It is, inescapably, time for a little weekend editorialising.
Yesterday I summarised the main content of Jeremy Cronin’s criticism of the ANC Youth League’s “nationalise the mines!” call. In as far as it is possible I summarised Julius Malema’s response to Cronin – his comments consisted primarily of racial abuse and pompous meandering. This morning I woke filled with the urgent need to write something more and to use a tone that was ever so slightly sharper.
There are three conclusions or indicators that seem to me to shine (or rather ‘gleam balefully’) through this exchange.
1. The Zuma government and ANC are dangerously weak at the centre
Debate and the free flow of ideas is almost always a good thing.
But this isn’t debate or the free flow of ideas. Malema is not putting forward an argument. There are no ideas flowing freely between Cronin and Malema. Malema is (essentially) racially abusing someone who has entered into the ‘healthy public debate’ originally called for by the ANC Youth League. And there is no centre of leadership that seems able to repudiate this, to put some kind of limitation on Malema. Where is Jacob Zuma? Where is Blade Nzimande? Where is Gwede Mantashe? Why shouldn’t foreign investors, fund managers, and ordinary citizens not conclude that Malema represents the “real ANC”? He is ex-officio on the NEC and the NWC; he is clearly a powerful and influential ANC politician in his own right – as I argue here; he appears to have been blessed and anointed by Jacob Zuma on several occasions?
It is becoming inescapable: the reason for the level and tone of bullying racial abuse that passes for “debate” about race, nationalisation, black management in the parastatals – you name it – is that there are NO guiding ideas coming from the centre. At this level it is becoming clear that, indeed, the centre cannot hold.
2. Race to the finish
Jeremy Cronin is not some Jimmy-white-racist off the street that Malema should feel safe to abuse and dismiss. Cronin is a revered ANC and SACP leader, poet, intellectual, ex-political prisoner. If Malema can dismiss him as a “white Messiah” a “reactionary” and a racist – with the implicit support of the whole edifice of Zuma’s government and the ANC – why would any white South African, or white non-South African for that matter, believe that they might have something to offer up to the country, to the debate, to the future?
The “race card” played with such impunity by ANC and government leaders – and other important South Africans – is becoming a bizarre obscenity that has long undermined any legitimate attempt to combat racism. Crying wolf about racism means that we no-longer recognise it when we see it. It is becoming much safer to assume that the cry “racism” is an attempt to throw off pursuit or criticism.
3. Malema is a looter and Cronin an imperfect builder
It appears (to me anyway) that Malema represents those who hope to leverage their “race” (using the imperative for affirmative action, black economic empowerment and transformation more generally) and the general dominance of the ANC in government, to loot the state and ransack the economy.
The Eskom/Bobby Godsell/Jacob Maroga debacle, which I cover here exposed the Black Management Forum and the ANC Youth League as being on the side of crony capitalism and Cosatu as being on the side of development and the effective use of state assets. The clash between Malema and Cronin emphasises the point even more clearly. Everything that Malema argues (or rather bombastically threatens) implies that he claims to speak for “black people” as “black people” – with all the attendant historical disadvantage and current entitlement to redress. Everything that Cronin says is about perfecting a developmental strategy to address poverty and unemployment.
Now a difficulty for me here is that I think Cronin’s premise is wrong and in any other situation I would rather argue about his implicit hostility to business and markets. However, my argument with Cronin is one about strategies and tactics – and I would have no quibble with the end goal of rolling-back poverty, inequality and unemployment and the creation of a better society.
Malema, on the other hand, wants nothing more than his and his cronies turn at the trough. There is no evidence or reference to social goals in Malema’s bombast; there is only a threatening racial antagonism, a chauvinistic racial solidarity and a bullying demand to be given more of the assets of this state and economy to dispose of in consumption.
Late yesterday the South African Communist Party came out in defence of its deputy secretary-general and it is probably appropriate to let them have the last word (and I will try not to quibble with the details):
20 November 2009
The SACP wishes to condemn in the strongest possible terms the insults that the President of the ANC Youth League hurled at our Deputy General Secretary, Cde Jeremy Cronin. We find it very strange and politically dishonest that whilst on the one hand the ANCYL calls for a debate on the question of nationalization yet, on the other hand, it throws insults on those who are taking up the debate.
As the SACP we shall not sink to this level of political and intellectual dishonesty, but instead we call upon the President of the ANCYL, or anyone for that matter, to engage the issues raised by Cde Cronin in a principled and comradely manner, without resorting to the Mbeki era type of insults against the leaders of our Party.
For the record, we invited the ANCYL to participate at our political school last month, to, amongst others, debate this matter of nationalization, but did not take up the invitation. We wish to further invite the ANCYL to feel free to respond in any of our publications to debate this and other matters, in a principled manner.
Issued by the SACP
SACP Spokesperson – 082 226 1802
And from me (Nic) have a good weekend and thank you for your patience.