About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Aug 2000: Cronin, Jeremy

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM. Hi Jeremy, it's been some time but this will be the last interview. I'm down to writing stage. I have some 18,000 hours of material of interviews. It's very easy to put it off and just keep going. Anyway, let me get down to it.

. One thing that has struck me is the SACP's silence on AIDS and to what degree, in what way, if any, does the SACP's policy on AIDS differ from government policy?  Could you just hold on a minute, Jeremy, I didn't do one crucial thing here. I will repeat the question. I said there has been a silence, it seems to me, on the part of the SACP with regard to HIV/AIDS and I was asking what was the difference, if any, between the ANC or government policy on AIDS and SACP policy?

JC. I think the point that there's been a relative silence is fair criticism. It's not been an absolute silence over the last several years in our congresses and all of our programmes of action and so on highlight that this is important and we have done some work on that front. But we have not prioritised it and perhaps we should have given the scale of the crisis. I think that we've tried to carve out different kinds of areas as ones that most particularly concern us, jobs, macro-economic policy and so on so we've got a public profile as being in those areas rather than of AIDS and that may or may not be something we should be self-critical about. We've tended to leave the front line of campaigning around AIDS to our alliance partner, the ANC. I know what you're asking, which is are there differentiations?

POM. I find it difficult to understand. To me I see, and I'm just saying it as an outsider, with AIDS being the priority in the country, that the rate of infection has not dropped down, the figures or projections about the future are absolutely frightening. One in every two 15 years olds will be dead so you're educating people for no purpose, it has an effect on foreign investment, it has an effect on skilled labour, it will reshape the shape of society. To me it's not an epidemic, it's a plague and yet people I talk to say, "Yes, it's a serious crisis or a challenge but it's one of many." I don't hear that outrage, that intensity that this is something that we as society must mass mobilise the people in the same way as we mobilised them apartheid. I think it was Chris Hani in 1990 or earlier who first said that AIDS could yet do worse to SA than apartheid ever did.

JC. I do remember, it was the early 1990s. I think that is right and maybe one should accept the criticism that you're making. Partly in defence of the Communist Party with regard to the matter I would say that our ability to mass mobilise around anything apart from the election has been very, very weak over the last several years. This has been an abiding picture for us and so recognising this, the plague dimensions of the AIDS crisis, we've tried, in so far that we've been very active as a party, to look at what are the reasons why the liberation movement which had in the anti-apartheid period been very successful mobilising all range of the population, why we had lost that capacity and what we need to do to be able once more to do that because we do need to do it before AIDS destroys other developmental related issues which aids the struggle for development and it's connected to that development.

POM. What do you think are the reasons for this weakness?

JC. I think we've spoken probably ad nauseum over these last few years on these matters but the one I think has been the illusion of governmental power, that an electoral victory gives you power, which it does to some extent, that you could be satisfied with that institutional power, that we would be able simply through a deployment policy and other things of that kind and getting the right technical policies in place and respective managers running institutions, that we would then be able to solve SA's developmental problems including therefore the AIDS challenge. I think we need to actually reinforce institutional power with the capacity to mobilise people for the ongoing struggle for emancipation and challenge it. I agree that this is not necessarily a large including, but including the AIDS crisis.

POM. Just on two aspects, does the SACP agree with government policy with regard to the supply of anti-retroviral drugs to pregnant women or to women who have been raped?

JC. I think we have difficulty on working out what government policy is on these issues. In my view you have a structural problem happening, I'm not the only one to think this, that there is definitely a political dimension to the overall crisis and it's not just a medical issue. Clearly you've got to ask broad political questions. To that extent I think that some of the issues Thabo Mbeki has raised about the direction of research, the kind of results that we get from research, are those not to some extent pre-determined by powerful pharmaceutical companies? I think that those are not illegitimate issues waiting to be asked.

POM. When you say there's a political dimension?

JC. I'm talking about that political dimension to begin with. In other words here in parliament when there have been debates on the AIDS issue many opposition parties have accused Mbeki of bringing politics into the matter where it's just a straight medical and scientific matter. It isn't just that. Obviously there are powerful political forces out there, powerful institutional forces out there, not least pharmaceutical companies and one has got to ask questions about power resources and power inequities, how they determine research priorities and so forth. So it's not wrong to ask those questions but clearly it's also very important not to conflate those kinds of issues, scientific knowledge about the causes of HIV/AIDS and so forth. I think that it ended up in a serious problem here in SA where there has been conflation from the side of government in this respect and, I think, led by the President. I think there have been blockages and problems and delays as a result of conflation which unfortunately some of the AIDS activists in our country have done well in many respects but also sometimes have not helped the problem and what we've got ourselves now into is a set of trenches and a circular debate.

POM. You say the AIDS activists don't help?

JC. Well I think there is an awareness from some of them. I mean when someone like Edwin Cameron strikes, who has understood the need for sobriety here, and that's very hard particularly for people suffering from HIV/AIDS, and I think the outcome of the AIDS conference, not necessarily the lead up into it and not necessarily the media handling of it which was looking for petty fights around dissidents and so forth, but I think that there are sober minds in government and outside of government in AIDS activist circles that realise that instead of going around in a vicious circle of recrimination, not to say that there aren't issues that need to be criticised in the handling of all of this and particularly the highest level of government, I think there have been some very serious blunders unfortunately, but the SACP and its partners had discussions about the politics of handling this matter. We very deliberately said that we think that the most responsible thing we can do is not to add fuel to the fire. We have our own fights with government which we've talked about in the past, like macro economic policy, the things that are on the front page of this morning's newspaper again. In the end some of this is not unconnected to the AIDS issue but we've decided that we're not going to open up a whole other front.

POM. It's like opening fronts on the east and the west and having to fight them all.

JC. It's not that we don't want to fight on those fronts but we think that if we need to fight then we certainly will but we think that in fact if we jumped in ourselves in a high profile way on a particular side of the debate that we would actually undermine, that we would jam up the airwaves and actually would prolong the possibilities of finding an intelligent solution. This is not to say we are not critical, we are, we're quite critical and deeply concerned about the obduracy that we see in some people in government. Not all, I think that someone like the Director General in the Department of Health who is a party member, I think she has found some frustrations but also having to pick a careful way through a complicated situation. That adds to, that becomes another reason. We might, looking back, think that we've been disastrously wrong and we should have shouted out, we should have, regardless of the consequences, been more militant on the issue. But for those reasons, we have talked this out and for those reasons we decided not to entrench people. We've said other things like it's a pity that dissidents are welcomed when it comes to medical theories, the theories about AIDS, but in other areas we also know solutions have been found like third world poverty. When it comes to the Investment Council there's not a single economic dissident in sight, they're all the who's who of international capital, Soros and others who are welcomed onto it. While it's important to look at a range of views, not the lunatic fringe of those views, there is an uneven implementation of that as between, for instance, macro economic policy on the one hand or investment policy on the one hand and on the other hand HIV/AIDS. But again we've not rushed in and screamed that out loudly on the front page of newspapers.

POM. Talking about dissidents and your use of the word 'conflation', I think you're the first person I've heard use that word in a long, long time. Let me bring you to the question of Dale McKinley and his expulsion from the party. Now, I have read some of his material, I have read his book, I have read an article here and there over the years, but it seems to me that the decision of the Disciplinary Committee was extraordinarily harsh. I think he's the first person as far as I know who has been expelled by a Disciplinary Committee from the SACP, and (ii) that there are issues involving – he is a dissident within the SACP but you tolerate dissidents, freedom of speech, thought, and I was peculiarly struck by the irony, maybe I'm wrong here but it was just the way it was reported in the papers, but you were put out front as the spokesperson who had to deliver the decision, you, a writer, a poet, a thinker, had to go out in front to defend to the media the reason why a man was being expelled from a party because of his thoughts.

JC. Yes, I did so willingly. I certainly wasn't under pressure to do that and I participated in that particular Disciplinary Committee as I have in three or four previous ones beginning with McKinley. Just factually we have terminated the membership in the party of a handful over the last decade. The most high profile person was Harry Gwala.

POM. I thought he was suspended rather than expelled.

JC. He was suspended rather than actually expelled.

POM. Wasn't that over alleged hit squad?

JC. We were trying to investigate the hit squad issue. He wasn't co-operating with that.

POM. Do you not find it a bit ironic that a man who may have been involved in hit squads was suspended from a party and a man who was engaged in freedom of expression, so to speak or whatever, making his mind known, was expelled?

JC. When we suspended Gwala we had no proof. When we suspended Harry Gwala, and you were right it was a suspension, we didn't have proof, we had circumstantial evidence that he had basically been manipulated but he was not co-operating with our attempts to get to the bottom of the problem so he was suspended on those grounds because we wanted to secure his co-operation rather than lose that co-operation. There have been expulsions from the party of people, not by a National Disciplinary Committee but by others, on a regional level over the years for a variety of things, not for the expression of views that I'm aware of as in the case of McKinley, but for standing as an SACP 'independent' against ANC people in local by-elections. It's not as though McKinley is the first. I must say I was on the Disciplinary Committee, we thought very hard and long. Just to underline some of the points that I've made, and I wrote in the Mail & Guardian last week –

POM. Last week, is that coming out this week?

JC. No, it was in last week's Mail & Guardian.

POM. It was? I didn't see that.

JC. First of all because we were very keen to get across to our own members and to alliance members and to anyone else that we do want robust debate, discussion in the party, in the alliance and we don't want to give hope … different agendas whether they might be in the party or in the alliance. So the question was not whether he was entitled to express his view, which he is and which he will continue to be, but whether a particular range of views were compatible and views which were deeply entrenched in individual … by which he felt he was absolutely right, which hadn't changed over his seven years of being a party member, whether those were compatible with party membership. He has every right to – he may well turn out to be right but the question we were asking is: are these in line with the kind of views, the broad parameters that are compatible with party membership? That was the question. We concluded that they were not. We gave him ample opportunity to explain what he thought his views were and why he thought they were right and why he thought they were in line with the party, also the opportunity to say his irritations if he felt any about this and he didn't. He was very arrogant, spoke for about an hour from a prepared paper and basically described the process as a violation of property and said that there were a whole lot of other SACP members who are the ones that should expelled. The nub of the matter is that he believes that the majority of the ANC leadership is chronically pre-disposed, as he put it in one of his articles, that the majority of the ANC leadership is and has always been simply joining the capitalist class and that is the problem.

. Now that might be right, I don't think it is but it may be right, but it's clearly an attempt to foster an effective alliance and to respect the organisational integrity. We want people to be critical of policy in the ANC or in the party where they think they're wrong, GEAR is wrong or the position on AIDS is wrong. That's fine but when that wrongness is then attributed to an historic pre-determined reality then it might be right but it's at variance with what we're trying to do in the party. So those are the grounds for it. As I say, we intervened and feel very strongly in the party that, please, the signal we're not sending is be silent, shut up, toe the line. We don't want that. The initial consideration, which was not the grounds for an expulsion but it was a consideration in weighing up, is that I think that intellectuals like myself and McKinley sometimes in the name of fostering debate and discussion within an organisation like the party, we often conduct in a very arrogant way, very macho way, which in the end might give us lots of space in the organisation but in fact drown out other voices which are less confident. I think you can't expel a member for personality or style but there was certainly a problem, creating of a problem in structures that it tended to drown out –

POM. Everybody else.

JC. Actual debate.

POM. He seemed to stifle debate rather than to encourage it?

JC. He did, yes. As I say I say that in my Mail & Guardian article, and I say that of myself too. You have to be very careful that you don't use nice words like conflation or polemic but actually are drowning out a plurality of voices.

POM. When you go to his book and the ANC and the liberation struggle, was he taken before a Disciplinary Committee?

JC. He wasn't a party member. I was aware of him in –

POM. In 1997?

JC. Well I'd seen the book – no he wasn't and he's raised this point, "But you've known my views all along, why did you allow me to come?" Our position is, well precisely because unlike McKinley who seems to think that things are historically pre-determined we think that the projectory of the ANC is that of struggle along particular lines of evolution but relatively fluid reality and we like to take the same view of SACP. It's not like the Catholic Church or a fundamentalist church, who require you to be a full-blooded whatever, Quaker, before you can be admitted. Our view was a more developmental view that he had strong views, that he was obviously a left-winger who was wanting to make a contribution. So we say we are going to differ with him but let's see if we can't in the process mellow some of his what we call organisational confusions. He came into the party with very low mass political organisational experience. His parents were, I think, Quakers actually, Quaker missionaries in Zimbabwe, American Quaker missionaries. We took a developmental attitude towards him too but he was fairly unbudging in his views. So it had come to a situation, alas, where we felt – we expected to argue with him and debate with him and so on out on the left here in SA and in public debates and in marches and campaigns. It was not to put him into some Gulag or whatever but we don't think that effectively it was appropriate given the views that he's got and given, again in the Disciplinary Committee it was very fixed. But fine, I understand that. Perhaps he's right.

POM. Moving on, the SACP and the Zimbabwe issue, again in the west and not only in the West but in many –

JC. Here too.

POM. Many observer teams that had gone to Zimbabwe and spent time there, not just gone the day before the elections, but had spent time there and travelled the country found widespread intimidation of voters and that in many respects the issue wasn't about land but that the land issue was being used in a political way to intimidate the MDC and show that if they wouldn't vote for ZANU and there would be repercussions and that the climate of the election was not a free and fair election, that certainly if in 1994 the NP government had been months beforehand going from village to village in rural areas, intimidating workers in the same way, there would have been a hue and cry from every member of the alliance and a call for international observers and mediators and God knows what. Yet again one found that the ANC indeed came out supportive of Mugabe saying the poll on election day, if you look at the results, showed a free and fair election, the people did have their say. But that's not the issue. The issue, at least to me, was that in the furtherance of Mr Mugabe's party, ZANU PF were acting in a way that was contrary to the imperatives of democracy and having free and fair elections. Yet the SACP again was quiet.

JC. Not true. No not true. I think you said lots of things much of which I agree with, some of which I didn't. Let's quickly pick on those disagreements. The NP were behaving a whole lot worse in the run-up to the 1994 elections than Mugabe did, here in SA. I mean something like, I don't have the figures to hand in my head, but many people died in what was essentially third force violence which went on literally up to the last day before the election.

POM. Now you're talking about the period of 1990 – 1994?

JC. Including the last months before the 1994 election. That's not about Zimbabwe, but just to challenge the notion that the previous government here had behaved remotely like Mugabe in the run-up to the election. Here we would have – I mean there were bombs going off in our cities. The year before our General Secretary was assassinated and so forth. In that case it wasn't the government but there was a third force. But I don't want to get stuck on that. Secondly, the party did speak up on a number of occasions, also we were active inside of the ANC itself particularly here in parliament and as the press noted two months before the elections there were quite sharp statements coming from parliament about the violence unleashed clearly by, or tolerated clearly by, the Mugabe government and so on. But there was condemnation and the party ombudsmen were active along with any other ANC colleagues here in parliament with raising this. We had an SACP Strategy conference, I forget now but it would have been about three weeks before the Zimbabwe elections were called.


JC. SACP, a Strategy conference and that gave us the chance then to speak in depth and to debate what position we felt should be taken and there was a resolution which received strong public attention, not as much as we would have liked but which had the following …   The one was that we felt that government's relatively quiet diplomacy was not necessarily wrong. We felt that in terms of government to government relations it was very important to try and ensure that there was some kind of co-operation from the Zimbabwean government. There were forces in the west calling for sanctions against Zimbabwe when there were no credible voices in Zimbabwe itself calling for that. We felt those kind of brinkmanship things were calculated to push Mugabe, who is a very unpredictable and complicated personality, would have had unforeseen – terrible for Zimbabwe and our region. So we were not critical of the carefulness which government was showing.  We thought that, for instance, Peter Hain might not have been helping the case, might have been giving further ammunition by adopting a different kind of line from the way in which our government showed there. So on that aspect we weren't all that ready to lead a crusade against Mugabe.

. Secondly we said that however we were deeply, deeply concerned at the levels of violence and much of it was either launched, or at the very least tolerated, by the Mugabe government. It was to be condemned roundly. We thought that the first point, namely quiet diplomacy, there were many ways of doing it, not only the line of the ANC, party to party.  It could have been hard on issues and … they made it a government to government level. But a certain division of labour would have been possible and we certainly said to the very last that we were angry and condemned it.

POM. Just on that, one American organisation, you probably know them well, the National Democratic Institute had sent a team to Zimbabwe, mostly composed of Africans, who issued a very highly critical report.

JC. I remember that and then they were not allowed to stay.

POM. President Mbeki excoriated them and the report, as who are they, outsiders, to come in and comment on elections being held in another country, with the suggestion that since it was a western NGO it had its own agenda, but the report that it prepared and the team that it sent into Zimbabwe was composed entirely of Africans from other countries in the region.

JC. I don't want to go into particular detail but that's symptomatic I think of something seriously wrong in the way in which SA handled the matter.

POM. Do you think that the west, particularly the western media, treated and covered the election and activities prior to the election in an even-handed context, tried to put matters in context or that they were implicitly on the side of the MDC and that there was a certain bias to their reporting?

JC. Yes, well I was, if anything, more sympathetic myself to the MDC but yes there was a particular slant, including here, including even ironically the national public broadcaster, the SABC, who clearly until very late in the day were sympathetic to the MDC in coverage and very critical of so-called war veterans and so forth. I think where the imbalance also came in in western reporting and also in the SA appraisal of the thing, who tended either to support ZANU PF more or the MDC, was the kind of historical amnesia about the recent path of Zimbabwe.

. So this was a third point that we said we have an understanding for quiet diplomacy and we're not going to try to make points about that but certainly with the political violence being unleashed …  and as South Africans we've got to say that. Thirdly, we said that there are many deep-seated problems in Zimbabwe and a lot of those go back to the structural adjustment programmes that were implemented, the poverty, desperation of urban poor, massive job losses and so forth were policies more or less accepted and certainly implemented by Mugabe from the late 1980s, that the very western media that is now critical of Mugabe was as recently as 1995/6/7, I think 1996 give or take a year, was saluting Zimbabwe along with Ghana and Mauritius as the great African success stories, an example of how tough structural adjustment programmes would begin to produce growth and turn situations around and so on. I think all of that was very easily forgotten in the debate that was going on and I think that far from believing, as I think, and not to let Mugabe off the hook because I think that spending on wars, on rearmament, corrupt spending on all kinds of things, that helped to precipitate Zimbabwe into a debt crisis which has led to borrowing which had in turn then led to structural adjustment and so forth, but the IMF, World Bank that had as conditionalities for structural adjustment, had seen a set of policies implemented which resulted in massive urban and rural poverty and therefore exacerbated the land crisis, unemployment, poverty crisis, found in that country from gains that had been scored in the earlier period of Zimbabwe in terms of health care and education, that Mugabe in this situation basically zigzagged that he would implement these policies then met with some kind of protest action and would either crush it, whether it's students or trade unions, or give in to it in the case of war veterans in a demagogic way. So you would get zigzags of policy which vacillated between very brutal implementation of structural adjustment on the one hand and then demagogic measures of a ZANU PF front on the other. For us what was happening around the election time was really a continuation of that kind of zigzag. We didn't feel that that was being adequately reflected in much of the press reports whether they were unsympathetic more towards Mugabe, which tends to be the case both here and internationally, much more sympathetic to the MDC.

POM. Would, given the trade relations between Zimbabwe and SA – I think Zimbabwe is your biggest trading partner –

JC. Yes.

POM. Would a collapse of the Zimbabwean economy have serious economic repercussions here? So was that a consideration to the extent that one of the objectives of the government here would be to ensure an outcome that even if it were imperfect that it maintained a sufficient degree of stability in Zimbabwe so that the economy would not collapse and the spill-over affect SA's own transformation and reconstruction?

JC. The short answer is obviously yes and I think correctly so. Obviously you can look at it in several different ways. There would be a Zimbabwe Futures market and we need it to be as stable as possible and let's neglect some bumps and wobbles, more or less serious, in order to sustain some kind of stability and let's put a fig leaf over the violence in the elections and the violence since the election. That would be a cynical way and I have no doubt that there were tendencies here to do it like that. A variable of the same thing, I think, would say that not just narrowed South African economic interest but if there's deepening instability in Zimbabwe which would then add to the instability that we already have in Angola, potential instability in Mozambique where Renamo have from time to time been making noises about returning to the bush and the struggle, the stalled situation in Swaziland, problems in Lesotho, not to mention the DRC and so on, we do need to be very careful that progressive forces in our region, and I believe that there are progressive forces to be found in ZANU PF and in the MDC and certainly in the constituencies of those two formations, that beyond the rivalries and campaigns and irritation that there's a much bigger picture that has to be seen. I think that's the great tragedy now.

. I'm saying that if there had been a political meltdown in Zimbabwe or if elections had been declared null and void, I'm not sure where we would be now.

POM. Not free and fair.

JC. I think obviously they weren't absolutely free and certainly not absolutely fair. There was obviously a relatively democratic process happening, obviously there are interestingly some independent formations in Zimbabwe including the judiciary which seems to have sustained the capacity to act independently which has now produced some judgements around some of the voting and so forth. I think that a kind of microscopic view on elections in Zimbabwe and an attempt to wish that Zimbabwe were Sweden or Switzerland, I wish it was too in some respects, but the challenges in Zimbabwe are not just about multi-party elections, as very important as they are, and the freeness and fairness of those multi-party elections. There are also development challenges that one's got to try to make the things relevant to each other rather than irrelevant to each other or counter-productive to each other.

POM. You were saying that you have to try to achieve a strategic balance between the two acceptable trade-offs?

JC. Yes.

POM. Where the outcomes in either case may be very well imperfect but if they became more imperfect in one sphere it would kill off any development in the other.

JC. Yes. If you were hell bent on declaring the Zimbabwe elections unfree and unfair I am sure you could come up with plenty of evidence in this direction but if you're concerned with more to lay the basis for deepening and developing multi-party democracy in Zimbabwe, to lay the basis for other things like social and economic development, overcoming the terrible crisis or relatively serious crisis in that country, then I think that you would look at some trade-offs, you wouldn't want to necessarily – there would be a point at which you would have to say those elections were unfree and unfair but where that would be I don't know so I'm not saying that anything goes and anything would be possible. I think there was a relative degree of fairness and I think, certainly in SA but for Zimbabweans themselves, we should move beyond the election and address some of the other challenges now in Zimbabwe.

. One of the problems is that 50% of Zimbabweans voted for ZANU PF and they are mainly rural, apart from the rural people, the Ndebele speaking rural people, the majority of poor rural people have for one reason or another voted ZANU PF and the majority of poor urban people, working people, middle ranging professional Ndebele speakers, have voted MDC, so therefore the kind of potential social forces have an interest in powering ongoing transformation and development are politically divided and find in their respective camps some very strange people like white farmers in the one case and a venal and corrupt bureaucracy in the other case. So I think there are problematic forces on both sides of the divide and potentially progressive forces which have every interest in seeing the deepening of the pockets of development on the other. Whether the progressives of the MDC and ZANU PF are going to be able to sort out their electoral rivalry is something that remains to be seen.

. But the challenge in that would then bring us to the third or fourth criticism, a criticism that I would have of the way in which the ANC has handled the run-up to the elections and particularly the sort of aftermath which has two sides. … the most pragmatic way of the leader, he may well be the President of Zimbabwe in a year's time. He may not be but may very well be if you bother to take a turn through, make sure that he visits George Bush in the run-up to the presidential elections. It really doesn't make much sense does it?

POM. You can't expect much from George Bush in the next four years.

JC. No, but he may be the President and when Mbeki was in the United States not just to see … but also to see George and just from a straight pragmatic point of view it's hard to understand why a more open-ended, even-handed approach to ZANU PF and the MDC – but beyond that I genuinely believe that there are progressive forces in both camps and problematic forces in both camps, it's not one-sided.

POM. Do you think both that there's a connection in terms of, I won't say the defensive way in which the government here reacted to criticism in the west regarding its attitude or pronouncements on the Zimbabwe elections or prior to the elections, but a connection between that and it's defensiveness about its AIDS policy which emanates a lot from the western media and governments that this is part of the north/south divide and the increasing north/south divide and the increasing frustration on the part of the south that the north is not simply taking it's concerns of poverty, joblessness and disease and development very seriously?

JC. Yes. I think that we need to be vigilant as South Africans about that too. In other words I think that in a sort of sad way, but something I know I have been speaking to you about over the years, that way back whenever we started speaking I was expressing concerns about South Africa's re-entry into the world, a belief that favoured or loved us, the north/side divide, this great abyss has deepened not diminished in the decade, in the post-cold war decade of the 1990s. I think there has been a growing awareness and understanding, sensitivity, awareness of this in the new government in the last few years, whether it's the port, sherry –

POM. One day they were promising you millions in aid and the next day they're kicking you to the cleaners on port and sherry.

JC. That kind of thing. We're very red card for trying to export to the United States, the experience of northern protectionism and many other things I think have started to underline this point. I think it's sad that that's the case but it's better to be aware of the tough realities of the globe and perhaps the most obvious feature of the globe in which we living is this huge north/south abyss and that SA I think is sometimes somewhere between the north and south but every now and again we're forced to wake up really and realise that we're decidedly of the south whatever Mandela's reputation might be out there and so forth. When it comes to hard trade or whatever that doesn't count for too much. I think that's where for the greater realism there's a very positive development but there are dangers that awareness that becomes demagogic and I think Mugabe embodies where we could end up and where we don't want to end up, where the criticism of 'the west', the disrespect for human rights and then a whole lot of other things that go with that like attitude towards gay people, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, etc., etc., multi-partyism, that all of those things get mapped into something called 'the west', and then some obscurantist Africanism gets to be the polar opposite.

. You see that in Mugabe a great deal, in the politics of Zimbabwe a great deal where on the one hand it's implementing basic structural adjustment programmes with some African features and some demagogic adjustment. The unity of the movement is held together by demonising some homogeneous 'the west', where you occidentalise the west just like the authors like or orientalise the south and the west becomes the seat of all evil, of sexual libertarianism and so forth, again like the north used to say of the east, harems and lobola, the same thing here. I think that you see some of those currents running through SA now as well, a kind of arcane, retreating to arcane African, a dismissal of things western. That's a grave danger, to be a cul-de-sac. That still remains in the democratic breakthrough we've got. So I think that what we've got to develop is a critique of the north and understand that it's a tough world that we're living in but that critique shouldn't be rooted in some demagogic African which is really a weapon of an ethnic elite which tries then to cloud the real problems that inequality has decided our situation by appealing to arcane African pitted against –

POM. Just in regard to what you say, do you think that the government is a bit blasé, to use the word you used in a different context, about the degree to which democracy here has been consolidated and rather than seeing it still in its infant stages and consolidation will take a considerable time like most things do.

JC. I hope it's not blasé. I'm wondering what you're thinking about when you say that. There's a danger that that would be the case.

POM. I'd say it maybe in the context - for example the government's response to the formation of the Democratic Alliance kind of surprised me. Rather than say, good there's an opposition, we disagree with most of what they say but at least they seem to recognise their own interests or whatever, it just said they're nothing more than a crowd of racist pigs. The word 'race' was thrown in in a very –

JC. I agree with that. I think that the worst sin of Tony Leon, [I don't think Tony … he can't remember what the … party looks like … very scornful – people haven't …] therefore maybe they don't pronounce English as well as they might, things like that. I think he's got, for me, class attitudes which fudge into racial issues sometimes.

POM. He belongs in Westminster not in South Africa.

JC. Yes. If his policies get implemented, and many of them are of course by our present government in an ameliorated form, but if they get implemented in the cold-blooded way that he would like to see them implemented then I think the consequences would be the deepening of racialised poverty, inequality and so forth, the deracialisation of power privilege and wealth but the perpetuation of massive racialised poverty, but not because he's a racist. His kind of meritocratic, colour-blind attitude, SA has failed to understand the deeply institutionalised character of poverty, racialised character of poverty in the country.

POM. But you see him every day – he's said more on AIDS than any other politician that I know. He speaks out more on AIDS and the necessity to grab and grapple with this issue more than any other politician that I hear.

JC. I think that in her time Zuma, as Minister of Health, was very active. She got it wrong sometimes but she was very active. I think Mbeki is not quite sometimes what one might wish he were and I sometimes wonder whether Leon is deeply concerned about AIDS or whether it's been giving him lots of space to carve out a niche, the Zimbabwe niche, the AIDS niche and so forth, whether it has more to do with that than anything else. I don't know, but if he's desperately concerned about AIDS, good marks, good, that needs to be the case.

. But I agree with your point that I think it's fair criticism on our side to say that the implications of policy of the DA will be neglectful of black poor people and it's not accidental that the majority of the voting constituency of the DA is going to be white, etc. I think that's fair and it's accurate as well, but I think that to treat them, as we sometimes do, rather than as an opposition expressing the views of a particular constituency or constituencies, to explain what those constituencies might be and to maybe argue that the constituencies are deluded about their longer term interests but maybe not deluded about their short defence of their privileges and so on, I think when it spells over into describing Tony Leon as counter-revolutionary, as the enemy and so on, then I agree with you. I think that we're not contributing from our side to the cultivation of a more normalised democratic society and I do worry that sometimes that happens and that it's sort of cheap demagogic point scoring rather a commitment to building a vibrant democracy in which you're tolerant of difference and understand that there are different constituencies out there. I think, therefore, the way in which the two of them, Leon and Mbeki, are conducting their relationship is also very poor. Both of them are contributing to it but both are to blame.

POM. Mac Maharaj said to me something that struck me as quite profound the other day and we were talking about negotiations and the importance that trust played in reaching a negotiated settlement. He says that more important than trust was that you learn to respect your opponent. Do you think that the alliance respects the opposition parties or that you have yet to reach that stage?

JC. I think we have yet to reach that stage. I think they also, the opposition parties, I think that wouldn't include politicians on both sides who understand the point you're making, but I think that one would have to say that generally there's a tendency within all of the alliance formation to have a respect for how different he might be and to be robust about expressing those differences, at the same time to conflate that with a disrespect rather than respect. I agree with what Mac is saying. The point is, the principal point to make as well as maybe a description of a reality that we've got to work at here. But from my side, Leon being an obvious example, not the only one, but there's a kind of level of hysteria I think in the style of politics which doesn't help either where a failure to publicly criticise Mugabe as the thin edge of a wedge which will see whites swept into the sea here in SA. It also doesn't help to contribute to the normalisation and mutual respect. Much better for him to say, "I think he's wrong. He should be criticising Mugabe but I understand why he isn't", or something. But he's also tempted in the other direction to come close to demonising the ANC. There's a thin veneer of democracy but behind that is the Communist Party and dark, black African forces and so forth. I think we're a little bit trapped at the moment in that kind of lack of respect for alternatives.

POM. Let me move on.

JC. I do need to watch time, I've got a ten o'clock meeting.

POM. You can spend the rest of your time talking about this one. I'll tie them all together. The SACP and its position on privatisation particularly the privatisation programme just recently announced: how it makes a distinction between privatisation as it appears to be understood by the government and what Blade refers to as 'the framework for the restructuring of state assets' - I don't quite know what restructuring of state assets means - his statements to all the papers that the ANC or SACP is, the letter from Blade to all the newspapers saying, "We are unambiguously and unequivocally opposed to the sale of state assets", putting that in one corner so this is obviously a deep disagreement between the SACP and the ANC or the government on this issue. I want to make some kind of distinction between the two. That the attitude of the SACP, again, to the proposed amendments to labour legislation which you oppose and which the labour unions are talking about there being blood in the streets, if they go through to (I didn't see the papers this morning) but to NUMSA's call that the SACP remove itself from the alliance, that the SACP take the lead in a way opposing, becoming an opposition to the ANC.

JC. OK, very quickly. On the latter issue first of all, the NUMSA congress which is happening at the moment, just finished I think, basically there was a resolution there or a discussion which posed five different options for the alliance one of which, which you're referring to but which you didn't quite capture accurately, one of which was that the ANC which is currently described as the leading political formation in the tripartite alliance, that it should lose that leading position and that the SACP should assume the leading position. That was one option among several others. Another one was that NUMSA should walk out of the tripartite alliance and be instrumental in setting up a Workers Party and so forth. That was discussed at the NUMSA Congress that's been happening this week. The resolution taken was the one that supported the SACP and that was that the tripartite alliance led indeed by the ANC is not working well but needs to be strengthened, not dismembered. That was the out come of that particular debate in NUMSA. It's a perfectly legitimate debate and it's correct to pose what alternatives there may or may not be and to thoroughly debate them and that's what was happening at NUMSA. The problem is that it was very much garbled that debate, predictably, in the media and not understood to be an effective five options. When the one, and I think the correct option, was chosen and reaffirmed, also not very clearly conveyed in the media, but that's what happened at NUMSA.

. Labour relations, labour legislation review process. Basically I think we've got a very progressive set of labour market legislation in place, including the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment, a variety of laws relating to safety and security and a variety of things. There's also the Employment Equity Act. Now we're quite proud of those achievements. We think they're amongst the more progressive achievements of the six years of ANC government. COSATU has been worried about a couple of aspects of these laws, also in welcoming them feels that they can be approved. We from the party side tended to want to warn COSATU that opening it up might just open up a can of worms because why COSATU has been worried about some issues, big business in SA is saying they're very unhappy obviously with this series of progressive laws and they've wanted to undermine them and complained that there's a flexible labour market and that's what's inhibiting economic growth. I think that our concerns are a little bit borne out by what's now on the table coming from government , from the Minister of Labour, Mdladlana, who has tabled proposals and changes and some of the changes accord with the small changes that COSATU was looking for but others we think run the potential – we don't even think that what's on the table at the moment is substantially problematic but could become the thin edge of the wedge of rolling back worker gain. Our intervention at this point is not to say we reject what's on the table but we think that there's no rush about what's on the table. We're pleased to see that the ANC Secretary General at the NUMSA congress repeated that thought that let's think three or four times as to what we're trying to do here and let's not try to rush it. That's where that particular one is. It's not a rejection of what's on the table but a concern that the thing needs to be processed much later, beginning with a process inside of the tripartite alliance itself.

. One is the privatisation issue. I first want to take issue with you when you describe what was announced ten days ago by the Minister of Public Enterprises, Jeff Radebe, as a privatisation programme. He did say 'restructuring of state assets programme'. What's the difference? Well we certainly need to restructure the major parastatals and the minor ones as well that we inherited from the apartheid past. There's a very substantial parastatal sector in our economy but it was obviously set up to service the interests of the white ruling bloc and also of white controlled industry. It supplied …  amongst other things that weren't profitable but which were necessary for the well-being of the private sector in SA. So it certainly requires major restructuring.

POM. Just with regard to that very thing, do you think the media in its reporting of his proposals got it all wrong because the word 'privatisation' was bandied about in every headline?

JC. Exactly. The media has persistently done this. It's a massive problem. It prevents any discussion about restructuring and per se a discussion about privatisation. And add to that immediately the attempt to have an intelligent discussion about restructuring that asset. Then what we've done immediately around this package is that, where the party very much welcomes the framework that it's announced which is basically a process framework that has been announced by the minister, not only the announcement but the process that preceded the announcement so that the minister came and presented to the SACP leadership structures and to our Central Committee, in depth for comment and discussion, the drafts of this package. We debated them quite thoroughly. We are pleased to note that many of the points that we raised are now incorporated into what was publicly announced ten days ago. So we're pleased about the process that preceded the announcement of the package and we're generally happy with the process envisaged now by the package.

. The points - the reaffirming of what we called back in 1996, the National Framework Agreement, negotiating with the relevant trade unions in the particular parastatal about any restructuring. We think that's important and relatively unique, that provision, and that's been reaffirmed. Then also the National Framework Agreement says that the yardstick for fair restructuring needs to be the Reconstruction & Development Programme, not alleviating the problem the narrow way. You might want to argue that arguably we've got to do that but then you've got to show that it stems from the Reconstruction & Development Programme by the way of narrow defence of jobs. Jobs may or may not be created but in some cases may be lost in a restructuring process. The job issue shouldn't trump the broader reconstruction and development objective but jobs are very important. We're losing jobs, the narrow defence of jobs in what might be white elephants, public sector white elephants, even a sustainable way of creating jobs. Both the government debt problem or even the defence of jobs problem needs to be subordinated to a broader reconstruction and development vision.

. That's how we see it now. We obviously in general, in principle, don't like privatisation. We would like to see upsizing rather than rightsizing and downsizing. Our vision of a socialist SA would be of a strong and indeed economic … into the public sector. That's part of our socialist vision and therefore privatisation generally would tend to take us away from that view. But we can think about it, but not absolutely and in every phase. It may be that in order to practically … the partial privatisation or even total privatisation in the interests of building an effective public sector. It's the only way of retaining a strong public sector and rebuilding it maybe that you don't hold on to Aventura Holiday Resorts or forests.

POM. So when Blade says, issued on behalf of the SACP, "We state categorically that we're opposed to international privatisation particularly in the developing world. Privatisation remains disastrous and only benefits the rich at the expense of the poor." You are opposed to – if the government took 'a developed world' approach to privatisation involving foreign partners or whatever and this was announced by Jeff Radebe as being the government policy, would he fall into the same loop as Dale McKinley as being part of, or the implementers of a policy that was inimical to everything that the SACP stood for and therefore would he be hauled before a Disciplinary Committee?

JC. Well the fact is that he does implement policies which are not SACP policy. The Washington Consensus version, now debated in Washington –

POM. We don't know yet. It's a hypothetical question.

JC. We know what Jeff – for instance the areas that I'm working in parliament, Transnet, what we're going to see is the retention of the structure in public hands but we know that the restructuring is going to be several stand-alone corporations within the Transnet [and there will be … out to provide the basic international operators, but out of the alliance for a 10 – 15 year period.] We know basically where it's headed. Now I think that, we could debate the details of it, but I think that that's what's going to happen and it's probably the only choice that we have, the only sustainable choice that we've got in this situation. First Jeff needs to move in that directly in ways that he's now agreed and said he will through negotiation and discussion, through a process, and not just because the World Bank tells him to do it. He needs to be sure that this particular route is one that conforms to the reconstruction and development objectives, that it's not going to throw away the steering capacity that the public sector, democratically elected government, has in terms of developmental objective. I think that if we hold on to public ownership of the infrastructure it will give us that capacity if there's effective regulation and oversight of the private sector.

. So that's how we need to move. That will involve elements of privatisation. We might not like that but that too will be the case, and that already is the case, is some other restructurings that have happened in Telkom which by and large the party has accepted. Telkom remains in public hands … majority shareholder but there are two large international Telecom corporations that are strategic partners, shareholders. I believe that was the correct choice.

JC. I've got someone parked outside my office.

POM. This is the very last. In 1990 when this whole process of change began did the SACP envisage, or have you envisaged a SA that would turn out ten years later whose economic and social policies, particularly it's economic policies, are in a sense far more Thatcherite than they are socialistic?

JC. That's too big a question to do just in a one line.

POM. Maybe I'll be able to get back to you for 15 minutes before I go, on the telephone again.  OK, thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.