Winter School 2003 : Building Regional Solidarity

KC JOURNAL NO 4 June 2003

Nina Benjamin* takes a look at the Winter School hosted by Khanya College in July this year, and argues that the Winter School was step towards building regional solidarity, and that is raised consciousness among participants about the need to combat xenophobia in the sub-region.

From 29 June to 5 July Khanya College hosted its fifth Annual Winter School. This year our theme for the Winter School was “Nepad and the Southern Africa Region – challenges for social movements”. Through critically analysing NEPAD we were hoping to develop an understanding of the ruling class’s Strategies in the region. As part of the process of building solidarity the Winter School attempted to reflect on the mobilisation and organisational strategies of the various movements active in the region with a particular focus on the different responses to NEPAD.

As Khanya College we also hoped that a focus on xenophobia in the 2003 Winter School would not only highlight a major barrier to solidarity in the region, but would also provide us with the space to share strategies in dealing with the problem of


From “development” to “mobilisation”

The Winter School is an annual event that was launched in 1999. From its inception the School aimed to bring together activists and development practitioners from all over South Africa. In 2002 participation in the school was extended to activists and practitioners from countries in the Southern African region.

The Winter School represents an important step in Khanya’s response to the changing political and economic environment post 1994. Since it’s inception the broad theme of the Winter School has changed from “Towards development and social change” to “Mobilise and organise for Social Change”. In many ways the school’s process of evolving is linked to the growing strength and combativity of the emerging social movements in South Africa.

At the launching Winter School in 1999 almost all of the participants (who Khanya described as development practitioners and not activists) were from church organisations, unions and localised development projects. The theme “Towards Development and Social change” was therefore an attempt to capture the mood of a relatively fragile layer of emerging militants. The focus of the first Winter School was to integrate a number of different topics under the broad theme of development.

With the emergence of relatively new social movements like the LPM, APF and AEC from 2000 onwards, we began to see the growing confidence of a new layer of militants. This growing confidence of the militants began to place new pressures on the Winter School and, by 2001, the following broad aims for the school were identified:

The development and strengthening of a progressive perspective on the political, economic and social issues in the world today. The space to exchange experiences about different struggles.

The space to assist in equipping activists with the theoretical and organisational skills that will enhance their contribution to the process of social change in South and Southern Africa.

The aims described above represent a shift from the initial broad “development” focus to a much clearer “social movement building” focus.

The 2002 Winter School focused on the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), and I would argue that it played an important role in exposing the neo-liberal politics of the WSSD and in assisting in the mobilisation towards the Social Movements United march on August 31. The KHANYA Journal describes the August 31 march as an important turning point in the development of social movements involved in resisting neoliberalism and corporate globalisation in South Africa.

The Winter School broadens out to Southern African

The 2002 Winter School was the first school that invited and recruited participants from countries in the Southern Africa region. The decision to extend the Winter School to the Southern African region was a recognition of the acceleration of the processes of globalisation and regional integration, and its impact on the working class and the poor. At a political level this integration can be seen in the formation of regional political blocs, and at an economic level it can be seen in the increasing integration and interdependence of economies.

An important element of this process is that South Africa is intensifying its dominant position in the region, and in many parts of Africa is beginning to be seen as a sub-imperialist power.

The above-mentioned processes have led to major social upheavals with many people crossing borders in search of a means of survival. In turn this has led to many human rights abuses and a significant increase in xenophobia, at times even amongst militants within the emerging social movements

As Khanya we recognize that developing and strengthening a progressive alternative to Globalisation needs to have international solidarity between the working class and the poor of different countries as a central focus. We also recognise that often as militants in South Africa, international solidarity can at best be seen as attending a host of anti-globalisation forums and, at worst, as receiving overseas funding.

We hope that the Winter School can contribute towards the building of a different understanding of solidarity, a solidarity that builds and strengthens the struggle against neo-liberal globalisation in the Southern African region.

As we have extended the Winter School to the Southern African region, we have also broadened the aims of the School to include the following:

Facilitating the links between different social movements, community based organisations, NGO’s, trade unions and other advocacy groups in the Southern African region.

Critically analysing ruling class strategies in the region

The Context of Winter School 2003

When looking at the context it is important to analyse the international balance of forces and how it is shaping the possibilities for struggle and the development of mass organization. Internationally there is a growth in the scale and depth of mass mobilisation. This is taking place after a relative lull in mass mobilisation with the onslaught of neo- liberalism in the 1980s and 1990s. The number of Anti war movements, and mobilisations against the international financial institutions are increasing.

What is important to note is how the composition of the people involved in these struggles is changing. If one looks back at what can be described as the spark of this growing anti- globalisation movement, i.e. Seattle demonstrations, then what one sees are largely students, members of NGO’s and a sprinkling of union members. What one is now seeing is a shift in this composition with the entry of organised workers. The numbers of organised workers who are now participating in the anti-war demonstrations are increasing. There have, for example, been instances where workers have refused to handle goods linked to the war.

The wave of anti-Globalisation demonstrations have also begun to build the confidence of militants who are now more willing to take up local issues. An example of this is the huge mobilisations in

Italy dealing with labour related issues. In addition, national developments like the victory of Lula in Brazil have played a role in the growing confidence of militants internationally.

A third important feature of this growing movement is the changing ideological character of the movement. At its inception, the focus of the movement was a struggle against the international financial institutions and demands for the World Bank to change its policies. What one is now seeing is a growing anti-capitalist position. In many ways the war and the growing hatred for Bush and USA greed is fuelling this anti-capitalist sentiment. When analysing this emerging anti-capitalist position, it can be argued that it is largely an instinctive and spontaneous response and has not yet developed clear theoretical or socialist roots.

A fourth important feature of this movement is the attempts being made to coordinate the movement internationally, and to open discussions on alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation and – for some – capitalism. This growing confidence and radicalisation of militants has injected a new energy into the forums like the World Social Form and the regional social forums in various continents.

When assessing the international balance of forces it can be argued that we are entering a period of a crisis of legitimacy for the neo-liberal project. This is a period where the majority of struggling forces are clear that the neo-liberal project is not a solution, and that resistance against it is widespread.

Although we argue that there is a crisis of legitimacy at an international level, this process is uneven between different countries and regions. We have not seen the same level of mass mobilisation in our Southern African region as we have for example seen in some of the South American countries or Europe. Even in Zimbabwe, where the state is clearly in a crisis, this cannot be described as a crisis of legitimacy for neoliberalism, but a crisis amongst the ruling elites. If we took South Africa as a case in point, then notwithstanding the growth of the emerging social movements, the South African bourgeoisie does not face a crisis of the legitimacy of the neoliberal model. In many ways the South African state is able to ignore the social movements and push through its neo-liberal agenda.

The fact that the neoliberal model is not yet in crisis in the Southern Africa region, however, should not lead to despair. Mobilisations like the march against the WSSD, the demonstrations against AGOA in Mauritius and the growing anti- war, anti-USA sentiment are all playing a role in shaping both the consciousness and confidence of the militants in our countries.

A new and growing layer of activists

One hundred and thirty one activists from 74 different organisations participated in the school. Twenty-nine were from the Southern African region. This included activists from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This is a 6% increase when compared with the 2002 Winter School where 18 of the 108 participants were from the region. The participation by activists from countries outside South Africa is an important beginning, and we have taken a number of initiatives in all our programmes to deepen the links with the region. In particular, Khanya has given work with movements and organisations in the region a prominent place by setting up a Southern Africa and Solidarity Center in Khanya College.

NGO’s and trade unions made up 46% of the organisations represented. The remaining 54% of the activists were from community based organisations and social movements. It is also important to note that the trade union sector represented at the school was largely from unions located in countries outside of South Africa.

The NGO and Trade union sector largely accounts for the 34% of full time employed participants who attended the school. Another 10% indicated that they worked as volunteers in predominantly the NGO sector. From the profiles of Winter School participants it would seem that the vast majority of activists from community based organisations and social movements are young, unemployed activists. Of the 131 participants 73% are younger than 35 years. When analysing the profiles of the participants, 70% of the participants have been active in their organisations for less than 3 years indicating that the Winter School is attracting a relatively new layer of activists.

What is important to note is that when compared with the 2002 Winter School, there has been a 15% decline in the number of women participating in the school. In 2002, 51% of the participants were women whereas in 2003 only 36% were women. It would be important to analyse whether this points to a change in the composition of the social movements more generally or whether young men are more likely to be chosen to represent organisations at a week long workshop, than young or older women.

Debates on NEPAD and xenophobia

As indicated, the key theme of the school was around NEPAD. The discussions on NEPAD took place at a number of levels. At one level there were discussions about NEPAD in the context of globalisation, and its place in the processes of regional integration currently underway in Southern Africa. At another level, activists engaged in discussions on the implications of NEPAD for specific social sectors. These included discussions on the impact of NEPAD on women, rural and land struggles, urban struggles, labour and the workplace, the environment, and its impact on the struggle for debt cancellation. In addition to discussions aimed at providing some framework of analysis for understanding NEPAD, the school also shared experiences about the nature and extent of mobilisation and engagement with NEPAD.

The greed of multinationals and African capitalists and elites became the discourse that framed the NEPAD discussions at the School. This was not always articulated as the problems of globalisation, and at times activists provided their own framework for explaining the problems that African countries face. For some, NEPAD was proof of the inability of African countries to be self-sufficient. While not framing their argument as part of the dependency theory of development, a number of comrades argued that the struggle facing African countries was for self-sufficiency. As the discussions unfolded, this self-sufficiency was described as self-sufficiency and independence from South Africa. What this reflected was a growing understanding of the role of South Africa as the key sub-imperialist power in the region.

Another issue that came out of the discussions related to corrupt and weak state leadership. While the debates at the school did not directly deal with the relationship between corrupt and weak leadership, and neoliberalism and capitalism today, many activists argued that NEPAD is an imperialist programme, to which African leaders are unable to “say no”.

Comrades from Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Kenya, DRC, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique all indicated that there is very little public awareness and mobilisation about NEPAD in their respective countries. Comrades indicated that in some of these countries, NGO’s have been trying to initiate discussions but this was described as being at a “low level”. From reports at the Winter School, it is only in Mauritius and South Africa where there has there been some level of public awareness. In Mauritius, a 3-day workshop attended by 22 organisations issued a declaration rejecting NEPAD. The Declaration also called on other African countries to do the same. In South Africa there has been no national campaign around NEPAD but the social movements and some NGO’s have attempted to create spaces for NEPAD to be debated. There has also been an element of mobilising against NEPAD at the WSSD and anti- war demonstrations.

Xenophobia in focus

Creating awareness about Xenophobia was probably one of the most successful aspects of the Winter School. The combination of testimonies from refugees living in South Africa and the discussions on NEPAD combined the broader political context with very personalised accounts of the barriers to solidarity. The cultural programmes on African Literature, African forms of culture, African music and the contributions from comrades at the Winter School cultural evening all proved to be powerful methods of highlighting our common histories and our ability to create solidarity in the region.

State of social movements in the region

At the Winter School comrades from the different countries provided an overview of the state of social movements in their respective countries. The character and strengths and weaknesses of the different movements differed from country to country but in general, where movements exist, they are largely issue specific located in social sectors e.g. youth, small farmers and the landless.

It is important to note some of the struggles discussed at the School. In Zambia there is a growing anger at attempts to rig the constitution. This is coinciding with mobilisation against a new wave of privatisation. The organisations involved in this mobilisation range from trade unions to churches. The different initiatives are bound together not by a common ideological or programmatic perspective, but by the agenda of the ruling class. This is a feature common to many of the other struggles in the region as can be noted in the struggles for democratisation in Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Activists identified the struggle for democratization and land access and the struggles against privatisation, unemployment and corruption as some of the key issues militants are organizing around in the region. The methods of struggle range from the use of state institutions to mobilisation by movements in the streets. When discussing the relationship between the movements and the state, trade union comrades from e.g. Botswana indicated that there was “a close working relationship” between the union movement and the government. As regards the coordination of struggles, the experiences ranged from NGO’s playing a key role in coordination, to the more sustained coordination between students and trade unions in Swaziland and the formation of the relatively new Social Movements Indaba in South Africa (SMI), which emerged as an attempt at coordinating the mobilisation against the WSSD. As regards coordination in the region, comrades agreed that it is most often through conferences and workshops that militants in the region meet: for example if the African Union organises a conference then an alternative conference is organised. Organisations are not brought together by struggles taking place in the region.

It is only Jubilee 2000 that has attempted to create more sustained coordination around the campaign for the cancellation of the debt. The overall assessment from the school was that while there are struggles taking place, the level of mobilisation and organisation in the region is low and does not pose a serious challenge to the ruling class agenda.

From an analysis of the state of the social movements in the region, it is clear that building regional solidarity will have to take the following issues into account:

The ruling class agenda in the region is not in a crisis. That movements in the region have as yet not created an alternative programmatic and ideological framework.

That co-ordination in the region has largely been through conference and workshop activities


The Winter School ended on a high note with comrades at the school joining South African activists in an anti-war march. It was in this spirit of committing ourselves to take up both international as well as localised struggles, that comrades at the School agreed to continue building solidarity and fighting against xenophobia.

* Nina Benjamin works at Khanya College and is an activists in the social movements in South Africa.

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