/ 16 February 2012

Democratic Left Front comments

Delegates that attended the conference that led to the formation of the Democratic Left Front (DLF) a year ago have expressed divergent views about its progress and its future prospects. Below is a sample of responses on the progress made and the future prospects of this umbrella organisation.

Nick Tucker
SOPA head of publicity and information

From our perspective organisations that push social movement programmes are easily subverted by imperialist forces, to such an extent that grassroots people that have a desperate desire to rise above the lack of delivery and political morass in this nation and even on a global scale find themselves subverted into very problematic positions.

There is a great degree of NGO involvement and these NGOs are funded for the most part by USAID and similar European organisations such as Oxfam, making NGOs study groups and points of analysis providing raw data about social movements which feeds back to these globally funded oligarch structures.

The whole notion of green politics promotes the view that we can change the world by planting our own food, when the primary position of the black working class is subservience to capital economic interest. But the nuance from the NGO sector makes us feel like we can change capitalism into a more humane society, where as capitalism is a rapacious system that leads to workers becoming expendable commodities.

People may have legitimate positions they have taken against governments but their legitimacy is destroyed by the willful influence from the imperialist sector.

Libya is a case in point. 150 000 people dead because of a humanitarian intervention. You had movements being turned against their own people.

Within the DLF, there is talk of an “alternative system”, they don’t want to use the word “socialism”. They want to use words that present a liberal faade on positions taken by people on the ground. “

Trevor Ngwane
Socialist Group

We managed to bring together, at national level, movements and socialist organisations to a common platform. From what I can see, it can only grow stronger, moving forward. During COP17, the DLF sent more than 500 members from different communities to be a part of activities, join the marches and be part of quite detailed discussions on climate change and the link to capitalism.

In the process of preparation for COP 17, workshops and community outreach programmes which enhanced the knowledge base linked problems of climate to problems of the economic system.

Former Brazilian minister Pablo Sorkin engaged with members of the DLF and gave us a sense of the international take (especially on Bolivia, which is at the forefront in the fight for climate justice). We also had a march on Pretoria to put the responsibility on the South African government. The march happened despite the Tshwane Municipality not wanting to allow it.

There have been problems in trying to unite the left. The DLF is getting a hostile reception from the South African Communist Party who tend to view it as the enemy, which is a pity because we are all fighting for socialism. We have asked fundamental questions about the political path of the ANC, which means the SACP will probably continue to demonise the DLF. The DLF, though, is quite keen to get close to Cosatu and that might have some consequences as Cosatu unions have not been hostile.

With the One Million Climate Jobs campaign, unions such as Numsa, Sattawu, Samu and Nactu supported us and Cosatu endorsed the campaign.

In South Africa, with so many so-called social movements, there is a tendency for them to be inward looking. It is becoming a tradition that poses a challenge for organisations like the DLF.

We are trying to show people that the way forward is to unite these struggles and fight for an alternative political organisation because people still look to the ANC for salvation. We need an alternate economic system, so maybe the DLF needs to dramatically enhance its own politics in order to provide leadership, because people won’t leave the party that they trust unless they see the potential for leadership.

Vishwas Satgar
DLF spokesperson

“The DLF was born within the context of the crisis of the national liberation project and to build solidarity with social movements on the ground. The liberation crisis has deepened and the rise of Jacob Zuma has entrenched authoritarian politics, with moves to constrain the South African press and in the way the constitutional court has been configured. Traditional authorities have been entrenched and there is no fundamental shift away from the interests and security of capital. So the crisis has deepened resulting in an ongoing assertion for the necessity of the DLF.

With social movements, our approach has been to work with them, support and strengthen them. We have gathered and accumulated most of the leading social movements, and it has been an interesting journey with its own challenges, as we have been confronting our own weaknesses and the weaknesses social movements have. It’s been interesting working with them and learning from them. We have also developed the capacity for a strategic response and elaborated on strategic politics. Our focus and conversation inside the DLF has been about a platform of alternatives.

There have been various campaigns around climate change, which we took to COP17. We aim to take these further. We are also focusing on food issues, hoping to provide an alternative approach to the food economy. Also, in indirect ways, we are involved in housing issues by working with Abahlali baseMjondolo.

So the aim is to build a set of alternatives connected with local grievances and local struggles.

As far as strategic politics, our resolution was that we won’t stand for elections but we would endorse credible leaders, who are interested in deepening democracy, who will work for a living wage as agreed upon by their communities.

We have had various communities approach us for endorsement. So far we have indirect influence over 18 councillors. The Mpumalanga Party in Limpopo has about 15 councillors, the Social Civic Movement in Balfour has two councilors and the Operation Khanyisa Movement has once councilor. So that breakthrough overtook us. Now the interesting question is how do we build capacity of people in local government aligned to the DLF and continue to challenge local government in an interesting way?

We aim to use 2013 as the basis to adopt fleshed out political programmes, as we have been grappling with political form. We are not a vanguardist political movement but at the same time we are not a liberalist narrow form movement.

We are a broad anti-capitalist front but also a base for mass movements to find solidarity with each other.

Bobo Makhoba
Coordinator Soweto Elecricity Crisis Committee

We did well by meeting some of the achievements we set out to meet. On the ground level we are still weak but we are ideologically strong. Still, we were able to build solidarity with communities in Ficksburg, the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Welkom, Mpumalanga, Balfour, Northern Province, Brits and Gauteng.

So we were able to penetrate provinces and build solidarity in those communities. We were able to raise funds and get about 500 people to come to COP17.

Whether or not our efforts at solidarity are sustainable, that depends on the people on the ground, how serious they are to keep their struggles going and in working with the DLF.

We encouraged constituencies to get involved in the elections. Our reasoning was that you fight the enemy from within its kraal.

Ayanda Kota
Chairperson of he Unemployed people’s Movement

I maintain in saying that it’s a good initiative in that it provides an anti-capitalist platform and in that it aims to get rid of sectarianism and partisan [attitudes] that have entrenched themselves in left [wing] politics. All of us must acknowledge that it will be a tedious process and we must be patient. And this is coming from someone who has experience in building movements. When we had to build the Azanian Student Movement, for example, it wasn’t easy and took a lot of patience.

So with the DLF, we have to put our shoulder to the wheel and put aside skepticism and criticism. Criticisms that are constructive are welcome, but if we raise issues it must not be from the periphery but in the open. Yes, social movements have to drive the process and be on the leadership but it is very premature to judge just yet.

Luke Sinwell
DLF Gauteng facilitation committee

DLF has succeeded in bringing together a wide range of organisations who are thinking of the possibility of being part of an umbrella organisation that is anti-capitalist and can provide the left with an alternative to the existing political party.

The challenge has been connecting to and strengthening local struggles, extending them beyond their locale and linking what people on the ground are doing. While we have made serious attempts at connecting, the challenge is building programmes around the local struggles. So far we have been bringing local struggles into our own anti-capitalist agenda instead of using the struggles to build an anti-capitalist agenda.

A Thembelihle resident on COP17

There were some problems when we went to Durban for COP 17. When we raised issues we were attacked. We had accommodation problems and had to endure rotten food. Some of us didn’t have pocket money.

On day three, the day of action, we had to walk about nine kilometres to the ICC and we felt like nothing had been prepared in terms of a programme. There was no memorandum, in fact, the DLF failed to lead. I realised that since they are not from the communities, they cannot push our struggles. They let Cosatu lead everything. Cosatu banners were at the forefront and when we tried to get our banners to the front, they were pushed to the back again. At some point, we were even abused by city of Durban volunteers.

I have resolved to remain an activist in my community as we are facing, relocation, forced removals and other issues. But I will do so as a community member and not as a member of an organisation.