Jeremy Cronin's full reply to Mondli Makhanya

SACP deputy GS says there's nothing wrong with "speaking truth" to media power

Umsebenzi Online Editors Note

On the 27th March 2011 Mondli Makhanya wrote in the Sunday Times an article about the SACP taking a low jibe at the organisation and our analysis of the current political moment (see here). Our Marxist-Leninist reading of the situation has been reduced to nothing but seeing conspiracies.

Our Deputy General Secretary responded to this unfortunate diatribe. His article was hidden somewhere in an irrelevant section of the letters section and it was significantly reduced - so much for democratic engagement with the media. This is just proof of how intolerant and self serving our media is.

For the benefit of our readers we hereby reproduce the full article to enable you to see how Mr Makhanya was exposed.

Yours in Socialism

Umsebenzi On Line Editor

Red Alert: Response to Mondli Makhanya

Jeremy Cronin

Mondli Makhanya ("Today`s SACP, seeing a liberal conspiracy under every bed", Sunday Times, March 27, 2011) unwittingly illustrates one of the main issues that I (and others in the ANC alliance) have been trying to underline for many years.

The commercial media in South Africa wields enormous, undemocratic power in its ability to set the parameters of public debate. How the media shapes and misshapes the terms of a debate, how the story gets told, quickly congeals into incontestable fact. Anything that does not fit within the paradigm is simply inaudible.

Consider Makhanya`s piece last week. He seeks to portray an SACP in decline from an erstwhile robust critic of government, prepared to speak "truth to power", into a captured formation defending the Establishment. As evidence, Makhanya uses several interventions I have made over the past decade.

Exhibit A goes back to 2002. That was when the SACP, according to Makhanya, could still "be relied upon to exercise principle." In 2002 I am supposed to have apologized, under duress, to the ANC for having warned of the dangers of "Zanufication". The story about "Zanufication" and my apology is precisely one of those media-shaped stories that have now congealed into "fact". In actuality, I never apologized to the ANC for warning of the dangers of "Zanufication". Yes, I was the butt of an orchestrated daylong castigation in the ANC`s NEC in August 2002, but nobody asked me to apologise for the "Zanufication" remark. So what actually happened?

In 2001 and early 2002 I gave two interviews to an Irish colleague and academic, Helena Sheehan. I never intended for them to be published. Sheehan, however, posted transcripts on an obscure website. I was remiss in not checking what was actually posted - some of it rather loose gossip.

In the course of the interviews I said that in power any liberation movement needed to guard against the dangers of "Zanufication". I added any communist party needed, likewise, to guard against "Stalinisation". (That latter point didn`t suit the subsequent media agenda of pitting the SACP against the ANC and was simply ignored).

If I initially failed to read what was posted on the internet, others within President Mbeki`s inner circle were more diligent. They`ve since told me my interviews were downloaded in early 2002 and stored for later use. And so, lo and behold, in the very week before the SACP`s July 2002 elective national congress, the Sunday Times happily lent its front page headline to ANC sources mounting a personal attack on me for my "Zanufication" remarks. As a ploy to influence the SACP elections this predictably failed.

The attempt to deal with me then flowed over into the ANC`s NEC. There I apologized for the clumsiness of some of what was said about individual comrades. I regretted my clumsiness had opened the door for what was a sectarian attempt to portray the SACP as oppositionist. I stand by that apology.

Let`s now fast forward to the more recent period in which the SACP has supposedly become an unprincipled "part of the Establishment".

Makhanya`s Exhibit B consists of interventions by some of us at the time of the COSATU-convened civil society conference last year. According to Makhanya, "Cronin was ...blunt in his criticism of the re-emergence of civil society activism". On the contrary, both the SACP and my own interventions welcomed COSATU`s convening of this conference, but asked critical questions about its strategic intent.

We absolutely need social movement activism and popular power to check, balance AND support government with its transformation mandate. But we also need popular power to counter and transform other key nodes of power, not least big corporate (including media) capital. Makhanya`s classical liberal paradigm simply cannot hear, see, or digest this latter point.

Which brings me to Makhanya`s Exhibit C - a recent piece I wrote for Umsbenzi Online. At its 2007 Polokwane national conference, the ANC passed a resolution calling for a discussion on an independent media appeals tribunal. For what it`s worth, I am skeptical that such an entity would address the real systemic problems we are facing in the media. I have written several pieces to this effect. However, I have strongly supported the ANC`s right to call for a discussion on the matter.

The debate has, I believe, served a useful purpose. Generally editors have conceded the self-regulatory mechanisms had been woefully inadequate. There has been a small flurry of self-corrective behaviour. Another positive has been a recent survey of journalists by the National Press Club. It paints a picture of a demoralized profession under siege from profit maximizing corporate management. That was what my Umsebenzi Online piece was about.

I was trying to "speak truth to power" - or, rather, let the voices of journalists in the survey (a survey almost totally ignored in the commercial media by the way) speak truth to their media bosses. Makhanya distorts my intention and presents it, instead, as an attempt to "flog the dead horse" of a tribunal "back to life".

Yes, Makhanya, as a deputy minister I am part of the political Establishment. I hope it will not dull my critical and self-critical faculties. But let`s not be disingenuous, as editor-in-chief of Avusa Media Newspapers - one of three multi-billion rand media oligopolies in South Africa - you are a ranking member of another, powerful and all too often smug, Establishment. I sincerely hope that won`t dull what I have often admired - your self-critical sensibilities.

Jeremy Cronin is SACP Deputy General Secretary. This article first appeared in the Party's online journal Umsebenzi Online, April 6 2011

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter