if weíve stopped thinking about the critique and stopped defending the left perspective, in opposition to the dominant view, which we are.
HS: Yes. Thatís fair enough.
JC: So I wouldnít want the paper to be the total expression of what weíre thinking about or have to say about that. Our priority was less to say something about restructuring of state assets and our critique of that, but more to say stop. We were appealing to SACP members, but also to ANC members, going into these regional general councils and saying donít be deluded by that.
HS: Ok. I understand that. Jeremy, I want to ask you about your own transition, from being a full-time deputy general secretary of the SACP being based in the party office in Johannesburg and being a member of the NEC of the ANC, to moving back here to Cape Town and being a MP. That has been a big change in your whole modus operandi. Why did you decide to do that ? How do you feel about that now that you have done that for a few years now ?
JC: Ok. There are layers of explanation. Youíd be the first to appreciate that. There was coming back to the town where Iím from and there is the physical beauty of Cape Town and so on.
HS: I remember your poem on how unlovely Johannesburg was.
JC: I enjoyed being in Johannesburg. It was a privilege to be there through the complicated 1990s. But at a political programmatic way I began to touch on why I individually wanted to locate myself as an ANC MP. The relationships within the alliance had got to be more complicated.
Previously there was quite a lot of space as a deputy general secretary in the SACP head office to spend quite a bit of time in the ANC as well, doing political education and so forth. Then I was increasingly marginalised by an emerging leadership, the Mbeki leadership, within the ANC itself. So my ability, my positioning inside the ANC, as a full-time SACP official, but as an active ANC member, my Joíburg position, where during the time of Cyril Ramaphosa and Cheryl Carolus as secretary general and deputy secretary general, there was quite a lot of integrated work around key programme, around the RDP and so on.
That increasingly diminished with GEAR and the onset of the partyís critique of GEAR. It was, I think, the weakening of the ANC itself. It was a very hard to continue. Our alliance as the SACP was not with the government but with the ANC. The ANC as a political movement began increasingly to disappear. So that was one level of frustration. It was difficult to find my feet as a communist intellectual in the ANC without a formal position in the ANC apart from the NEC level, which I had been through in the 1990s.
HS: It was still an important position, being on the NEC
JC: Yes, but then youíre 1 of 80 people and you meet very infrequently. The power of the NEC has diminished considerably over the last period. The most recent result has been the NEC Bulletin describing this ultra-left conspiracy, a bulletin which was never presented to or discussed in the NEC. So itís a struggle, fighting to make the NEC be what it should be, the main policy forum between conferences of the ANC. So itís a battle where one loses some and gains a little but overall the trajectory has been a diminishing of the significance of the NEC. Weíve always had many of us, Blade and others and myself, trying to use it, but weíve been through a tough several years in the NEC. Weíve been marginalised, shouted down, subjected to heavy presidential presidential attacks on us, beginning with Mandela and so forth. Weíve stood our ground, but itís been hard. Those are some of the factors.
But perhaps to the more important one. One thing that Iíve tried to insist upon quite a bit in the course of this morningís interview and that is that we have been losing at the level of policy formation. It certainly applies to me. I think that, being of a philosophical bent, my aptitudes are of a generalising kind. Iíve increasingly felt that is where as a left weíre losing it a bit. Itís not that we donít have very good critiques, which turn out to be accurate all the time, of GEAR as a macro-economic policy, of globalisation, of illusions about how South Africa might relate to the global reality and so on. I think weíve been pretty good, pretty accurate on all of that, but those in the policy of governing, in the process of developing actual policies weíve not been specific enough. Weíve not been able to connect those analyses to specific sectors effectively enough. It was certainly a shortcoming in my own case. Iím not a trained economist and thatís been used a lot against me in intra-ANC debates. They say, yes itís all very well, but you donít really understand.
So I thought that the being an MP would be a useful way of being an ANC person rather than being marginalised as just the SACP, but to actually be part of ANC machinery in a place where one has some possibility of engaging with the policy formulation process, but also some possibility of focusing on a particular sector. I angled at it successfully and got to be allocated within the transport sector, because I thought it was quite a key one, interfacing between development and growth, social issues and economic issues, infrastructural issues, questions relating to the restructuring of the state and so forth. Iíve found it very useful and Iíve learnt a lot in the process. I think in limited ways, linking up with unions and with comrades in parastatals, in government, in the ANC, I think that weíve been able to advance a left project on the front of transport, with uneven results, with many difficulties and problems, but Iím quite engaged and quite convinced that there is space for a left project in general, but also specifically in centres like the one where Iím engaged.
HS: But, Jeremy, not everyone does have a good philosophical mind and you know it is important to connect philosophy with economics and with the concrete, but thereís also the danger of you now getting too engaged in too much detail and even just getting your life so busy where you must have to be at this place at this time and the other place at that time.
HS: So many people canít see the woods for the trees, but then when those who can are kept too busy with particulars to address the shape of the whole, that can be a problem too. Not everyone can see the whole and communicate what is at stake effectively. Your diary must be very full and that can be a problem for thinking philosophically. You can just have your life too cluttered and too tightly timetabled. You can have too many things to do, too many places to be.
HS: I worry about that with you. Am I right orÖ ?
JC: No. Youíre not wrong. But I think that..
HS: Itís a problem just having the time.
JC: Sure. I donít have the time, as much time I would like to have: 1) for poetry, 2) for journalistic writing (Iím doing less of that than I was) and 3) yes, for stepping back and trying to develop, for reading and writing.
HS: And answering e-mails.
JC: And answering e-mails and so on, absolutely, a few years ago I would have in principle. But I think itís again a question of now wanting to be more hands on. I do want to learn and develop, and it frustrates me sometimes, because I want to read a book or write poetry or whatever. But again itís not the end of it.
I think oneís got to inform aspects of oneís life of intellectual activity and so on with a variety of influences, and certainly for me Iíve felt over the last couple of years that the time had come for me to try to acquire a better understanding of institutional power and how it works and how you might change it. Iíve been getting a better understanding of parastatals, a better grasp of how you intervene in the policy process, rather than just complaining that GEAR was formulated without any input. How do you get to be part of a collective thatís involved in that and to be useful to that collective? So itís a choice Iíve made.
HS: But it mightnít necessarily be what you do forever.
JC: No. Or I might do it in different ways that make it possible to be less 90% preoccupied with transport policy, but still be active in the transport front. At the moment Iím on such a learning curve: about being a parliamentarian, about being a chair of a committee, and about transport, that itís both exciting and absorbing and time consuming. It makes little time for other things.
HS: Yes. Thatís fair enough. I wonder if I could ask you about my own agenda, my own research agenda in South Africa. I know youíve been so busy with all these other things and you havenít had much time to really look at whatís going on in the universities, but you do have some idea of whatís going on. Iím just reaching very tentative conclusions, but Iíve felt that intellectual transformation was somewhat underwhelming.
HS: And much of whatís going on is the same as whatís going on in universities anywhere in the world, which is very disappointing, because Iíve seen a lot of ferment in my time in universities in questioning the foundation of knowledge the whole impact of the new left in the universities of the 1960s also being part of the political education structures of the communist movement. I used to go over to the Communist University of London in the 1970s, and it was really rich and powerful. I didnít expect exactly this to happen here, but Iím just finding very little of it, and when I do engage with anybody who is thinking about these topics, thereís a sense that it was in the past, that it was actually before 1994 when there was all this intellectual ferment, and that itís kind of died. So is that right ? WhatĎs your analysis of that ?
JC: Iím not sure that Iíve got a neat analysis, but I think itís right. Perhaps my own trajectory is part of a trajectory that many people have had, so that I think a lot of left intellectuals, if were talking about left intellectualsÖ
HS: I am.
JC: Of course, intellectualism isnít just about left intellectuals.
HS: I know.
JC: The new generations of left, semi-left or potentially left intellectuals, I think, have been drawn into institutional, government related, policy making processes. I think thatís happened a lot. So the younger generations, particularly of young black intellectuals, there are lots of alert and exciting young black intellectuals, but theyíre overwhelmingly in parastatals, in government departments and so forth
HS: So why not in the universities?
JC: That universities donít pay enough, would be the cynical answer. The romantic answer would be that there is a job to be done, transformation to be led from positions of government, and thatís where they can be more effective than on a campus. The further obvious explanation is that itís not just the public sector, but the private sector is desperately looking for a fig-leaf of bright black people that it deploys as its public face. So if youíre a young bright black intellectual currently, thereís a lot of space, a lot of upward mobility, often into the private sector, which has all sorts of corrupting influences on lots of young people. So people who 15 years ago would have been leading activists and intellectuals, who would have taken part in debates of the left and reading Gramsci and debating Althusser and so on, are now in business.
HS: Itís a bit sad.
JC: Yes, and reflects class dynamics, the new realities and so forth.
HS: There is also the global reality. Universities are changing dramatically and degrees are being more and more narrowly conceived to serve the exact needs of the market place. The place where I work is very like that. On a global level, I see all the debates, and even disciplines, that have occupied me most of my life, being marginalised beyond anything I could have imagined. The whole of the humanities seem in a precarious position. I see that playing itself out here. It makes me even sadder to see it here.
JC: Absolutely and I think the underwhelming features arenít just in universities. The whole moral and aesthetic domain as well is much less exciting, less interesting, much less dynamic than it was. Again all of those things weíre talking about apply to the global realities. Some bohemianism or social movement ferment is often the weapon of the marginalised. If you have a possibility of mainstream employment, itís different. You know the post-68 social movements happened at a time when the post-ww2 social core was beginning to run into structural problems. That was my university experience. Employment wasnít guaranteed for university students. It was conscription into the wars in Vietnam and so. It was partly linked to that.
If youíre a young black graduate now here in South Africa, itís not just the university thatís changed, but your prospects. If people have been put on to a conveyor belt, because thatís how institutions are being restructured. Thereís something at the end if youíre a black graduate by and large. Not all of them, we know, because the promise of that neo-liberal model is failing there too. As you know, members of the branch that weíre members of, arenít moving ahead, butÖ.
I think that there are thereís layers and layers of explanation, but I think that at the level of inspiring ideas, moral perspective, the liberation movement has been very disappointing. Mandelaís big idea was rainbowism and reconciliation, which was an important ingredient of what needed to be a bigger idea, something less superficial. It could easily be handled. I think Andrew Nashís article [ ]gives a very interesting insight into the genuineness of that project from Mandelaís side, where it came from in the 19th century, but its inappropriateness to the progressive project. Mbeki been reaching for an idea
HS: African renaissance
JC: African renaissance which ..
HS: What is it ?
JC: Itís a kind of fluffy feel good 3rd wayism for the african continent. Itís an escape from a south african renaissance. The left in South Africa gets accused of voluntarism by Mbeki, but what could be more voluntaristic than the promise that this is the african century or the african decade and so on. Itís a kind of escape from the contradctions and difficulties of the present. Itís partly a playing with death wish on the global stage, being the shop steward for Africa, shop steward and conduit, a bridge between north and south, a kind of swollen-headedness frankly about South Africa, that old bad south african habit of exceptionalism. You know, that weíre not really the 3rd world, that we mightnít be 1st world either, that weíre a bridge between them.
HS: Thereís something to that though
JC: Something to that, but it has an easy it has a sort of sound of white colonials in South Africa, of anglo-indians or whatever. Then thatís often reduced to trying to pitch for the Olympic Games or hosting World Cup soccer. It becomes a commercial tendering process on a global stage. Thatís frankly what GEAR is as well. At a moral and aesthetic level itís saying: come to us, weíre market friendly, we are reliable, we imposed upon ourselves a capitalist discipline.
We were both at the Hout Bay celebration of the 90th anniversary of the ANC. There was Pallo Jordanís keynote address. He said many nice things and he was reaching his audiences in a rather intellectual manner. Pallo is a good solid left, deeply committed ANC comrade. The area where he was least reaching the audience, where he was really leaving them absolutely befuddled and disinterested, was when he went on about the african renaissance. They didnít know what he was talking about in Hout Bay. Itís hard as a white member of the ANC to come in too robustly on african renaissance. It sounds like youíre an afro-pessimist. But frankly itís a threadbare notion, but itís one of the things the ANC is trying to mobilise and motivate people, but itís clearly not
HS: I thought that it had possibilities as an idea of how to combine the best of global culture with the best of indigenous african culture.
JC: There are good things, but itís never going to be, I donít think, in any foreseeable future, the key to unlocking mass creativity, participation, involvement, belief. I mean the year of the volunteer, which has many more possibilities. Itís a realisation from the ANC side that the gap is growing between it and its own mass base. Itís part of the lesson learnt from the August strikes: 1) that COSATU could mount successful strikes against the ANC government policy.and 2) that it was the ANCís own mass base that was on strike, that itís not really sure what the ANC government is saying and that thereís a concern. So some of the things weíve been trying to push come into play. We ask: what is the ANCís popular programme of action outside of election periods? Silence, you know..
HS: Yes. (end of 2nd tape)
HS: So we were talking about the african renaissance: what it is and what it could be. I am still wondering if the idea has possibilities or would you rather just go with something else ?
JC: I think in so far as itís being used to underline the fact that, notwithstanding global progress and global village that we are supposed to be living in, whole continents, not least the african continent, are being cut outÖ
HS: More than ever
JC: More than ever over the last decade. To bring that into the global debate about where are we going and what are the right policies and for South Africa to be playing a leading role, I think all of that is appropriate. But Iím not sure about the actual concept african renaissance. If I was talking about the marginalisation, the injustice of the marginalisation of Africa, I think that's how I would like to word it, rather than the notion of the inevitable african renaissance . Thatís how it is presented. This is Africaís century. There is the inevitability of the renaissance, because why? Every other continent has had its turn, as if there is some kind of divine justice, some kind of divine eye that is seeing a queue. Europe had its turn. North America had its turn. I am not so sure that Asia or Latin America had their turn. Thatís another problem with it. I think its better to talk about the south than Africa. We can easily forget that itís a structural issue, not a continental issue. There are continental dimensions to it clearly. Africa is the worst of continents.
Renaissance is a peculiarly eurocentric notion. I donít know if the chinese talk of renaissance. It comes from a particular greco-roman history, which is disrupted and then there is the notion that it has to be reborn. I am not sure that it may be appropriate to Africa. Obviously there is a disruption of a civilisation by colonialism. One does not want to nit pick on this.
For me the main concern has been the inevitability with which this has been presented as if there is some kind of evolutionary process, which is the wrong emphasis. There is also the centrality that it enjoys within the ANC government discourse. Currently in South Africa, I think, that there are more pressing points of focus like job creation, development. The african renaissance, because it's vague and general and continental, can too easily become short on detail and rather fuzzy in content and can become an escape mechanism from dealing with the hard issues, the complicated issues here in South Africa. It's a way of applauding the performance of our state's persons at the UN, rather than something that mobilises people in relation to jobs, poverty, crime, violence against women. Those are the issues that concern south africans. An african renaissance sounds like it's quite a nice thing, but it's a rather passive, political issue, so what we have are african chapters and it obviously very quickly becomesÖ
HS: Have what? I don't understand the last thing.
JC: Let me give you an anecdote. It struck me we were sitting in a central committee discussion and I was slightly more politely raising some of these concerns about african renaissance and one member of the central committee, who is a minister in government said: How can the party have had a discussion on the african renaissance without coming first to me ? I am the minister charged with the african renaissance in the president's office. I sent the individual a note saying: Did the italian renaissance have someone in charge ? Which of the two obvious personalities was charged with the responsibility ? Was it Leonardo or Machiavelli ? Which one do you think you are ?
HS: You have to laugh.
JC: One doesn't want to be over cynical, especially as a white person, but in any case it can be given a content. The main problem, I think, at the moment is it takes us away from our key national priorities. It's also used in a lazy way. It has something to do with Cyril Ramaphosa becoming a big capitalist and that's part of an African renaissance. Itís a catch all.
HS: What about people who were leading members the movement who have become big capitalists ? People abroad find it a bit mysterious and think there must be something they don't understand, some piece of the puzzle they havenít got in place. Or is it really just what it seems ? You know what I'm saying and what Iím asking?
JC: A lot of it is just what it seems. Let's be honest. I think that it's not that there aren't some interesting features. Stephen Friedman, who heads the Centre for Policy Studies, where Raymond [Suttner] is now, writes an irregular column, which is mainly in Business Day. He always has something interesting and thoughtful to say and one of his observations was that in terms of the intra-ANC dynamics, one of the interesting things is that, given the earlier point that we were making about South Africa, it's not the same as Zimbabwe or Mozambique or Angola. It is not that there is any inherent merit on our behalf, South Africa's, but just that the capitalist process of development has gone so much further. So this emerging elite, which is partly an element of the capitalist class in our country, but aligned in various ways to the ANC, is not like the black bourgeoisie in Zimbabwe, where it is completely bound to the state apparatus. Here Cyril Ramaphosa doesn't depend on being a businessman by being a completely loyal Mbekiite..That's a feature of other things as well, because you can't demobilise the trade union movement quite as easily as you can demobilise a peasant army. You can't just switch off a quite vibrant, if complicated, media sector in our country ?.
HS: Not that theyíre not trying that sometimes too.
JC: Well they try it, but it doesn't work.
HS: In fact, it backfires badly.
JC: Indeed it does. Whatever the shortcomings and irritations of my experiences with the press, it is quite feisty. It is the same with the churches. There's a clearly an advanced civil society, which includes a capitalist class, which now is partly black and partly ANC. Friedman was making the point that the ability for someone to emerge as a Mugabe or a Sadam Hussein, whatever the inclinations in that direction and there are signs of that, it is challenged in complicated ways, even inside of the ANC. One of the things he said was that there are people in the ANC who are alleged to be involved in some kind of conspiracy, which they weren',t but what was irritating to certain powerful forces in the ANC is that they obviously had an independence, including a financial independence, from a univocal centre within the ANC. Not quite the case in Zimbabwe. So on the whole I am not singing in the rain about Cyril Ramaphosa being a great capitalist. He is a terrible role model, not that he is a nasty person. I think he is quite intelligent and he is a broadly progressive and democratic person But there is another side to it that creates multiplicity of centres of influence and power within the broad ANC movement.
HS: I'd like to know what you think about cultural transformation. That there were a lot of complicated separate cultures of South Africa. From the early 90s and especially since 1994, how much have they interacted and merged and developed ? I know that there is a lot of separateness still, but how would you see the development of culture in a broad sense, everything from literature and theatre to the texture of everyday life, including how people mix and interact and talk to each other ?
JC: I think class is the key thing to an understanding of that. The cultural divides were obviously engineered on the basis of pre-existing realties but institutionalised by the apartheid system. What keeps those divides in place still are the socio-economic and class legacy, which is quite entrenched still. I think that where there are changes, where it's eroding in the context of everyday life, is where there is a upward mobility of black people. In varying degrees and in different places, there is some interesting ferment, usually of an interesting and of a progressive kind. For example, there is parliament. That is my everyday life. It wouldnít be other people's everyday life. There is a degree of cultural ferment, a hybridisation, a melting pot type of thing, whatever you want to call it, which is quite interesting. That's happening also, because working together shoulder to shoulder, it cuts across racial divides. You see racial divides happening around issues, but in the workings of parliament something else happpensÖ I went on a trip last week with my portfolio committee to visit ports in Durban and Richards Bay. I was just watching on the bus all the way up to Richards Bay, which is a 3 hour trip and the african women comrades were putting down and teasing the white male africaner members, NNP and IFP members. The IFP member was a white male. The two of them were taking it very well and engaging in the spirit of it. The IFP member speaks zulu better than I can and the NNP guy also speaks sesotho better. In surprising ways there new realities, outside the front page news stories of the white parties, NNP and DA, which they are by and large, and ANC, which is black by and large. Because you asked me about the texture of other peoples lives, there is this shared reality and talk of the food being lousy and the bus not working very well
That kind of reality, which didn't exist before, is actually bringing out cross-cultural shared nationalisms, including linguistic abilities. The Inkatha guy would have learned zulu to give commands to the farm labourers on the farm, but now it's a resource that he has got with which he jokes. He's the butt of most of the jokes, but he is able to give almost as good as he gets. There is sexual innuendo and it's almost fraught with racial tension even. It was the african women who were the most feisty and teasing. These are small things maybe, but these are the things that are happening
HS: These are the kinds of things I want to know.
JC: For me what's most important about the breaking of the DA alliance. Some on the left will say: well there you see it, mark it down, again the inevitable sell-out of the ANC, getting into bed with the former oppressors, what do you expect ? Yes, maybe. There is the danger of that. But at another level I think it's the defeat of a particular project which was the most racial, subliminal mobilisation of minority communities in a pessimistic project about majority rule and democracy in our country. That's the Leon project. The ANC is smart enough and has broken that and is saying: Look, the NNP is the NNP. We don't agree with it. Our policies are different and so on, but we want to relate to it in a different way.
This creates the space to do that and I think that's a cultural reality. It's politics, but it's more profound. It's about developing multiparty democracy. We have parties like the NNP, which represents a kind of mixture of neo-liberalism and minority concerns and interests, but you try to enter into a multiparty relationship with them, which is competitive but not just intransigence on every issue, which is where the Leon thing was going.
Iíll be anecdotal.
HS: Do. I like that.
JC: I might have told you this before. It was in our caucus meeting downstairs in our caucus room. I can't remember what it was about, but there was an older african woman from a rural area, an ANC MP. She lives in one of the parliamentary villages. What happens in these circumstances, because she is the one resourced person now in her extended family, all the grandchildren get sent to stay with her in the parliamentary village and they get sent to school in and around Cape Town. So itís not just her that has tenuously joined the new elite, but it ripples down to the grandchildren, who now have an option of escaping the marginalisation of some ex-bantustan area and schooling for at least a few years in a Cape Town school. This little girl was in grade 1 or 2 and her grandmother said to her: ďYou keep talking about this other little girl. Iis she white or black ?Ē' and her grandchild thought about it and said to her ďI don't know: I'll ask her tomorrow.Ē
JC: She told it with pride, this MP, and with some bemusement. She was saying that there is a new generation that's coming up who are quite different from us. Obviously you want to look quickly at the class issue, because those girls in Khayelitsha that you were talking about yesterday in Stellenbosch, they are going to know if someone's white or black. They're not even going to know anyone who is white, unless their granny takes them to work one day in the suburbs where she works as a domestic worker.
There is the coincidence of class, poverty, marginalisation, access to culture, the possibility of access to more equalised exchange. I mean everyone in South Africa experiences the white world and white culture, but usually as an employee. So white culture, english language, all of those are still experienced as remote, repressive, things to aspire to, but remote. So there is ferment, but it is both impeded and facilitated by the process underway. South Africa is not Burundi or Rwanda. It is a melting pot of capitalism. It has been melting away in multicultural places like Soweto for decades and decades and decades. That process continues, but there is this simultaneous incorporation and marginalisation, one where there are massive inequalities. These are points you were making.
But for me that's what's interesting and again that's where I have a quarrel with african renaissance. I see that you are taking it up in your paper here. It is posing this idea of resurrecting some mystical past, some pure african past. What else is a renaissance ? Either the greco-roman or the timeless african culture. Whereas what is most interesting is what is happening now.. The people that are put in charge by the ANC, the intellectuals, are people like Wally Serote, a poet I used to admire very much. He is a leading proponent of african renaissance and he has gone off, unfortunately in my view, into the mists of african pre-history rather than what I think is most interesting potentially in South Africa. It's less the white/black melting pot, that's something, but more the telescoping of time in the lived experience of african people. It's a point that Nash is worried about in the persona of Mandela. The vulgate version of that are the songs at ANC or COSATU rallies, which are old warrior songs, church songs, which had previously been old ritualistic songs transmuted into christianity, then into protest songs, then into workers songs and so on.
HS: I think they are wonderful!
JC: Fantastic. Marvellous. It's a huge cultural reservoir, which is not static. It got a little bit static in the 1990s. There is a lovely article, you must look at it, in the Labour Bulletin in December 2001 on worker songs and what's happening there. The party is doing well and Blade in particular is very high in the hit parade. Some ANC leaders are not doing well at all.
HS: I'd like to see that. So there are new songs
JC: Oh yes, all the time. There are anti-GEAR songs, anti-privatisation songs, pro-Nzimande songs. There are lovely songs. There are songs that go:
"Thabo, we went and fetched you from the bush,
We brought you back, we elected you.
Look at the mess you are making."
HS: This is so interesting. Iíd love to hear them. Are they mostly in african languages ?
JC: Yes. What is captured in these songs is a critique. The critique is real. It is not just circular and for show, as McKinley asserts. The critique, itís profound, itís quite sharp, it's not uncomradely. It's in the family, but it's the forefathers. Itís not just a paper by Jeremy Cronin. It's cultural ferment. Itís ideological and moral ferment. The songs are probably a much better indicator.
HS: So this is what people abroad don't know. Nobody is writing about this, are they ?
JC: These songs represent regeneration, dynamism, a sense of creativity, of cheekiness. They are saying: you are about to privatise, but we donít want it, we are strong in our songs. It is very profound.
HS: This is what I want to know.
JC: One of the key factors, unstated factors, behind the nastiness of the NEC bulletin, came out at the Govan Mbeki funeral. Someone should do a whole cultural study of the songs on that day. They were directed against the son, against government policy. The control of the microphone was firmly in the hands of the Mbeki family and the ANC leadership. Messages of support and condolences to the family excluded the SACP and COSATU.
HS: He died a party member, didn't he?
JC: Yes, but they excluded the party. They excluded the SACP message, but included the Cuban Communist Party and the Chinese Communist party messages. When the Chinese Communist Party message was read by Terror, it had come through the party head office, so the covering fax sheet had SACP written on it. Then Terror, who didn't quite didn't quite understand the plot, was given it and the job of reading it. It was considered to be a task that he could manage, to read with dignity, the messages that had been edited and censored and given to him. He thought it was the SACP message and began by reading it as an SACP message. Then there was an overwhelming shout of approval and the song "Speak, Nzimande, speak" came from this huge ANC gathering and then he read the message and then someone tapped him on the shoulder and said "Sorry it was the Chinese Communist Party"
HS: Thatís fascinating.
JC: So it is not just the policy papers. One has got to read the movement and the alliance and these dynamics as well.
JC: There is some exaggeration in them. I mean songs have poetic licence, so people will say things that are exaggerated with a sense of cheekiness and empowerment
HS: But that's real. That's as real as the policy papers.
JC: Yes. I wasnít at the Mbeki funeral, but Blade was there. He came out and said: ďWeíre in trouble.Ē All of that was noted and seen as a huge left conspiracy and there were allegations that the party was orchestrating all that (as if we had the capacity).
HS: So there is this ferment from below.
JC: The most vibrant source of songs is COSATU, which is also an indication that, as songs go, so goes mobilisation.
HS: So what about culture on other fronts ?
JC: There is some multiculturalism. Some of the divides are still there. Some are lessening. There is a long way to go.
HS: What's your sense of transformation in an institution like the SABC ?
JC: It's not one thing. It's all over the place. Itís fraught, contested. You have to pinch yourself when you're watching it and remind yourself of what it used to be like, all the way up until 1993. It is light years away from what it was, but so should it be, so let's not be complacent. I think that again it's the layers of things. One thing is that it's been submitted to all of the same commercial inheritance that most other institutions have, so that has been a problem. It has lost lots of good staff, good reporters and so on. There are the same problems that you see in many media institutions in South Africa and I believe in many other parts of the world as well. Journalists get promoted into managerial functions as journalists are poorly paid and managers are well paid, which is a mindless kind of application of business principles. I think that the moral confusions, the aesthetic confusions, of our transition are echoed strongly in the SABC. Sometimes it is trying to just express the voice of America, of american culture, sometimes black american culture, that's one concession it makes to South Africa. Sometimes we see glimmers of it trying to do something more imaginative and then it loses the plot.
HS: What are the best things that you have seen / heard on SABC?
JC: I think of talk radio, I think of someone like Tim Modise, if youíre talking of cultural phenomena.
HS: Oh yes, I listen to that in the morning as often as I can.
JC: He's amazing. I don't know whether it has parallels elsewhere.
HS: In Ireland radio is like that
JC: Is it?
HS: It is. In the morning especially radio is really important. It is the nation talking to itself. I like the Tim Modise programme and learn a lot about contemporary South Africa from it.
JC: He has a moral centredness, a sharpness and a progressiveness about him. He has a gentle empathetic understanding, creating space for people. For me that's one of the high points of the transition: that it produced someone like Tim Modise, that there is an institutional space for him and that he is loved, loved by whites and blacks. He irritates the government often, although they're crazy to be irritated by him. He is deeply sympathetic to the ANC project, but understands that it doesn't go without raising concerns. By and large I think he is mild critic even there. He is such a brilliant role model as someone who is unashamedly african, even with his english accent. He has none of those hang-ups that usually come from that.
HS: What about television drama: the indigenous soapies and the rest ?
JC: I think there are some attemptsÖ
HS: Isidingo ?
JC: Yes and Backstage. I donít know if you watch that.
JC: There are some soapies that are trying to be thoughtful, quite a few actually. I don't watch Isidingo that closely, but my kids watch it. Backstage though, I think there are attempts to introduce value issues, to portray a multiculturalism, to allow characters to talk a variety of languages. English becomes the dominant language, but it's surrounded by a variety of accents and languages.
HS: What did you think about the Yizo Yizo debate?
JC: I thought that the condemnation of what they were trying to do was very stupid and backward and morally uninformed.
HS: I was here during Yizo Yizo 2 and all that furour about it. I was really struck by it. Teachers told me that kids in schools passionately defended it and said: this is how it is, this is how we live.
JC: You see that's another cultural phenomenon happening. There is danger that a new elite, a black elite, will act as a moral policeman, which will reflect values that are theirs. They will speak on behalf of the majority, but really will be about consolidating a new set of class values, of sophistication, of a conservative morality, where the racial issues, and sometimes gender issues, are the transformative issues, but class issues are side-lined. I think that is very marked in advertising. In a lot of advertising, there's a sensitivity to race. So you get flunkies, but they're always white flunkies, Jeeve's type characters, always white and male. There's less sensitivity to sexism. Quite a lot of the advertising I see is sexist. Class is just ----------. The ideal types are black and white sharing the same country club tastes, in their BMWs, ÖDe Beers
It marks the ANC as well. In some of the leading sectors of the ANC you can see the creation of a new class that is proud to be black and is quite affirming and assertive and aggressive even about its blackness, but not self-conscious, well self-conscious, but not critically self-conscious, of its class position. It is played out quite a lot in the popular culture.
HS: What other examples would you give of how it plays itself out in popular culture ?
HS: What about Generations ? It seems very yuppified.
JC: I don't really see it.
HS: What about contemporary SA literature. What about new novels ? Would you say that there is a flourishing of literature ?
JC: It is a problem about being a parliamentary bureaucrat. I donít get to read novels. I don't want to engage in niceties and generalities.
HS: Of what you know, what do you think is interesting ?
JC: I think that the most interesting writing is of a journalistic kind, rather than shaped into novels or poetry.
HS: Where to find it ?
JC: The writing ?
HS: Yes, the really revealing writing.
JC: It is in newspapers and magazines. I think that John Matshikiza's column in the Mail & Guardian is interesting. Things like that. I think that there's not much evidence of flourishing of literature. Perhaps this might reveal an ignorance. There are bits of poetry. I think it's interesting, but it hasn't quite found its post-1994 feet yet.
HS: What else is going on culturally ?
JC: There are some lyrical, musical voices.
HS: For example ?
JC: Vusi Mahlasela is a very fine singer. There is a very nice lyricism, although it is often not so accessible to us because it is sesotho.
HS: I have a cd.
JC: some people say that the most dynamic end of things is dance. I don't know much about that. Maybe it doesn't run into the same paradigm difficulties, because it's not verbal.
HS: What else ?
JC: There has been some flourishing in graphic art, which has been powerful. There have been energies of white women graphic artists using the white female body as an undigested reality of the new rainbowism. This produced an earlier Yizo Yizo debate about semi-pornographic images and a linking of that to black oppression. The ANC elite, the new ANC female elite, expressed horror and a rather bourgeois conservative critique of it.
HS: I must find out about that. I didn't see Yizo Yizo 1, but it has just come out on dvd and I have ordered it.
JC: There is also interesting black art coming out with african graphic elements and a social realist flavour.
HS: What about all the ferment surrounding museums ?
JC: Yes, that has been important. There was also a san bushmen exhibition that took place here. Some of the images seem a bit displaced again.
HS: In what way ?
JC: I think that there has been again a loss of direction. Also financial space has not been given. That's another failure of the transition.
HS: What about new forms of political organisation ? What about political education in the ANC and SACP ? Do you think that there has been sufficient experimentation ?
JC: No. The ANC is revitalising its political education, which is great. It kind of went dormant. It was neglected. I think that there are individuals picking it up now who are coming out of the liberation theology background, which I think is a very positive thing, because they come out of latin american peoples education. So and there is a reaching for that and an awareness that there are quite serious problems of corruption in the ANC, a sense that the ANC's character is quite seriously threatened.
There are within the ANC the two inclinations. There is the one that reproduces the somewhat stalinist party school education from the exiles who were exposed to that and replicated in the guerilla camps, not without some success. Then there is an alternative version, which is the more social movement alternative to the education process. That it fermented very nicely in the 1980s. I think there is a bit of marriage of those traditions and an attempt to revitalise those in the ANC.
It is much the same in the party. It's not as dynamic as it should be.
HS: What would you like to see happen for example in political education in the party?
JC: I would like to see it much
more integrated into everything else. There is a tendency to see branch
meetings as bureaucratic and business type things where you give a boring
report back on the minutes of the last meeting and meetings that you have
attended on behalf of the branch and so forth. Then political education,
when it happens, tends to be seen as theory, as the classics, as what what
Marx said about this and what Lenin said about that. At least there
are some traditions that political education is important. That ideological
seriousness that the party cultivates, that's why many people join the
party. There is some sense that maybe this is a place
where that kind of discussion can happen and it does, unevenly, but I think there is not enough imaginative integration of mobilisational work and mobilisational self education and collective education. That is the main challenge.
interview with Jeremy Cronin by Helena Sheehan
other pages on Jeremy Cronin on the web
This page by Dr
My thanks to Jim Carew, Phil
Eccles and Dominic Coll for their help in transcribing this interview and
to John O'Sullivan for facilitating it.