Bongani Bunyonyo* assesses the School as a platform for debate and engagement.
The Khanya College Annual Winter School brings together activists from the Southern African region to share and exchange experiences about struggles in their countries and communities. This year the theme at the Winter School was ‘From Crisis to Resistance’. Since its inception twelve years ago, the School has provided space for activists in different sectors to connect up and reflect on experiences and developments in their particular sectors. This has led in some instances to the establishment of networks between social movements and trade unions in the region. For instance, the School played an important role in the establishment of the Southern Africa Farmworkers Network which brings together farm workers in the region.
In 2009 the format of the School was changed to provide greater access to social movements and activists more broadly. Part of the activities of the School includes a two day session dedicated to the development of organisational skills for activists through skills workshops. The skills workshops are informed by the needs and requests from social movements. The skills workshops are designed in a manner that is relevant and consistent with popular education methodology.
Skills for Resistance
There are some weaknesses and unevenness amongst the cadre that form the base of social movements. The workshops are generally informed by the needs of the social movements and what movement building means in this period. The following skills workshops were conducted during the School: banner-making, theatre of the oppressed, popular education, basic writing, digital stories, law and organising. The skills were necessary in building the capacity of the social movements that work with Khanya College.
Assessment of the Skills Workshops
The passion that was shown by participants was a reflection of their commitment and willingness to learn new skills and to share them with other members of their organisations. The skills workshops were successful. In some instances participants were able to produce banners that reflect issues around which their organisations struggle. It was also very interesting to see interactions between the different generational groups and genders, collectively coming up with things they could identify as their product. This was a practical expression of unity and solidarity amongst the participants and showed a certain level of tolerance.
Networks for Resistance
Through the Networks of Resistance the Winter School provides the space for social movements in the Southern African region to share and exchange experiences about their particular sectors. Some of the networks are formalised and have been convened during the School for sometime now, for instance the Southern African Farmworkers Network. While many networks only meet during the School and the engagements are not taken beyond, this should not be interpreted as belittling the role played by the Shool in cementing relations between social movements and other organisations that struggle for social justice.
The following networks were convened during the School: cultural activists, community heritage and museums, anti-xenophobia, community volunteers, conflict resolution, service delivery, faith based, economic justice and activist journalists, youth, marginalised women workers, building women’s activism and the farm workers network.
A few firsts!
For the first time in the history of the School, a faith based network consisting of people from different religious denominations was convened and facilitated by Father Mokesh Morar, a Khanya College Board member. It was very interesting to see people from different faith backgrounds coming together and seriously looking at the role of the church/faith based organisations in the current global economic crisis.
The youth network was also convened for the first time and was facilitated by a staff member, Pakiso Malebane. Other facilitators and co-facilitators were drawn from fraternal organisations and activists. The popular education methodology was the cornerstone of the School and guided discussions and engagements in the networks. Similar experiences and linkages were draw from the networks in line with the theme of the School.
Assessment of the Workshops and Networks
The networks and workshops attracted activists from different generational groups. For instance, the network on Law and Organising was the largest, consisting of activists of all ages. The youth network was the second largest. The networks were dominated by people who are struggling in their communities around specific issues. The youth were especially concerned with issues such as unemployment, the skills shortage, and so forth.
The discussions in most cases were dominated by the more experienced activists, both organisationally and politically. Even though there was this unevenness, the structure of the workshops and networks allowed for broader activist participation. The theme of the School and the popular education methodology used, provided a space for engagement between the more experienced and the less experienced activists.
During report backs for instance, women from the banner-making workshop were given an opportunity to discuss the banners they made. The banners focused on the issues that their organisations and communities are taking up, reflecting a direct link between their own experiences and the banners they produced.
There was general consensus that there is a need for an organisational strategy to rebuild organisations so that working class and poor communities can resist the effects of the crisis, hence the theme of the School From Crisis to Resistance. Building networks and solidarity actions with other organisations with similar aims are key in the development of the movement building strategy in this period.
The workshops and networks of skills for resistance outlined broadly some of the elements of the organising strategy. Participants began the process of engagement on what movement building means during this period. There was a recognition among activists that the period is a hostile and difficult one, but they committed themselves to building their organisations for resistance against the global economic crisis.