“I can say for the past few years the APF was strong, the APF was able to challenge the government even when we were at our area when you’re wearing APF t-shirt, they will support you. And then APF was supportive to the communities and APF was having a lot of affiliates.
Now after APF have got like ten years, things have become very difficult, APF they don’t have the members that they normally have like the previous years and in terms of the resources also APF is lacking in terms of the resources because of the misuse of funds by the comrades, even the thefts that we are experiencing as the organisation.”
In 2008 and in response to the widespread xenophobic attacks in Gauteng (and other parts of the country), the APF - through the SMI - became the leading organisation in the Coalition against Xenophobia (CAX). Even though CAX was able to successfully organise a large march in Johannesburg and undertake a series of educational and other mobilisation events in conjunction with an impressive range of NGOs and immigrant organisations, the xenophobic attacks - and subsequent responses - exposed contradictions between the APF's macro anti-xenophobic politics and the actual attitudes and practice of some of its community members and constituent affiliate organisations. In turn this raised important but ultimately limited discussions within the APF (and left social movements more broadly) about the links between the inherently nationalist framing of much of the APF's tactical ‘engagements' with, and demands of, the state around basic services and the incubation of xenophobic attitudes and practices.
"The rise of Zuma had an impact on the APF in a different way because some of the cadres within the APF started to support Zuma....it bred illusions within different structures of the APF."
Additionally, the APF also had to confront the cumulative impact of the factionalist politics within the ruling ANC which saw the demise of former ANC and South African President Mbeki and the subsequent rise to power of Jacob Zuma (with the backing of COSATU and the SACP) after the ANC's Polokwane Congress in late 2007. While the APF consciously engaged throughout 2008-2009 within its ranks in an ongoing debate centred on the ideological content and political character of the Zuma-led power-block, there was little doubt that at the community level the left-populist rhetoric of Zuma - combined with the previously intense opposition to the Mbeki regime - created both short-term confusion and a variegated ‘turn' away from independent movement-community politics and struggle towards institutionalised party politics and a creeping (Zuma-inspired) social conservatism.
"I remember when our comrades were arrested, we requested money from the APF and the money was given to us, I think it was close to R1800, I don't remember that money came back to the APF."
Coupled to this was the ever-intensifying, systemic socio-economic crisis that has been at the heart of South Africa's highly unequal development programme since 1994 whose dominant character is not focused on the most basic foundation of
human needs and services, thus failing to benefit the vast majority of its citizens . This maldevelopment, combined with parallel failures of the ANC-run state under the new Zuma regime to deliver on its renewed promises of basic service provision and work opportunities to the poor, forced much of the APF's constituency / membership into a narrower survivalist mode than ever before.
It is crucial to note that the social base of movements such as the APF was always dominated by the ‘other' working class - i.e., casualised workers, those in the ‘informal sector', the unemployed and more particularly, unemployed women. In classical ‘left' parlance, for movements such as the APF, an extended and flexible ‘community' of work and life came to replace the formal ‘workplace' as the epicentre of organising collective resistance to capitalist (neoliberal) political, productive and social relations. However, since the vast majority of those in the kind of ‘communities' that constituted the APF represented different strata within the working class, strata whose labour / work cannot be formally ‘measured' and thus organised on a more explicit ‘capital-labour' relational nexus, they were often seen or treated (by the left in general) as secondary to the material and political / organisational positionality of formal, organised workers. This not only made the possibilities of enjoining practical and political working class solidarities and struggles extremely difficult for the APF at a time of intensified material deprivation and political-ideological confusion, but also engendered a politics that easily gravitated towards a mode of individualism and entrepreneurial engagement.
"I felt like I had to be the wicked witch of the west, you know I always had to say, 'Guys, this is what is going on, we overspent here'.."
While these crises and failures spawned a general upsurge in community struggles around ‘service delivery' failures and frustrations (most notably involving housing issues in informal / shack settlements) throughout the 2007-2010 period, the APF was mostly unable to link up with and help organiser support such struggles, although there were notable exceptions.
"... the first ideological and strategic challenge was a question of resources in a context of a generalised environment of poverty and unemployment. Some comrades...although they came to the struggle because of the problems in their communities, I think they began to see money as something they must also benefit from individually..."
Largely taken up with trying to support and sustain existing struggles and community affiliates, the APF faced a situation where (small but increasing?) numbers of its members came to see and treat its limited financial resources (largely the result of dwindling financial support derived from funders) and its organisational spaces / processes as a means for their personal survival or aggrandisement.
This was further catalysed by the loss of experienced activists - due predominately to personal circumstances, job offers and life choices - combined with the renewed impact of continued attempts by coercive forces of the state to crush and / or co-opt community dissent.
“Most of the APF comrades, most of the people who are working now in other institutions had stints in the APF. As a result everyone now seems to be using these struggles as a transition, you do the struggles and then you move to positions …”
The APF suffered a huge setback in 2009, when its full-time organiser, the organiser for CAWP, as well as the APF Johannesburg regional organiser, (all male) were involved in an almost year-long internal APF disciplinary process for sexual misconduct that caused massive disruption to - and division within - the APF and its affiliates.
Besides the eventual expulsion of all three men (which translated into the loss of the APF's core organising capacity), the personal, political and organisational fall-out was a massive body blow to the movement, effectively paralysing its practical struggles and organisational coherence.
“After AGM election in 2010 … some comrades from the affiliates [had] this tendency to support those stealing from the organisation, who are corrupt … I believe that if the comrades are doing that, they do not care about the communities … [that] sabotaged the APF.”
At its last AGM in early 2010, which was dominated by personal attacks, bickering and bitterly contested leadership elections, two co-founders and long-standing leaders of the APF stepped down. Although a new set of office bearers was elected at the AGM, within a few months the APF was effectively bankrupt - with its fairly sizeable financial reserves and donor funds having been squandered or misused - and its democratic structures and processes lay in tatters. A little more than ten years after its formation, the APF had, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist as a functioning social movement.