Kasrils vs Cronin face off

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Ronnie Kasrils1 Independent Newspapers. Ronnie Kasrils. Picture: Antoine de Ras.

LEARNING FROM CHRIS HANI

Former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils calls on South Africans to spoil their votes on May 7 in protest at rampant corruption and disastrous economic policies from the ANC and the DA.

On returning home from exile Chris Hani referred in many a speech of the need for political tolerance. What a contrast to the current leader of the SACP, Blade Nzimande, and the invective he spews at his opponents or those he simply does not agree with. The Public Protector tells “white lies” and comrades who oppose the ANC are insulted as “factory rejects” and “enemy agents”, similar insults hurled at Hani in 1969 for speaking out against corruption and nepotism in the then ANC. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe descends to similar abuse, detracting and undermining serious political debate.

 What sad commentaries these two and their acolytes let loose as they rush to divert attention from the real substance of debate and desperately try to cover up the rotten state of affairs in the ruling party and government as the time comes for our fifth national election in a democratic South Africa. What has led to this current situation in which long standing members of the movement have taken a dramatic step to call on the public not to cast a vote for the ANC?

 The massacre at Marikana and the obscene expenditure at Nkandla are two of the most publicised events that come on top of a long series of scandals involving President Jacob Zuma and numbers of senior party and government officials. Good comrades within the structures of the movement have not been able to challenge these developments, let alone speak truth to power.

 They believe that remaining within the movement and raising the issues they can alter the disastrous state of affairs, but to many of us the rot has gone too deep. The ANC, which we once thought of as being an exception to the rule, looks like going the route of other liberation movements that have lost their way.

Jeremy Cronin1 Jeremy Cronin. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu. Independent Newspapers.

 This is why the Sidikiwe-Vukani campaign came into being. It calls on all registered voters to turn out at the polls on May 7 to make their mark in protest at the levels of corruption and the disastrous economic policies pursued by both the governing ANC and the major opposition, the Democratic Alliance.

 Contrary to misleading media reports and to similarly misleading and often abusive comments from within the governing party, this campaign does not - and never has - advocated abstention from the electoral process. As democrats, we are encouraging the greatest possible involvement, calling on those millions of South Africans who usually abstain, to come out and vote.

 But we say: don't vote for either of the two major parties that have worked in ways that contradict the spirit of the Freedom Charter and the Bill of Rights. At the same time, we are under no illusions that our call will result in the ANC losing the election nationally or the DA probably remaining the main opposition. I personally respect Helen Zille, but as a socialist I reject the DA's economic policies.

 So we want to send a warning to the ANC that it can no longer take its traditional support base for granted. Many people are heartily fed up with the way the country is being run and with the policies pursued by both major parties, with the evident corruption at official levels and an electoral system that has alienated millions of voters.

 As a result, there seem two choices: either vote tactically for a minority party this time round or spoil your ballot by writing NO across it. Whatever you do: become involved in the democratic process - it is your right.

 Many of the matters we are complaining about have been raised within the ANC over the years, but there has been no improvement. In the light of recent scandals, things have become worse and I felt I could not longer remain silent.

 From my point of view, therefore, the campaign is an example of tough love: I wish to do all I can to pull back, from the brink of disaster, the movement to which I devoted all of my adult life. 

Mandela gave guidance when he said the people have the right to vote us out of power if we fail to deliver. Chris Hani said the same thing when he became secretary general of our once proud communist party.

 He once noted: “If that ANC government doesn't deliver, I won't hesitate to march against them.” He would then chuckle and add: “Look, it's going to be our government, the people's government, they won't teargas us or shoot us like this apartheid bunch.”

 How infinitely tragic that last remark.

 * Kasrils is a former government minister

 

Dear comrade Ronnie - what's happened to Frank?

 Jeremy Cronin says Kasrils's moral outrage has a 2009 date stamp on it, and is nothing more than a personal grudge against President Jacob Zuma.

 

I first met Frank in a safe-house in Golders Green, London. It was 1973. I'd been operating somewhat amateurishly in the SACP underground for four years. I was in London to receive further training for my return home. Much later I learnt that Frank, my mentor in clandestine ways, was Ronnie Kasrils. In subsequent years we became friends.

And it's as a friend that I now express deep disappointment at Kasrils' call for voters (he means ANC voters) to spoil ballots on May 7.

Aubrey Matshiqi has cautioned against personalising our condemnation of the vote spoiling campaign. But let's also not be disingenuous. This thing is thoroughly personal. The man himself and those associated with the spoiler campaign are trading on Kasrils' struggle track record. What's more, Kasrils' campaign is rooted in a barely disguised personal animosity against a single person, Jacob Zuma. Borrowing from the DA's current “adopt-a-Madiba, adopt-a-Mbeki” misremembrance of the recent past, Kasrils tells us that everything was basically on track until 2009.

Kasril's report card on the 2009-2014 ANC-led administration is reduced to the Nkandla debacle. (It's a deeply embarrassing debacle, indeed, and those responsible must bear the consequences). Nkandla, in turn, (contrary to even the public protector's report) is reduced to Jacob Zuma. This whole approach is profoundly insulting to the ANC, its millions of supporters, and the ANC-led government - implying that we're all beholden flunkies to a single individual.

More seriously, it undercuts any ability to understand and therefore deal with the systemic nature of our challenges. Corruption in our society is rooted in three principal pillars - the oligopolistic collusive features of South African capital; the deliberate nurturing of a rent-seeking comprador stratum inside the ANC and state in the name of black empowerment; and the neo-liberal inspired de-professionalising of government, leaving it vulnerable to manipulation as at Nkandla.

In Kasrils' storyline there's no mention of the multi-billion rand collusion in the construction sector well underway before 2009, but uncovered in the present term. There's no critique of senior politicians in the previous ANC administration who, in the name of BEE, called on blacks to “become filthy rich”. We have a policing problem? I agree. But let's not forget a certain Mbeki-era police commissioner found guilty of consorting with low-life criminals and lumpen-capitalists. None of that's an excuse for weaknesses in the present - but it all points to a much more systemic set of problems than Kasrils' personal grudges will allow.

His current speaking truth to power would also be more convincing if he'd spoken a tad more truth when he had power. In 1994 the SACP warned of gravy train dangers. Kasrils was quiet. From 1996 many across the Alliance raised concern about the swing into neo-liberalism. Kasrils was missing in action. When AIDS denialism was raging, Kasrils was silent. Those who spoke out, and there were many in the ANC Alliance, were vilified. There were attempts to provoke walk-outs and instigate expulsions.

These were difficult times for many loyal ANC cadres. Personally I found strength in what I'd learnt back in 1973 from a certain Frank. He warned that a liberation struggle was a complex, long-term undertaking. He said no organisation is without weaknesses. He cited the inspiring example of the young Chris Hani who penned a memorandum to the ANC leadership in 1969 raising concerns about corruption. Hani narrowly escaped a death sentence, but remained steadfast in his membership and commitment to the movement. Frank constantly emphasised revolutionary organisations are bigger than individuals. Never behave petulantly, he advised, out of a personal grudge.

* Cronin is deputy general secretary of the SACP



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