“i still believe that we should be tolerant and welcoming of those who think differently.”


Maria van Driel (MvD) interviews Desmond Da Sa* about the state of the social movements in Durban and nationally.

Desmond Da Sa (Da Sa):

The year 2006 was a mess for the social movements. At the Social Movement’s Indaba (SMI) meeting in Durban, people were very intolerant towards each other, and this marked the end of the social movements. They have had other meetings but it hasn’t been the same. Many people pulled out. I never went to another SMI meeting. I informed people to go ahead without me. I went back to strengthen Durban south and to build unity amongst the community. We needed to make people understand, to build trust, if we are going to break barriers and this takes time.

For the first time in 2010 we welcomed 4 000 people from all different movements in Durban and the province-Maritzburg, Newcastle and Richards Bay. We had a number of activities in 2010 around the World Cup collaboration. Suddenly we were starting to work together and to build trust again.

MvD: How did this happen?

Da Sa:

Well, people came together under new or different social issues like the Right2know campaign, climate action and climate justice, and the anti-eviction campaign. What helped us in Durban is that we kept believing and we kept talking. We went to support one another when people were attacked by the ANC or the cops. We reported every action and we got the funders to go and assist them. We got the churches to support them and people realised that we are not the enemy and that we have a common good.

Our interest was not to manage people but to work together and support each other. So that worked to a large extent in 2010 and 2011. Then we started the climate change preparation and we were able to bring together hostile groups. aBohlale came from a different political center, others came from political and community groups in Durban. Some were critical of the ANC and others were ANC members. Many of us came from the ANC. We just broke away from the political parties and developed non- racial unities.

MvD: What is the common good?

Da Sa:

The common good is the working class struggle that has brought people together. We build non-racial organisation and people are welcome to participate but not to come with party politics. Keep your party politics at home. Here we are talking about community and community issues. This has worked up until now, and campaigns are going well in KwaZulu Natal. We have difficulties and sometimes people are scared in townships. They don’t want to be seen with other political parties. The ANC is the dominant party especially in the townships.

They attack us that we are supported by NGOs to sabottage the country. But we are against secrecy. We stand for what is right, no evictions from housing, no water and electricity cut-offs. These things hurt the ruling party because we expose them and we come with hundreds of community people. They are Black, Indian and Coloured. What has really helped us is our consistency to struggle. These policies need to change, we need change completely.

When we speak about equality then we have to change the whole system in this country. So, we go out into townships and we work. People see that and they see the benefits they want. I see movements of everybody coming together, churches, other religions, etc. We have not forgotten where we come from. We have just changed the colour of people in power, but they do the very same thing.

The state of the country, the things that people are going through is bad. For instance, there are police raping sex-workers in Durban, what a shame! But I think that we are bringing people much more closer together. I have never in ten years seen so much engagement among people on several issues. There is a hunger out there, people want to come together, they want help and they can’t find it. We need another UDF [United Democratic Front] in this country more than ever now. Theres a lot of goodwill amongst people even the ones that fought in the past. I see them all wanting to participate, to come together.

MvD: How do you see social change taking place? Would you participate in local governments or put up independent candidates in the parliament?

Da Sa:

I’m talking about a different model, one that is basedon organisations that are struggling everyday so that we have one voice, and can have continuous action in the country. We have to ensure that the government listens and delivers.

MvD: What about elections, should people vote for the ANC or the DA or not vote?

Da Sa:

For now we must be clear, there isn’t time for us to be involved in voting and standing for elections. We see how this divides people. We need to fight to ensure that the issues that affect us are addressed. The ANC will have to re-think and re-valuate as we move along. I believe that we cannot be ‘political’ for now. We are weak and there’s no guarantee that the new groupings will not form political parties and then go on the same route. We need to unite on a regular basis and maybe we can stop what’s going on. I don’t think that we will win if we go down the route of a political party, immediately we will leave ourselves open and we’ll be fighting amongst ourselves. We don’t need one leader we need everybody to be leaders, and that’s the danger, the risk we have to take.

I believe we have the concept, but we must all agree on the model as Africans. We need to strengthen our forces in every part of the country. We must work to empower the masses, and make sure that the masses are ready so that we can put pressure and be successful. We don’t want to win [an election], we want social change. We won’t have social change if we are outside of the process. We have to be careful about being captured. We are working in different suburbs and cities, extending the movement. If we can work collectively together like we did last year – even though there were differences – we spoke one voice.

MvD: Are you refering to COP 17?

Da Sa:

Yes, even though we did n’t have the politics right we worked together. We did give the process a chance to build on and to take this to another level of work in this country. We should be telling our funders that we are going work in South Africa and support our streets. I think we can be successful.

You know with COP 17 the politics were not discussed. We got the politics wrong from the beginning. We brought in big groups and they had no intention of creating any unity or joint politics. We couldn’t discussed politics at that forum.

But like in Durban, this was the same in Gauteng as well, the avoidance of dealing with the politics. We wanted COSATU in and so our approach was ‘let’s not deal with these [political] things’. There were a number of groups, some pulled out of the process and that was the dilemma.

MvD: Are you part of the Democratic Left Front

Da Sa:

I went to one meeting which I was invited to but I haven’t gone to any other meetings. It is not that I don’t believe in those principles, but I don’t think we are ready to be in a political party. I think that it’s important that people are here to fight and there’s a dent that we are making, you know small dents they become massive dents. Thats why our concentration is on the youth, especially in the townships. We have debates, we have public forums for them, activities, environmental activities, workshops and it’s amazing. We went on the Right2Know campaign and taught children about 1976. Now, 30 years later in 2012 we show the youth that 1976 is still relevant today. I still believe that we should be tolerant and welcoming of those who think differently. We have the same goal. I don’t take sides, I am not here to destroy. I am here to build. These are the three things that I practice and it has worked for us.

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