I MISS Jeremy Cronin. The erudition of his pen has waned. He used to speak truth to power.
This did not put him in the good books of the powers that be during president Thabo Mbeki’s time.
But Cronin was not deterred.
Presidential henchman, the late Dumisani Makhaye, even criticised him for positioning himself as a “white messiah” for black people.
The non-racialists in the ANC did not defend Cronin against the racial onslaught. He was left standing alone in the middle of a storm. His sin, remember, had been to correctly point out in an interview that the ANC was teetering on the brink of “Zanufication”.
By this he meant the party did not tolerate views divergent to those of the leader.
It was at the height of Mbeki’s presidency when a number of people like Makhaye subordinated their brains to Mbeki’s.
With intolerance of alternative views apparently the hallmark of the era, there was no doubt that Zanu-PF’s tendencies had nestled into ANC politics.
Those who questioned the lack of debate, like the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were asked to show up at the ANC branch to which they belonged and to prove they had paid their R12 membership fee – or shut up.
Typically of Tutu, he resorted to prayers in the same way he used to pray for the apartheid government.
He has now turned his prayers to President Jacob Zuma so that the president may be blessed with enough of God’s wisdom to enable him to pay back the taxpayers’ money spent on his Nkandla home.
But I digress. The point is this: Cronin, a member of the ANC and the SACP, was among those who found the political climate in the ANC increasingly stifling under Mbeki.
Unlike Tutu, however, Cronin did not need to prove his membership. So with no other viable weapon to silence him, race became the effective whip.
But Cronin, an ANC MP at the time, continued to be an honest intellectual from within.
When Zuma’s star began to rise, Cronin did not mince his words. He analysed the implications. His conclusions were as incisive as they were prophetic. “He [Zuma] is a congress traditionalist with a strong working class/peasant demeanour about him. In my view, Zuma does not [as some have argued] represent the left within the ANC alliance,” Cronin noted.
“He concentrates, rather, in his own specific way, within his personality and politics, all of the contradictions of the post-1996 class project that depends upon the ANC and alliance for electoral reproduction but which seeks to hollow out the movement at the same time.”
The contradictions, Cronin wrote, were “the problematic and corrupt-prone relationship between the new political elite and emerging and established [business]; the schizophrenic balancing act inherent in a project that represents itself simultaneously as western modernising on the one hand, and Africanist on the other; and related to the above, the over-burdening and excessive personalisation of the presidential centre”.
It was vintage Cronin in the SACP discussion paper entitled The people shall govern: the class struggle and the post-1994 State of South Africa, published before the ANC Polokwane conference where Zuma became president of the party.
Fast forward to 2014.
The R246-million Nkandla project epitomises “the problematic and corrupt-prone relationships”. Zuma’s response to it shows the “over-burdening and excessive personalisation of the presidential centre”.
For Zuma to stay in power, he needs to use the ANC and the alliance for “electoral reproduction”.
But the ultimate aim of Zuma’s politics is to “hollow out the movement at the same time”.
But, where is Cronin now to claim the prophetic value of his words?
Well, he surfaced recently, criticising Public Protector Thuli Madonsela for releasing the Nkandla report to the “profit-driven” media and in the process “sidelining” parliament.
A week ago, in an article published in an SACP-turned-ANC mouthpiece, Umsebenzi Online, Cronin does not say anything about the “problematic and corruption-prone relationships” or how the “excessive personalisation of the presidential centre” has resulted in Zuma ignoring a litany of Madonsela’s questions and recommendations and, along with that, the inexplicable support of the ANC.
So, what “underpins” all the corruption in Nkandla and the Department of Public Works, a leading department in the project?
“It’s a toxic mix of private sector corrupters, venal officials, BEE fronting and the misguided neo-liberal restructuring of the state in the mid-1990s,” writes Cronin .
Strangely, Cronin does not refer to the corruptees.
He states: “This restructuring replaced scores of sector professionals with generic managers.”
As a result, public works has been stripped of professional capacity – engineers, architects, quantity surveyors, property evaluators – leaving it vulnerable to external and internal manipulation.
A property management entity is now being formed to solve the crisis.
Cronin concludes: “Whether it’s the public protector’s office or a line department, we need to professionalise, democratise and consolidate our constitutionally mandated public institutions.”
Lacking in this analysis is what the Cronin that I miss would have said about the one man who allowed all the “venal officials” to play dirty in his front yard in Nkandla.
Could it be that Cronin’s independence of thought has been “hollowed out” since the principal of Nkandla appointed him deputy minister of public works?
Mpumelelo Mkhabela is the editor of Sowetan