NEWS & ANALYSIS

A reply to Jeremy Cronin

RW Johnson asks what the SACP intellectual proposes to reverse the ANC's terrible story of failure

Jeremy Cronin seems to have a rather slender purchase on my identity, frequently mis-spelling my name. He also talks of my having written the first iteration of How Long Will South Africa Survive ? in the 1980s. It was published in 1977. He suggests that in it I forecast that the apartheid regime would last well into the twenty first century.

Actually I said it would last until " the early-middle 1990s". But I take no credit for that since it was only a guess and based on the quite wrong assumption that MK would lead an increasingly effective guerrilla war. The main thing was that I was writing amidst the Soweto riots and various SACP friends were predicting imminent revolution. I knew that was wrong.

I note that Cronin believes in some sort of secret pact reached at the same time as Codesa - "an implicit elite economic pact". There is no evidence for this at all and a moment's reflection would show that to be effective a pact has to be written and published, like the Constitution. This has, however, become a central piece of Left demonology - "the revolution betrayed" - in order to explain why the ANC didn't carry out any of its revolutionary promises. In fact there has never been anything stopping it: at any moment it wanted it could have nationalised industries, expropriated the land etc. It chose not to.

I am happy to see that Cronin and I agree about BEE. But I would get rid of all racially discriminatory legislation - not just BEE but the Mining Charter and affirmative action. These are all self-inflicted injuries, hurting the country and betraying the ANC's promise of non-racism.

 Cronin accuses me of wanting "a race to the bottom" and of anticipating an IMF bailout with "glee". This is quite wrong. I returned to South Africa in the 1990s, giving up my Oxford fellowship to do so. I love the country and would like most of all to have seen it succeed. Its failure under ANC governance pains me. And that is the real race to the bottom: South Africa's headlong fall down every economic index, from the 18th biggest GDP to the 35th. Similarly, we are at the bottom when it comes to education, at the top when it comes to crime. There are few other countries that match our downward trajectory.

What I wonder is what would Cronin like to do to reverse this terrible story of failure? I hold no brief for the IMF. That is one option. Would Cronin prefer even more draconian reforms without the benefit of cheap IMF loans? Or would he just print the money? These are the really serious questions and we only end up with them because of the comprehensive failures of the ANC government. I don't see how any one could feel glee at the prospect of what is to come, no matter which option is chosen.

Finally, Cronin's account of the IMF somehow beating responsibility for Mugabe's land seizures is entirely ridiculous - Mugabe threw the IMF out years before he embarked on the land seizures. He embarked on those because he lost the 2000 constitutional referendum and saw his power tottering. Today Zimbabwe begs the IMF to return and is turned down. The spectre right next door of the utter devastation brought upon a beautiful country by an ideological and corrupt African nationalism is one that all of us need to weigh carefully.

RW Johnson