By samm farai monro
At the Southern African Social Forum (SASF) held in Harare Gardens between 13-15 October, 3000 radical souls came together to discuss their struggles.
Since 2003 the Zimbabwean Social Forum has brought together social movements, progressive NGOs and freedom fighters for people’s forums, action plans and networks to fight poverty and oppression. So it was a natural choice that the ZSF should host the SASF especially since the Zimbabwean democratic struggle against nationalism, capitalism and the love of power is key to the rest of the region.
The forum was a space for many words, many worlds. From the Confederation of South African Trade Unions to the Zimbabwe Cross Border Traders’ Association, from the Malawi Economic Justice Network to the Zabalaza Anarcho-Communist Federation, from the Anti-Privatisation Forum to the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union.
Top of the agenda: the struggle against the possibility of the South African government granting a US$5 million to the Zimbabwean government. “It is clear knowledge that our government, if allocated these funds would allocate them on non-essentials at the expense of social needs of the people” said Itai Zimunya, facilitating the debate. “The South African loan means that Zimbabweans would need to pay tax for the next 25 years to repay that loan. We view this loan as part of an imperialist agenda to enslave Zimbabwe.”
Sharing these sentiments Patrick Bond from the Centre for Civil Society (SA) called the loan part of South African “financial sub-imperialism”, an agenda of the South African ruling elite to dominate the region politically and economically.
The issue of debt was brought up in other debates such as the debate hosted by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development where regional delegates attacked their governments for repaying illegitimate debts to the IMF and the World Bank while their countries’ health and education systems lay in shambles.
And land was a burning issue at the forum. “Most people in South Africa, especially the farm workers, are suffering because they cannot access land which is being privatised and hence resort to backyard farming,” said Tim Xipu from the Southern Cape Land Committee (SA). Xipu said that since South Africa’s independence in 1994 only three percent of land was distributed to the landless yet they are the majority and some whites own up to 10 farms each. Ashley Fataar of the International Socialist Organisation spoke of how land reform had benefited the middle classes in Zimbabwe. Land went from fat white stomachs to fat black stomachs. Under the land reform programme fat black stomachs have been given the most productive farms, bank loans and inputs while the landless peasants have been given less fertile land, no inputs and no loans.
Comrades from the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe said they supported real land redistribution but the land reform programme had marginalised the thousands of farm workers. Land reform in Zimbabwe has been a cruel rehearsal of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the land liberators have become the land lords.
“I came to the Social Forum with a blank slate onto which I will write. As forums go I was wary — wary that it would be another talk-shop where the social movements moan and groan and then go home looking like they achieved something. I need to hear real positive solutions like “will be’s” instead of “should be’s”. The youth — the future, the leaders of tomorrow, the lost generation, the ungratefuls — seem to be what’s moving and shaking at this gathering.”
These were the words of an inspired South African comrade attending the Uhuru Youth Camp (UYC). Held under the theme “Youth against poverty, capitalism and dictatorship” the camp ran parallel to the SASF bringing together hundreds of radical youth every day.
The youth camp had talks on everything from “Community based alternatives to capitalism” to “The struggle against sexism”, from “The struggle for a new constitution” to “The Konchas Atrs Kollektive Share-In”.
The “Konchas Arts Kollektive Share-In” saw grassroots artists from across the region sharing ideas on how to build a revolutionary cultural movement in the region. Artists talked about how the powerful try to control youth culture. In the words of Warrior’s Truth: “It was highlighted that by way of co-opting and manipulating a revolutionary working-class youth culture, the shit-stem was demobilizing the people through sponsoring the ascendancy of Bling Bling, bubble-gum, pop culture ripped from its radical roots.”
Thus in the youth camp the Uhuru Arts Kollektive was born comprising many other underground cultural groups from Zimbabwe. The Kollektive will be an active arts movement participating in community struggles against poverty and capitalism.
The UYC also hosted a powerful workshop entitled “People Not Profit: Towards a Regional Solidarity Movement”. Trevor Ngwane of the Anti-Privatisation Forum talked about the peoples’ struggles in South Africa against water and electricity cut-offs due to privatisation and how this was linked to peoples’ struggles in Zimbabwe who are struggling for the same things.
All participants agreed on the need to set regional days of action in which the whole region will rally in solidarity with the struggles of poor people. The first week of December was also agreed as a regional week of action against poverty and neoliberalism. The power of this emerging movement is undeniable as a regional solidarity movement can do for Zimbabwe what the international anti-apartheid movement did for the South African struggle.
Probably the most inspiring meeting was the youth plenary “Free Zimbabwe: Our Vision”. Where students talked of their struggles against privatisation and for freedom of expression, ghetto youth talked of the struggle for employment, young workers spoke of their struggle for a living wage. The plenary was the culmination of all the various debates that had happened in the camp and the youth agreed its was time for them to run their own struggle and define their future for themselves. The participants broke into groups to discuss Vision, Mobilisation and Communication.
The youths came up with powerful strategies of communicating the vision and mobilizing all youths to be a part of this movement for justice and a free Zimbabwe. Chants of Simukai! Sukumani! Rise Up! erupted in the camp as the vision was announced and youths began toyi-toying. The vision was carried to the main SASF closing plenary.