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Documenting the APF

"The APF is open to the working class of the world regardless of colour, creed, gender, age, sexual orientation or place of origin. It is a place of struggle, where those involved in struggle can come and find support and co-ordination.

When those in struggle do come they will find that the APF has policies on a range of issues to guide the APF. The issue of struggle is a first priority and comes before the issue of who can and can't affiliate to the APF and the conditions attached to this."

Constitution of the APF, 2007

In the course of its existence, the APF produced a number of documents that speak to the growth and development of the organisation. 'Platform of the Anti Privatisation Forum' (2000/2001) was adopted (and then amended) by the APF's main democratic body  - the APF Council - at a time when the APF still had some COSATU and independent unions, the SACP Johannesburg branch and other ANC-aligned organisations as members. This was the APF's first attempt to enunciate and explain its core raison d'etre, demands and objectives. As such, its dominant character and language reflects a less ideologically-laden politics and does not specifically mention or criticise the ANC and the government itself as the main forces behind the privatisation agenda. When these member organisations left the APF (all by 2002), the APF's political-ideological platform began to reflect a much more independent and critical stance towards the ANC and government.

Once community organisations began to become numerically dominant within the APF it was agreed that the APF needed to have a more formalised democratic structure, leadership as well as ‘rules' of operation/organisation. Further, because the APF began to apply for donor funding, there was the need for a formal document of association. The ‘Memorandum of Association', which was drawn up in late 2002 became the APF's de facto constitution until a revised and expanded version - later to be renamed as the APF's constitution - was formally adopted in 2006. Further discussions and amendments were undertaken during the next two years as a result of the growth and experience of the APF until a final constitution was adopted in 2007.

“...(The) fact that there’s been such a broadly representative and a broader representative ability for individual members to actually raise their problems in the democratic space has been what’s set it (APF) apart from others..”

Prishani Naidoo - APF

Not long after its formation, the APF decided that it needed to have a public "voice" in the form of a regular newsletter - first produced in September 2000 under the name ‘APF Monitor' - in order to record and publicise its views/positions, various community and other struggles as well as provide a forum for activist opinion. As the APF grew, so too did the size/length of the newsletter as well as the number of copies printed. Over the ten years of the APF's existence the newsletter (always produced by the media sub-committee) came out on average, twice a year with the average number of copies for each edition being in the region of 2-3000. The name eventually changed to ‘Struggle Continues' as the 16 page August 2006 edition shows (this particular edition providing good coverage of the various elements of the APF's approach to and struggles around education).

An information pamphlet, drafted in 2002, became the APF's standard (explanatory) hand-out to communities, activists and other organisations. Over the years, thousands were printed and also sent electronically around the country, region and globe. In simple language (the pamphlet was also translated and produced in at least three of South Africa's indigenous languages) it briefly explains the APF's history, organisational and political-ideological character and key foci/struggles. Although the APF went through many organisational changes, intense political-ideological debates as well as strategic-tactical shifts, its core purpose and character - as captured in this small pamphlet - remained remarkably consistent.

I think... the ability.. to organise, (is) our strength. I have looked at marches that the APF has organised, the number of people that would turn up for those marches ; they are so passionate about what they do.”

Sehlaphi Sibanda - APF

Almost from its inception, the APF and its community affiliates found themselves in the ‘firing line' when it came to the law. This was not only a result of the APF's commitment to mass direct action whether in the form of marches, pickets, demonstrations, water/electricity reconnections but to the conscious criminalisation of protest by the state authorities as well as political encouragement from the ANC and government officials to treat the APF and its activists as some sort of state enemy who needed to be confronted with the ‘full force of the law'. The resultant hundreds of arrests, lengthy detentions, excessively high bail amounts and drawn out court cases on trumped-up charges involving APF activists meant that from an early stage the APF spent a great deal of time/energy and limited financial resources on legal defence. Through the work of the APF legal sub-committee, funds were specifically raised for legal defence, useful working relationships established with various progressive lawyers (although there was always a shortage of lawyers willing to take up the APF's so-called ‘criminal cases') and legal defence solidarity provided to others social movements and community organisations outside the APF. By 2006 it was felt that the APF needed to produce a pocket-sized ‘rights booklet' for its members to carry so that each activist would know exactly what rights they had specific respect of the Gatherings Act and arrest procedures etc. when confronted/arrested. With the help of the Freedom of Expression Institute, this booklet was produced and thousands of copies distributed both within the APF and to other community organisations.

...we were given a task to do a research around Eskom and ... I started to know the ins and outs of research and a bit of understanding as to what is research and what to do and what you need when you research...

Sithembiso Nhlapho - YLRF

Beginning in 2002, the APF established a dedicated research sub-committee to carry our participatory research training and activities involving community members on key issues and campaigns, such as pre-paid water meters in Phiri (Soweto) and in Orange Farm, and the impact of HIV-AIDs in Phiri and the Sol Platjie informal settlement on the West Rand.

Although the APF did not have the resources to produce thousands of copies of these reports, they were published and distributed fairly widely to community members, academics-researchers and other organisations/movements; the PPM research report provided important material for the ensuing Phiri-based constitutional rights legal case on water and pre-paid meters.

Although it was difficult to maintain any consistent output of research after 2006, with many of those who had become skilled through the training moving on to formal jobs, the APF continued to produce occasional, shorter term research to support its struggles and often to contest the often controversial and ideologically biased findings of more formal research outside of the organisation. During the first decade of the 2000s, the APF remained one of the few social movements to do conduct its own research and offer associated training for community members.

"I think the growth of the organisation was related to its ability to deliver on concrete issues."

Mondli Hlatshwayo - APF




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