Priorities for ZA with Frans Cronje of the SAIRR

It was announced today that Frans Cronje, a good friend to, and supporter of, ZA Confidential, will take over as the CEO of the SA Institute of Race Relations, of which he is currently deputy CEO. ZA Confidential caught up with Frans to get some insight into his approach and into the background against which he will be operating.

Here is the interview:

Q: Is the title for the Institute appropriate? Your work goes into the whole sphere of politics and economic life, not just race issues?

A. I agree. In fact we do very little on the subject of race relations itself. Almost all our work now is economic and social policy focussed. There is a lot of brand equity in the 85 year history of the Institute and its role in the anti-apartheid struggle. So we intend to capture that while moving away from the idea that we do race relations. A re-branding exercise to that effect is already in operation.

Q. You rely on funding to exist. Does this mean you have to tread carefully for fear of losing support from one or more benefactors?

A. It’s a constant problem. Large donors want to dictate agendas and we will never allow that. Independence is our greatest asset and we will defend it at any cost. The price we pay is to exist on very tight budgets. The antidote, and it applies to think-tanks across South Africa, is to generate your own income. This both ensures that you produce high quality work and guarantees independence.

Q: It isn’t currently clear what will happen to current secrecy legislation, but the betting is that there will be restrictive new laws. Will this affect just the media, or might it also apply to institutions like yours?

A. The threats are very serious. Do not fall for the government’s trick of revising a clause here and there in the legislation as a platitude to its critics and then still passing fundamentally objectionable legislation. No South African will be left untouched by such legislation. However, there is an upside. Thirty or forty years ago such legislation would have been very effective is stifling debate and the flow of information. However in the social media age no government will ever succeed in totally shutting down the ability of its citizens to hold it to account. I think South Africa has a very active citizenry and to misquote Winnie Mandela, with their cell phones and their iPads they will do a lot to liberate the country.

Q. We will soon be in election season. Will this increase your workload, as more and more of those you deal with and advise seek insight?

A. That is always the case. Demand for election scenarios and the implications of certain outcomes will pick up over the next four months. We anticipate no dramatic shifts in 2014- but 2019 and 2024 will be entirely different, and on current trends we expect the ANC to suffer significant setbacks, if it does not reform.

Q. You often criticise government. Does this mean you side with the opposition?

A. Of late I think the government is coming to see us as a very useful ally and we have always had a good relationship with the administration of Jacob Zuma. You see, it is under enormous pressure to grow the economy and bring more people into jobs. That will require policy reform which will in turn require the help of think-tanks. The opposition, too, will need such support – and increasingly so as its policy positions begin to change. South Africa needs serious policy reform that will drive investment-led growth and job creation. We could not care less who drives such reform, and we will support reformists wherever we find them.

Q. What do you see as the Big 5 challenges facing ZA?

A. There is only one. Attracting the investment with which to grow the economy and create jobs. That should be the singular focus of all policy makers in the country.

Tweet of the day:

Political Humor (@PoliticalLaughs ( ): Q: What do you call a basement full of Liberals? A: A whine cellar.

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