"...the Anti-Privatisation Forum is the mother body of the forums that are on the ground so that the forums can get, maybe, some advice and resources from them to push the struggle of the poor forward’.”
By the end of 2001, the APF had established itself as one of the leading post-apartheid social movements in South Africa. Besides the formation of an allied organisation in Cape Town (under the same name), the presence of other social movements like the Concerned Citizens Forum (CCF) in Durban, the Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) in Cape Town and the Landless People's Movement (LPM) at national level lent a more collective, less isolated ) quality to the struggles of the APF: the presence of these other movements with similar struggles provided a practical and political space for APF solidarity and association with them.
Along with these movements, the APF participated in the activities around the World Conference against Racism (WCAR in Durban) in late August 2001, where all the weaknesses as well as potential strengths of the new social movements were on display. Similarly, while the APF-hosted National Exploratory Workshop in December 2001, which brought together a wide range of anti-privatisation forces, was an exciting event its potential was largely undermined by an unwillingness to get beyond political / ideological differences and the scourge of entrenched regional, organisational parochialism (a constant affliction of many of the post-1994 social movements that has greatly hampered the possibilities of unified action and meaningful solidarity).
Throughout the year 2002, the APF continued to grow and so too did the various service-related struggles in communities increase. Scores of mass marches and direct actions were initiated and / or supported, numerous educational initiatives started and sustained and legal support provided (both inside and outside the APF) as state repression against community protest intensified.
In the lead-up to the WSSD in August 2002, the Social Movements Indaba (a collection of social/community movements, NGOs and activists organised to oppose and expose the pro-capitalist nature and politics of the WSSD) captured widespread public and media attention as the voice of the poor and marginalised.
The APF initiated and organised a candlelight march from Wits University to the Johannesburg Central Police Station. The purpose of the march, which was joined by many South African and international academics, was to highlight the SA government’s crackdown on freedom of expression in the lead-up to the WSSD and to demand the release of over 50 APF members were being held in the Johannesburg Central Police Station after an attempted march a few days earlier.
The march had only proceeded a few hundred metres when a phalanx of police blocked the road and refused to allow the march to continue. Soon after the police fired stun grenades and forcibly broke up the march, making several arrests and seriously injuring one marcher. However, as a result of the extensive national and international publicity of what happened at this march, the government soon backed down from its hardline approach.
"I think with the WSSD ... there was this struggle between those who were trying to make it a problem of poverty, the problem of the United Nations and what they called the International Community and those who would say, 'no the problem lies here in South Africa, the South African Government and its agency for neo-liberalism in South Africa.'
So part of the focus on WSSD must also be on the policies and on the problems in South Africa and therefore the question of exposing the ANC Government as part of our struggles became a contested issue. And I think that sort of led to a parting of ways amongst people who were preparing for the WSSD and that led to the formation of the Social Movements Indaba..."
On 31 August 2002 and as part of the mobilisations targeting the WSSD, between 20 000-25 000 people took part in a march from the poor township of Alexandra into the heart of Sandton, the home of the rich. The march was under the banner of the SMI with the APF being the key social movement organising and mobilising for the march and indeed, for a range of other protests and activities in the period leading up to, and during, the WSSD. The march was the largest non-ANC/Alliance gathering in the post-apartheid era. Besides widespread domestic and international media coverage, the march became a symbol of the organisational and political ‘arrival’ of new social movements onto the South African and international scene.
After the hugely successful WSSD mass march, the SMI issued a public statement, providing a succinct overview of the views and demands of the SMI in relation to the WSSD and importantly, commits the SMI (and thus the APF) to embrace mass struggle as its main strategic component. This public statement /commitment was not only crucial in shaping the overall political-ideological and organisational content and character of the APF for the remainder of its existence but in many ways it marked the APF’s strategic (as opposed to tactical) rejection of more institutionalised, inside-the-system politics. Not surprisingly, in the immediate years that followed the WSSD the APF and others SMI constituent members became the target of intensified ANC and government derision and attack.
The events during and after the WSSD represented a watershed (both positive and negative) in the development of the APF (and other social movements) on a number of fronts:
• The range of activities engaged, especially the ‘big march’ on 31st August to the WSSD, gave a sense of common purpose and spirit of resistance to APF community affiliates and brought in a range of new community organisations and individuals into the APF;
• The splits with other ANC-aligned ‘civil society’ formations catalysed a clearer political and ideological ‘identity’ but also marked the end of any serious potential for alliances with such forces;
• New links were made with a few progressive NGOs and international organisations as well as potential funders;
• The problem of the ‘big event’ psychosis amongst the movements was highlighted, and thus the need to orient even further towards organisation building and grassroots activities;
• The opening up of opportunities to forge greater solidarity with other movements through the newly formed Social Movements Indaba (SMI); and,
• The development of unrealistic expectations of the APF, by its own leaders / members, fuelled by a misplaced sense of triumphalism and illusions in what could be achieved in relation to changes in state / government policies.
One of the most immediate ‘results’ of the WSSD events for the APF, was an even more intensified crackdown on dissent and protest by the state’s repressive apparatus, combined with open hostility and public attacks by the ANC and its Alliance partners, COSATU and the SACP. In June 2003, and at the behest of the ANC, the APF was evicted from its offices in COSATU House, with the trade union federation leadership unapologetically attempting to circumvent the legal rules binding tenancy. It was this, combined with the consistent lack of any support / solidarity from the leadership of COSATU unions for community-led anti-privatisation struggles – with the occasional exception of the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) -, that directly impacted on the APF membership’s longer-term, negative view of COSATU (and by extension, the SACP)
Since helping form the SMI in 2002, and subsequently becoming the main driving force behind it in succeeding years, the APF pushed hard for an internationalist outlook and approach from South African social movements. The SMI participated actively in almost every World Social Forum (WSF) and then also the associated continental and regional off-shoots (African Social Forum and Southern Africa Social Forum).
When the WSF came to the African continent – Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 – the SMI (alongside Khanya College) organised a large delegation of social movement activists to travel by bus from Johannesburg to Nairobi. Once there the SMI delegation became one of the most public, active and militant anti-capitalist voices within the WSF. The SMI platform, which was presented to the WSF plenary, expresses the collective views and positions of the SMI on both the South African and global political economy and represents the best of the internationalist traditions of South Africa’s broad working class movements.
As part of its internationalist activities within the SMI, the APF also initiated and organised - in conjunction with the Zimbabwean civil society group ‘Crisis in Zimbabwe’ – an ‘observer mission’ to Zimbabwe (to the cities of Harare and Bulawayo) of five community activists from various movements belonging to the SMI. The group’s mission in Zimbabwe was to observe political and other conditions in the country in the lead-up to the 2005 national elections in light of the long-running violence and intimidation by the Mugabe regime against opposition forces. A report was produced summarising the mission’s observations.