Trevor Ngwane Source: Center for Civil Society (external link)

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The World Social Forum (WSF) is coming to Africa in 2007. This is great news. But how exactly will the coming of the WSF to Africa in 2007 advance the struggle against neo-liberalism and capitalist domination? This is an important question for people who want to stop the centuries-long pain and suffering of the masses in Africa and other parts of the world.

Having attended all the world social forums, I think that they continue to be an important rallying point for all struggles against neo-liberalism in the world. But there are certain tendencies developing in the WSF which have me very worried. My wish is that when the WSF comes to Africa we should be able to build on its strengths and eradicate its weaknesses.

President Lula chose to address the WSF 2005 during the launch of the Global Campaign Against Poverty (G-CAP) rather than as many expected in the bigger rally after the opening march. To me, the G-CAP is a campaign conceptualised and designed in the boardrooms of NGOs and funding organisations rather than in the streets and trenches of practical grassroots struggles by social movements, trade unions and other mass organisations of the working class. While the WSF vision is "another world is possible" the G-CAP campaign seeks to build this new world using the scaffolding of the old, namely, the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals, G8 commitments, IMF/World Bank prevarications and southern governments’ capitalist policies.

There was a beautiful moment when Coumba Toure of Senegal, during the G-CAP launch, sang a freedom song and then told a story about how we should destroy the cage imprisoning all the birds rather than pay 50 cents to buy a single bird’s freedom as people seeking luck do in the streets of Dakar. This must be our vision for the WSF in Africa: to destroy the capitalist cage which imprisons Africans and all of humanity’s social, economic, political and cultural development. Any lesser vision will be a capitulation to the bird-seller who sells us the birds’ freedom but is the one who imprisoned - and continues to imprison - the birds in the first place. The African Social Forum’s founding principles recognise the primacy of social movements over NGOs in the struggle against neo-liberalism. NGOs, research institutes, individuals and academics are important but they must play a supportive role. It is the masses themselves who possess the power to liberate themselves - hence the importance of social movements and other mass organisations such as trade unions, grassroots women and youth groups, informal traders’ associations, homeless people’s federations, etc. But it seems that the African delegations to the WSF still largely consist of NGO types. This was clearly the case in the meetings of the African Social Forum (ASF) council held in Porto Alegre during the WSF 2005.

The WSF governing structures - its international council and secretariat - are unwittingly allowing the marginalisation and eclipse of social movements by their hands-off, laissez-faire approach to the organisation of events and activities in the WSF space. Thus the G-CAP campaign was able to steal the show during the WSF 2005 because Oxfam, Action Aid, the United Nations and other agencies had the resources to secure Lula’s time and overwhelm the proceedings with their giant-sized zeppelins and hundreds of thousands of brochures and pamphlets.

If we compare Latin America’s social movements with those in Africa we must admit that ours are fledgling infants. In many countries we still do not have national social forums despite the resolutions taken by the ASF in Addis Ababa. Where they exist they are still mostly dominated by NGOs rather than by grassroots organisations and social movements. If the funding agencies could so easily dominate the WSF 2005 in its birthplace in Brazil, can you imagine what will happen in Africa? The more cynical among the pro-status quo agencies are probably banking on the Africans tearing each other to pieces fighting over which country must host the WSF in 2007. The vultures are already circling waiting for the right moment to pounce on the dead corpse of the African movement and then to triumphantly hoist their neo-liberal flag.

Comrades, I humbly submit that as the ASF we should be aware of these dangers and take vigorous steps to circumvent them. In all that we do let us put the interests of the African masses first. This means the interests of the working class and its constituent elements, namely, employed and unemployed workers, the landless peasants, women, youth, informal traders, cross border traders, the aged, people living with HIV/AIDS and all the social groups smashed by capitalism. None of these sectors can truly advance their cause so long as capitalism is the dominant economic system in the world.

We should use the build-up to the WSF 2007 to build and strengthen the social movements in Africa. We need a programme of action for this momentous task. We should broaden and strengthen the ASF as the tool to co-ordinate this work. Maximum internal democracy, accountability, collective leadership and mass participation are crucial in building the ASF. NGOs and research institutes are important and welcome in the ASF but only those who agree to the primacy of mass organisations in the struggle; only those who privilege methods of struggle which actively involve the rank and file rather than rely on few specialists to fight it out. The WSF 2007 in Africa should be structured logistically, organisationally and politically to favour the social movements and their daily struggles.

The WSF 2007 in Africa cannot afford to be a talk-shop. We should consider a specific concrete campaign and outcome which will benefit the African masses practically. Some have suggested linking the WSF 2007 with the call for the actual cancellation of the debt and the struggle for reparations. I personally support this approach as it unites us with Africans in the diaspora who are also fighting for reparations. But whatever specific campaign we decide upon, be it HIV/AIDS linked to gender equality or trade, we must not forget the analogy of the birds in the cage. The WSF in Africa must help us gather the social forces and build the power to destroy the cage rather than buy us the freedom of one bird.

In our preparations for the WSF in Africa we will need to draw the class line between exploiter and exploited, capitalist and victim/opponent of capitalism.Let us unite and build towards a WSF 2007 that will take forward the struggle to destroy capitalism rather than merely reform it. Amandla awethu! (The power is in our hands!)