“[the elections debate] was somewhat partly a response to a crisis particularly within the organisation when we saw that it was no longer growing, there were a kind of necessity for something else or something to reinvigorate it; and some people, those who didn’t come with pre-established ideological positions might have seen the elections as a possible way of reigniting the movement."
The first national elections to be held after the formation of the APF were in 2004. These provided an opportunity for the APF to consider and debate its own approach to electoral politics, representative and participatory democracy in general as well as the 2005 national elections in particular, especially in light of the fact that some communities and APF activists/ supporters had been calling for the APF to stand as a political party in the national elections.
After intense discussion for many months, the vast majority of the APF community affiliates and activists agreed that; the APF would not itself stand and that the APF’s call would be for people not to vote for the ANC or any other parties in Parliament but to use the elections as a means to broaden and deepen community struggles and an alternative political and organisational vision. The result was the drawing up of this platform which was spread-published far and wide and which also informed the APF’s approach to the next national elections in 2009.
"... that decision came around before the 2004 elections where the heterogeneity of the organisation demanded as was decided, that we could not decide to be a part of the elections or our organisational unity would come apart. So at that level I suppose with respect to how we engage with power that we always had to remain an independent body and not commit to certain positions that might have limited our future growth, heterogeneity in those cases would have influenced and strengthened our position.”
Following on from the 2004 national elections, the APF was soon confronted by the challenge of fashioning a strategic and tactical approach to the 2005 local government elections. This proved to be a more difficult task given that local government represents the most immediate institutional manifestation of democracy and popular representation at the community level and many of the struggles of the APF and its community affiliates were directed towards local government officials, councillors and institutions.
The Local Government Election Platform - formally adopted and released in early 2005 after months of workshops, discussion and research – represents arguably the most comprehensive ‘statement’ of any post-apartheid social movement on the questions of local democracy, people’s power, representative/bourgeois institutionalism as well as the problems and demands around all the most central political and socio-economic issues facing poor communities.
On the tactical front, the APF once again decided not to run APF candidates but agreed that community affiliates could make their own choices about running candidates for local government at the ward and proportional representation levels. In the 2005 (and subsequent 2010 local government elections) a small number of APF community affiliates chose to do just that; with a handful being successful in winning seats.