1949 Born in Durban
1966 Graduated from St Joseph's College, then served nine months in navy
1971 Honors at University of Cape Town, Philosophy and English
1972 Master’s in philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris.
1973 Lecturer at the University of Cape Town
1975 Editor of Ideologies of Politics
1976 Arrested and tried in the Supreme Court on charges under the Terrorism and Internal Security Acts
1976 Sentenced to seven years' imprisonment
1984 Lecturer at University of Cape Town
1987 Secretly left SA, moving between London and Lusaka where he worked for the ANC and SACP
1989 He was elected to the SACP Central Committee at the party's in the Havana conference
1986 Co-authored 30 years of the Freedom Charter
1990 While in exile, worked to rebuild the SACP
1990 Political officer of the SACP
1991 – 1993 Member of the negotiating team at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa multi-party negotiations
1993 – 1994 Co-convenor of the Reconstruction and Development Programme Drafting Committee
1995 ANC National Executive Committee
1999 ANC member of parliament
2006 Co-authored 50 Years of the Freedom Charter with Prof. Raymond Suttner
2019 Retired from government and public office
Jeremy Patrick Cronin was born on the 12th of September 1949 in Durban. His upbringing was relatively privileged. He attended mass and went to Catholic schools. His father was in the navy and he also served in the navy after high school, before enrolling at the University of Cape Town and graduating in 1971.
A keen observer, Jeremy formed a habit very early in his life, of structuring his observation, thoughts, and feelings poetically on paper. A skill that has stuck with him and carried him through many of his life’s highs and lows.
Many of the lows in his life may have been avoided had he harkened to the advice of his parents when they told him to steer clear of politics. To them, politics was a problem for the Afrikaners and the blacks in South Africa alone. He didn’t only go on to get himself involved in politics, he dove deep into the underground Communist Party in the early 1970s.
By 1976, he was captured, charged, and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released in 1983, and following political unrest in 1986, he went into hiding before eventually going into exile in 1987. During these times of arrests and imprisonment, Jeremy lost his wife. After being deprived of the opportunity to bid his last farewell to her, he turned to poetry to help make sense of such a tragic event.
His writings and poetry saw him through the darkest moments and to this day, he continues to use the power of words, spoken or written to make sense of the state of present-day South Africa. Reflecting on the struggles of the past and how they contrast or mirror the struggles of today. This he does with the unique perspective of someone who participated in the resistance against apartheid.
He along with others like Joe Slovo, Braam Fischer and Ray Alexander, formed part of a small group of young white activists who forsook their racial and class privileges to mount a targeted resistance against the unjust system of government that was designed to dehumanize and cripple black South Africans.
Have a healthy dose of scepticism and realism
Key Quality of a Servant Leader
2009 – 2012
Appointed deputy minister of transport
2012 – 2019
Served as South African Deputy Minister of Public Works
A rich and complex ANC history
“... I think what Madiba brought to the ANC, to the alliance, and to South Africa was a deep ANC tradition… An African tradition, what we sometimes call Ubuntu. I think the ANC’s founding objective was quite postmodern in its way. What the ANC understood in 1912, two years after the infamous 1910 Act of Union… The ANC realised that part of the reason for the exclusion was that the majority of South Africans had been fragmented tribally, ethnically and so forth and so the mission of the ANC, was to develop a common identity through organisational struggle basically. Without renouncing diversity that people spoke isiZulu or Xhosa or whatever and they should not renounce those proud traditions but at the same time collectively in struggle develop a new identity. And so when the ANC back then, spoke about the demon of racism, it wasn’t referring interestingly to white racism, it was referring to ethnic racism amongst African people. And I think that’s the seed of a wonderful tradition of diversity and inclusivity…”
Poetry as a tool to puncture apartheid
“... After coming out of prison in 1983, into the UDF period, I was wielding out as a veteran of the struggle, which I wasn’t. I never heard “Nkosi Sikileli” sung before going to prison. Before I went to prison, I performed poetry in the mass rallies and other things that were happening, in that new upsurge of social movement struggle. I discovered not all of my poems worked, in those situations, some of them were rather personal or lyrical. But it was a wonderful fulfillment for me, to be able to talk into and to receive some kind of reception for some of the poetry. It was a way of still working through a bereavement ... I think of myself as a representative of a red resistance tradition as well as a white one. I think that is what played a small part in convincing many people into the struggle, understandably, through a narrow black consciousness, that it was also important to build a non-racial South Africa, and that there were at least a minority of whites who I was just a small part of, people like Braam Fischer, Ray Alexander, and Joe Slovo and so on. So the poetry politically served that function, but then my next moment in writing poetry was in the post-1994 period, and the poems are quite different actually, and I hadn’t quite internalised that at the time, but looking back now, I began to realise that increasingly, that one needed to, to puncture and use the tool of poetry, amongst other things, to puncture the “to-easy” “rainbow nation” mythology that settled in 1994, ’95… They tended to be quite skeptical poems, still with a longer term of optimism and hope, for a different kind of South Africa, but warning against this sort of easy, too easy reconciliation. Quite a lot of the poems were looking at the denialism around the HIV/ AIDS pandemic that prevailed … I think poetry is often for me a recourse, where one has a sense of isolation…”
ANC as a unified single organisation
“... I think the ANC, by its own admission, is confronting a series of very challenging problems, and I think that all of us that have been in the ANC and its alliance movement, are deeply concerned about the ANC its future, and its current trajectory… I think it’s important to understand that there have always been debates, differences, and challenges inside of the broad liberation movement, and remarkably it’s held together, compared to other liberations that were forced into exile. The ANC had a long and very dispersed exile, and returned from that exile, perhaps more united than when it had gone out into exile. I think that had a lot to do with several factors. The leadership of O.R. Tambo, and the deep history of the ANC. When I first joined the underground movement, perhaps I believed that it was this wonderfully unified, single organisation with prevailing unity. As I went into exile in the late 80s, I encountered an organisation in which there were vibrant debates, but also differences, sharp differences, and challenges. So what we are living through now is of a different order and a different quality, but not something that has come out of the blue, or as the result of one individual or another individual, so in that context, yes, I have been critical and have been criticised…”
A tale of two ANCs: Zuma and Mbeki
“... Mbeki, I think, tried to model himself on modern third-way politicians. When he was ANC president, he tried to shape the ANC into an intellectual party. He was uncomfortable with the notion of it being a movement, it needed to become a modern party with a technical and managerial machinery basically. And his approach to governance was also a very managerialist approach to government. And he worked in secret, worked with small groups and all of those things are unnecessary obviously in the case of assuming responsibility for an administration and setting up bureaucratic structures. I think that led to his personal habits and manipulative behaviour around KIA. It also led to Mbeki’s unpopularity inside of ANC and clearly, the serious, serious errors around HIV AIDS was the final straw, but not the only straw. I think Zuma, who had been close to Mbeki, but had many of the trappings of the old ANC traditions, sought to rebuild an ANC that tolerated, that was a broad church. I think Zuma's weaknesses are that his broad church nature tended to be a little bit about divvying up one for you, one for you, one for you. It tended not to have boundaries. There’d been a problematic marriage of convenience at Polokwane between basically the left inside of the ANC which is disgruntled with Mbeki and right-wing corrupt elements, parasitic elements closely linked into the ANC Youth League. People who for their own reasons had felt that they hadn’t been in the inner circle of tenders and so forth during the Mbeki period and were looking forward to an alternative who would reward them for their support. So the Zuma presidency inside of the ANC and then subsequently in Government was launched as a result of the problematic marriage of convenience…”
A proud foot soldier
“... I’d like to be remembered as a foot soldier in an inspiring struggle. I’m often inspired by something Joe Slovo once said. He was once told in an interview, which I subsequently saw, that, ‘we really admire white people like you that could have had wonderful careers and so on yet you sacrificed everything and committed yourself to a struggle’. And he said, ‘stop right there, what could have been a great? Do you really think that becoming a judge or something like that in South Africa would have been a greater honour and more fulfilling for me than the privilege of participating in one of the most inspiring national liberation struggles of the Twentieth century?... That I was a foot soldier in that, I’m proud of that. But obviously, I’ve lived longer than Slovo, well deeper into the twentieth and then the twenty-first century and we know the inspiring liberation struggle which we must not forget and must hold onto its lessons. We can’t just live off what is a depleting resource. We’ve got to find answers and solutions and remedies and be self-critical about the post-1994 reality. Hopefully, I’ll be remembered for contributing to a self-critical examination of the challenges, the mistakes that we’ve collectively made, and the difficult situation that we find ourselves in, as a semi-peripheral economy in a hostile imperialist dominated world. I’m always inspired by the words of Gramsci who said that we must have, a pessimism of the intellect, but also an optimism of the will. If something can be written on my gravestone, let it be that I was a pessimist of the intellect and an optimist of the will then I’d be happy…”
Defied the odds to remain alive in underground cells
“... I came out of prison in 1983, having existed in a tiny underground cell basically, that I managed to survive for quite a few years. Very unusual at the time actually, because the lifetime expectancy in those underground cells was about six, seven months. So I came out in ’83 from prison, and of course as a white political prisoner, we went to Robben Island, and again we were a tiny isolated group, that varied from six to seven to eight, and that was basically white male political prisoners. I then got into what then quickly emerged as the United Democratic Front. Then there was the launch of COSATU, The Trade Union Movements… I think the majority of those social movements and community based organisations saw themselves, not all of them, but the majority of them saw themselves as ANC supporters…”
Our flawed heroes
“... I think without the ANC, South Africa would still be in a Syrian type of situation because South Africa has all the raw chemistry of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic nature. It also has huge inequalities and so on, we have all the raw elements for a persisting civil war and dysfunctionality. The ANC is a broad church organisation, with a deep history and a wonderful and honourable resistance legacy, and on top of that Madiba, who was actually critical for the complicated, but very important democratic transition that we undertook in the early 1990s. I respected all of that, but I also, I think, had a healthy, which I like to preserve, a healthy dose of scepticism and realism about this organisation. I try to say in the present as well, the over sanctification of great leaders of the past. A Slovo or a Hani, or an OR Tambo or a Moses Katane or whatever, it is important to remember them and to really celebrate their contributions and so on, but once one erects them into these huge impeccable giants, it’s actually very demobilising in the present, because you can only fall short of those standards. And it’s important to realise someone like Madiba had his serious shortcomings and huge strengths of course, and the same applies to others that we idolise. I’ve tried to use poetry, to inject that note of respect, but scepticism. Less now with poetry, but through political engagement, political discourse, articles, interventions of one kind or another… “
The BEE problem
“... There’s nothing wrong with Black Economic Empowerment in the country where there has been radical disempowerment of black people. But essentially, BEE has been providing some highly leveraged, highly indebted shareholdings to the politically connected individuals within the ANC, and I think a lot of our problems currently, and when we talk about state capture, a lot of it happened because of that mechanism. Many of the white millionaires and billionaires were highly indebted and the people that really got rich on BEE deals are big white law firms, auditors, chartered accountants… Because they were highly leveraged. And that is the 1996 class project in short, and I think it has a very ruinous impact on South Africa…”
Please note this is a word-for-word transcript from Daniel and Jeremy's conversation.
The language of poetry in prison
“... When I was in prison I was able to reflect on my early efforts at being a poet… I write lyrical poetry basically, and lyrical poetry is about your emotional personal feelings, sentiments ... I realised that they were emotions of a young white South African male, and there was something inauthentic about them. When I was in prison, I had a desperate need to write poetry, particularly after the death of my first wife, while I was sitting in Pretoria maximum security prison. That was a way to deal with that bereavement. I was not allowed to attend the funeral or even visit her when she was dying in the hospital. The normal social rituals that enable one to deal with bereavement of that kind, I was deprived of. So poetry became an important way of expressing feelings, dealing with feelings, but also disciplining them, putting them into a structure, in this case, a poetry structure. I felt that my poetry voice was liberated, ‘ironically’ because I was in prison. I felt that I could speak emotionally not as a privileged young, relatively privileged white … I was able to speak from a perspective of a minor victim of the broader oppression going on in South Africa. So I tried that in my early poetry, which got published inside, to connect my subjective feelings. So the poetry was able to make a link between the subjective and broader objective, but also a lot of the poetry looking back was, sort of expressing a yearning for a united South Africa, despite all its differences, despite the terrible violence that was being inflicted on South Africa by the apartheid regime. I wanted to, through poetry, reach for a vision, for a belief in the possibility of some kind of non-racial, non-sexist unity …”.
The myth of Lusaka in exile
“... Later in ’87, the rest of my cell got arrested, and I managed to evade the police. I skipped the country and went to London and then to Lusaka. It was very interesting to be in Lusaka because there had been this great myth of Lusaka. We were always puzzled because there were factions in the UDF as well, and all of the factions said, ‘no, no, no Lusaka said’, and then when I got into Lusaka I discovered why. There were several Lusakas. There were sharp differences in Lusaka around a strategic perspective and direction. So factions formed inside of South Africa, which may have existed in any case, but which were also not necessarily assisted by different views, different opinions, and different personalities in Lusaka. So, I think I brought with me a healthy dose of ongoing respect for the ANC particularly, which I thought had amazingly survived a really difficult exile …”
The strengths and manipulative pitfalls of Thabo Mbeki’s leadership
"... Thabo Mbeki in my view remains a brilliant chair. He can call comrades to order, and say that point has already been raised, let’s not go over it, over and over again. We know sometimes in my beloved organisations, like the ANC, sometimes the Chairing is dreadful, and the same point gets repeated over and over again, so you don’t make progress in a meeting. Thabo Mbeki, great chair, very sharp mind, and in many respects the ability to do that, so he chaired these sessions very well, in a facilitating way that enabled us to make progress. One time in the evening, he was briefing our Cuban hosts, some of the senior-political personalities in Cuba, and he was briefing them about the secret negotiations that were happening, and telling them that they were on the cusp of making serious breakthroughs, and there was a belief; so the Cuban comrades, some of them came to us because I was also one of those advocating quite strongly this insurrectional perspective. He said, ‘but isn’t your comrade Thabo Mbeki speaking to you?' you know, he’s saying significant progress is being made in the negotiations and so forth, and of course, he hadn’t spoken to us about it. In my letter responding to Mbeki, because he once more had attacked me recently, and reluctantly actually because I didn’t want to get into old debates, but what I was recalling is that, you know he has this great ability to chair, but this was also used often in my experience interacting with Mbeki, in an extremely manipulative way, and I had forewarning of this manipulative form of leadership at that 1989 SACP- congress. I think that in Lusaka, Mbeki might have felt it was inopportune. But in subsequent experiences with Mbeki, I did quite often find him to be quite often extremely manipulative. Obviously from his perspective, believing that he was manipulating things in the right direction, or doing it for the right reasons. But, I think he was not good with building trust, within an organisation. And I think that led to his downfall eventually, and rejection by a majority of the NEC of the ANC …”
Servant Leaders must have a healthy dose of scepticism and realism
“... I think without the ANC, South Africa would still be in a Syrian type of situation because South Africa has all the raw chemistry of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic nature. It also has huge inequalities and so on, we have all the raw elements for a persisting civil war and dysfunctionality. The ANC is a broad church organisation, with a deep history and a wonderful and honourable resistance legacy, and on top of that Madiba, who was actually critical for the complicated, but very important democratic transition that we undertook in the early 1990s. I respected all of that, but I also, I think, had a healthy, which I like to preserve, a healthy dose of scepticism and realism about this organisation. I try to say in the present as well, the over sanctification of great leaders of the past. A Slovo or a Hani, or an OR Tambo or a Moses Katani or whatever, it is important to remember them and to really celebrate their contributions and so on, but once one erects them into these huge impeccable giants, it’s actually very demobilising in the present, because you can only fall short of those standards. And it’s important to realise someone like Madiba had his serious shortcomings and huge strengths of course, and the same applies to others that we idolise. I’ve tried to use poetry, to inject that note of respect, but scepticism. Less now with poetry, but through political engagement, political discourse, articles, interventions of one kind or another… “
Daniel in conversation with
AVOID OVER SANCTIFYING GREAT LEADERS OF THE PAST, CELEBRATE THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS BUT ERECTING THEM INTO HUGE IMPECCABLE GIANTS IS DEMORALISING IN THE PRESENT BECAUSE YOU CAN ONLY FALL SHORT OF THOSE STANDARDS