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Towards the National Exploratory Workshop: Issues for exploration

26-28 October 2001



The purpose of these notes is to outline the aims and objectives of the National Exploratory Workshop (NEW), issues to be discussed in the workshop, as well as logistical questions. Comrades will remember that the Council of the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) agreed that we should hold the NEW this year. The activists forum mandated the Research and Education Subcommittee to follow up the matter. Therefore these notes are in line with that mandate.

The aims and objectives of the NEW

The implementation of the neo-liberal project by the government has led to further attacks on the working class. The working class has been attacked in all spheres of life. There is an increase in retrenchments and job losses, a high unemployment rate, while state expenditure on social services has declined in real terms.

The state does not want to take responsibility for the following issues: HIV/Aids, the schooling of working class children¸ providing shelter for the working class, etc. Instead of serving the working class, the state is looking after the interests of the bosses. Researchers have reported that the gap of inequality between the rich and the poor is widening.

In addition, the state has used its repressive arm to evict people who are hungry for land. In Soweto, for example, electricity is cut off for those who cannot afford to pay. In most cases, the grandparents of the working class children have been victims.

Some sections of the working class have responded to this catastrophe. Over the past years we have seen isolated and spontaneous responses by the working class. Due to the bureaucratisation of traditional organisations, these working class responses often do not take place within the “traditional” organisations. In general, we have not seen the national civic organisation, for instance, leading struggles against lack of delivery on water, electricity etc. While there might be a few traditional civic branches that are taking up some of these issues, this is not generalised. In addition trade unions have not taken up campaigns around evictions, lack of access to housing, water, etc. They have focused on workplace issues such as wages and working conditions.

Keeping the above in mind, for us these initiatives represent an attempt by the working class to collectively defend itself against the government’s neoliberal economic policy, GEAR. Linked to this, the working class is searching for alternative organisational forms that could address its organisational questions. This is happening outside the bureaucratised “traditional” organisations.

Let us look at these community initiatives closely. We have seen these initiatives in Durban and surrounding areas, Johannesburg, Northern Province etc. In Durban, the Concerned Citizen Group (CCG) arose out of government’s lack of delivery in water and housing.

In the Northern Province, the Movement for Delivery has been concerned about the lack of delivery on land reform, water and rural development in general. In Cape Town, the Local Government Transformation Forum was established to fight against the privatisation of basic services in Cape Town.

The formation of the APF in Johannesburg was sparked by the government’s Igoli 2002 privatisation plan, as well as the Wits 2001 plan which pushed for the privatisation and outsourcing of basic functions, at the University of the Witwatersrand. Since then the APF has grown to be part of working class’ initiatives in the townships of Johannesburg and surrounding areas.

There are other initiatives in the Northern Cape and other places, which are not captured in these notes. As part of the preparations for the NEW, we have to record those and ensure that they are contacted.

The gist of the matter is that the working class is attempting to respond to the current neo-liberal onslaught. One of the weaknesses of the political initiatives that we are witnessing is that activists in different communities and geographical areas do not share their experiences collectively. They do not have a broad common point of reference that has been agreed upon. They also do not share resources that could help to strengthen them collectively. It is upon these bases that the APF has felt that it is important to hold a National Exploratory Workshop.

Some of the issues that explain the rationale for a NEW emerged out of a seminar organised by the APF and Khanya College in May 2001. One of the agreements of that forum was that there is a need to bring these initiatives together in order to allow for the sharing of perspectives about struggles.

The purpose of the NEW is to:

a) Share experiences of struggles against neo-liberalism and privatisation. There have been a number of struggles around the electricity crisis, water, land hunger, etc. Lessons will be drawn out of these struggles. There could be an exchange of strategies and tactics in this regard. For example, comrades from Mpumalanga in KwaZulu Natal could share their lessons from the water struggle with other comrades.

b) Educate and develop a new layer of cadres. The political initiatives that we are witnessing have produced, on one hand, a new layer of cadres. On the other hand, there is also an older layer of cadres involved with these initiatives. This older, experienced layer should be relied upon to draw lessons from the past struggles against apartheid and transfer these lessons to the new layers.

Education and development of cadres will focus on strengthening and extending the political initiatives. We may decide to focus our education on immediate issues such as water, electricity, housing, land etc.

Furthermore it is important for militants to have a deep understanding of “theoretical” questions such as neo-liberalism, the role of the state in a period of neo-liberalism and the history of the working class movement in South Africa. The national exploratory workshop will have to discuss our approach to cadre development. The workshop will identify the education and training needs.

c) Share limited resources. Community organisations that are located outside urban areas are likely to have fewer resources in relation to those that are in the cities. The workshop will have to come up with a mechanism that will ensure the sharing of resources. For example, our comrades who are working within progressive NGOs may be tasked to provide education and training for community organisations that are in rural areas. Comrades who have access to photocopying may assist community organisations in this regard.

The National Exploratory Workshop may come with a list of comrades across the country that will focus on specific areas of research and education, such as water, electricity etc. There has been some work done in this area. For instance, the APF has used its activists and other sympathetic comrades to provide education and training for its affiliates. Comrade Virginia Setshedi has been to Durban where she ran workshops for the political initiatives in Durban and surrounding areas.

d) Communicate. The workshop will have to come up with concrete proposals concerning the sharing of experiences in a co-ordinated manner. For example, comrades in Cape Town need to know about what is happening in Durban and vice versa. This may assist in strengthening solidarity and support among and across initiatives. We must also decide about possible communication channels, such as fax, email, teleconferencing, etc.

e) Develop a resource centre(s) for activists. Workshops have been done on issues such as water, electricity, and housing. The resource materials for these workshops will have to be stored centrally. This will assist other comrades with future education and training. It will be useful to collect newspaper clippings, videocassettes, news bulletins, journals and books that have captured our struggles.

f) Co-ordinate struggles of community initiatives. All the above-mentioned objectives of the NEW are in line with ensuring that struggles that are emerging are co-ordinated and generalised as a response to neo-liberalism. In this regard, the workshop will look at ways and means of co-ordinating these struggles.

Logistical Questions of the National Exploratory Workshop

As the Education and Research Subcommittee of the APF, we propose that this workshop should take place in Johannesburg. This is because Johannesburg is relatively equidistant for comrades who will be coming from the Northern Province, Cape Town and Durban. We also propose that this workshop should take place on 26-28 October 2001. This will allow for reasonable time for “thorough” preparations for the workshop.

At present, we are unsure about the number of delegates per organisation, as this is dependent on both funds and resources. We would prefer representation at the workshop to be biased towards community organisations. This does not exclude activists and comrades from NGOs from attending and participating in the workshop.

We must speedily deal with the funding for this workshop. A funding proposal will be developed soon. It will be important for us to approach organisations to assist us with funding. Some NGOs may do photocopying of the materials for the workshop. Individuals may donate money. We must spread our requests as far as possible. Fundraising for the workshop should be discussed by all the community organisations that will participate in the workshop.

The immediate tasks for the workshop are to:

Forward to the NEW!

Adopted by the Activists’ Forum of the APF

23 July 2001

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