Khanya Winter School 2012: Sustaining Resistance

KC JOURNAL NO 31 November/December 2012

A brief report of Khanya Winter School 2012

Maria van DRiel* reports on the Winter School’s aims, new concept and methology, as well as the challenges and debates that took place at the 2012 Winter School.

Since its inception in 1999, the Winter School has been a space for activists from South Africa and Southern Africa to engage and debate, in order to revitalise perspectives on social change, organising and mobilisation. Khanya also tries to purposefully connect with new or emerging organisations involved in struggles. The specific needs of the social movements, and in particular the activist layer, have raised urgent tasks, namely:

  • The need for clear analyses of the current social formation and the sources of the crisis currently unfolding in South Africa;
  • The need to rebuild a new leadership and activist layer;
  • The need to develop and deepen the analytical skills of activists and leadership;
  • The need for clear perspectives on how to re-unite and rebuild the organs of the working class, the poor and their allies to defend themselves; and
  • The need to strengthen resistance.

Theme: Sustaining Resistance

Despite the rise and fall of social movements in past decades, working people continue to protest and believe in the need to struggle to improve and defend their living standards. It was therefore time to focus on how to strengthen resistance: to understand and analyse the sources of the problems such as social inequality, to develop analytical skills, and to build and strengthen organisation. For this reason, the theme of the school for 2012 was Sustaining Resistance. The Winter School took place from 29 July to 3 August.

New concept of school

Given the focus on developing activists’ analytical and leadership skills, the conception of the school was changed to enable activists to set the agenda for the school. The underlying approach is that we need to develop ‘holistic’ activists, who can respond to the demands of the social justice movement and the makings of a new society. Emphasis was also placed on developing a ‘social justice culture’ and what this means. The format of the school was radically changed. The skills workshops and the NGO Fair were not held. The Jozi Book Fair (JBF) was delinked from the school and will take place annually, in October. The school was also reduced from almost 10 days to five days. This year four days were spent on analyses and leadership skills, and half-a-day was allocated for the Networks of Solidarity and a closing ceremony.

Khanya consulted with communities and social movements about:

  1. The ‘new’ conception of the school;
  2. Requested organisations to observe a criteria for participants with at least 3 years experience of local struggles and to include women on a 50/50 basis;
  3. iii. The continued use of solidarity communitybased accommodation that was initiated in 2010 in response to Khanya’s funding crisis has become an important feature of the school and positively developing mactivists’ attitude to movement building (vs. the ‘hotel culture’ and the struggles over movement resources) (see the article ‘Review of community solidarity accommodation’ in this Edition).

While organisations had the option to negotiate the criteria for participants, in general they understood and msupported Khanya’s motivation and criteria for the new conception of the school. This extended to the promotion of collective responsibility and accountability for the school.

Participant analysis

This year 101 participants attended the school (54 female, 45 male and two other), from 68 organisations, and 19 sectors. The largest number of participants was from the service delivery sector including housing (24%), followed by home based care (HBC) workers (19%), and the farmworkers and waste pickers unions (18%). Other sectors included youth (9%), environment, (4%) and sex workers (1%). The 2012 school continued the trend of more women participants than men, but only two women’s organisations (3%) were represented this year. Although women are the majority within the social movements and the school, we do need to pay attention to this, given the college’s orientation. The participants came from different sectors and social movements, including service delivery (housing and water), HBC workers, immigrants, farmworkers and NGOs. The participants from social movements were mainly from the Free State, Gauteng and Cape Town.

The Cape Town delegation was the largest, reflecting the increased protest struggles in the Western Cape. The Free State delegates have participated consistently in Khanya’s capacity building programme over the past two years. Given the decline in the APF in 2010-12, there were not many activists from APF-affiliates. The HBC, a newly organised sector, formed a substantial part of the Winter School and were joined by clinic counsellors. This year saw a decline in the number of immigrant organisations attending, and this can be explained by the high turnover of immigrant organisations, the mobility of immigrants and the challenge to build consistent relations with immigrant organisations. Participants were also drawn from 11 countries in Southern Africa.

Programme and methodology

Inspired by Paolo Freire’s popular education methodology, which emphasises reflection and social change, the school was designed for participants to take responsibility and to set their own workshop agenda, and to facilitate the discussion with fellow participants. Given the emphasis on deepening activists’ analytical skills, the focus of each mworkshop was to identify and analyse the underlying sources of the problem (and not to focus on ‘solutions’). A ‘resource person’ was available in each workshop to assist the process, and keep the focus on ‘analysis’. The ten resource persons included activists from fraternal organisations. A daily debriefing on the day’s programme was held with the overall facilitator to monitor the process and determine whether any change(s) or interventions were needed.

Each workshop round was allocated half-a-day and participants had the option to continue with their particular workshop in the next round, or attend/host another workshop. A total of 16 participant-led workshops and three plenary sessions were held on topics that included: women, housing, the environment, land and unemployment (see Attachment 8). The largest workshop, on sexual violence against women and children, indicated that this was a burning issue at the school. This workshop consisted of 60 self-selected participants (including five men) and gave rise to a plenary discussion on the sources of violence in society, and the position of women in society.

Solidarity networks

Solidarity spaces were provided in the school to enable activists to build networks of resistance and solidarity. There were six networks that met (see Attachment 8).The more established networks (SAFWN and SASFROC) have historically used the school to discuss issues that affect them. The school continues to provide a space where networks for broader social justice can be strengthened. The Cape Town-based Housing Assembly will convene a national meeting to develop a common platform on housing for 2013. The environmental organisations established a Google group and exchange information on campaigns and activities. The FAJ will hold writing workshops in the Southern and Western Cape. Newspaper and DVD with organisations The FAJ sent a group of journalists to work on the school’s newspaper, ImbilaYesu (It is Ours). In the five-day school, three editions of ImbilaYesu were produced, which included interviews with activists from different countries, sectors and organisations, and also raised issues for debate and discussion.

A DVD on reflections with representatives from all the different organisations that participated in the school was produced and given to delegates at the closing ceremony. The DVD is a resource for movements about challenges they face. It also contains the names of organisations that attended the school and their contact details.

Debates and discussions

Book Launch: Social movements and building solidarity A volume of the Documents of the Social Movements (2011) was launched at the school, preceded by a debate on challenges facing the social movements and building solidarity. The panellists were from: the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Housing Assembly in Cape Town, Residents Unite (Free State) and Women For Change (Zambia). The discussion focused on the difficulties sustaining social movements and the internal struggles over resources, such as overcharging of taxi fares, buying expensive lunches and so forth.

The Documents of the Social Movement book is an important contribution to debates amongst Movements and also serves to preserve the historical memory of the working class by compiling documents from various struggles. All participants agreed to submit their documents to the Busara Research Institute, a programme of Khanya College.

Debate: Mangaung conference and the social movements Activists from the different provinces in the country gave presentations on what was happening in their provinces, at a local level in their communities in particular and on the coming conference of the ANC in Mangaung. Many activists noted the increased conflict and rivalry among members of the ANC in their communities. In some communities this led to ‘social delivery’ struggles. Many activists indicated that the ANC’s Mangaung conference will not provide a solution to the problems of service delivery that communities face.

Challenges for the school

Deepen popular education

By providing participants with the power to determine the Winter School’s programme, the usual patterns of power were subverted. This unleashed participants’ desire to experiment with forms of collaboration. It is clear that popular education is a key ingredient to achieving social change and has the potential to unlock people’s creative power and to challenge prevailing norms. Activists need to embrace the underlying principles such as democracy, accountability and generosity. The different methodologies of popular education need to be deepened within the movements.

Resources for movements

The methodology facilitated participants to openly question and deal with any dissatisfaction they felt; and to provide immediate feedback to the Khanya team. On the other hand, issues raised by participants enabled Khanya to address issues of movement building and the attitude of activists to resources. The debate arose when some participants refused to stay in community-based solidarity accommodation and some were unhappy with the menu provided. These issues were raised and debated fully in one of the plenary sessions. The debates on the role of the school and participants’ expectations allowed for the issue of resources for movements to be debated from several angles. The debates and discussion raised the political importance of specific approaches taken by the school on the issue of resources and provided participants with a deeper understanding of the politics of food, the methods of travel and the role played by communities in providing community accommodation.

The school agreed that the key challenge facing movements is how to build resources for our work in a way that promotes:

  • Solidarity
  • The political independence of the working class
  • Respect
  • Sharing
  • Cohesion of our movements
  • Sustainability
  • Gender equality in our movements
  • Personal responsibility
  • Personal contribution
  • Consistency with our vision

Assessment of 2012 Winter School

While organisations continue to be weak and uneven, with a high turnover of activists, the 2012 Winter School provided for advances in a number of aspects. The school placed more emphasis on deepening analysis and activists taking responsibility for their issues, their work and their actions. The debate on resources for movement building represented an important breakthrough for the school and assisted in the process of clarification for activists. Many activists and their organisations have continued to work on campaigns with Khanya College after the school.

The new format of the school enables organisations and participants to define the ‘burning issues in society’, and provide a sense of what is happening in the country nationally and regionally. This also provides the space to deepen analysis on a more consistent basis. The challenge is to continue this process within organisations and in between schools. This process can potentially deepen the democratic process within movements and the search for alternatives.

The school agreed to hold regular Activist Forums at Khanya, where activists can exchange information and develop responses to challenges they face, deepen their analytical skills and build solidarity. The forum set for 22 August was fortuitous in that activists and organisations were able to respond swiftly to the Marikana Massacre and set up the ‘We are All Marikana’ Campaign (WAAM). In retrospect, the forum was an important intervention for developing activists and for movement building.

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