The Durban Social Forum

The Durban Social Forum
South Africa’s hosting of the World Anti-Racism Conference provided a focal point for the formation of the Durban Social Forum: a loose collective of various groups such as the residents’ and concerned citizens’ groups, the Cape Town Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Anti-Privatization Forum, the Landless People's Movement, Durban University Students, Keep Left (a group of Jo’burg Socialists), Jubilee South Africa, and SA Indymedia. The DSF organised a national march and a series of meetings and exchange visits in order for the various groups to get to know each other and discuss together.1 The DSF march was “not a conceptual rejection of capitalism or neoliberalism, but a direct attack on the agents of the anti-poor policies in this country – the ANC”. Over 30,000 people attended from all over South Africa. “It is difficult to capture the joy and surprise and vibrancy of the march”. It ended with an attempt to break through police lines and storm the conference. “More revolutionary songs were sung, loud and fast, the footfalls and claps of the toyi-toyi2 sounding like gun shots… For the first time there was a mass based and very public reaction of the ANC… This loose collection of community based social movements unified by their opposition to the ANC’s policies is now a significant force in South African politics…. It validated a form of collectivity, the community movements, free from the ideological inhibitions of organised labour or the tired dogmas of the Left”.3

The Durban Social Forum declaration is available on line at

  • 1. In some ways, it did not sit easy on these groups to go from the immediate struggles for their daily needs to a more abstract protest at the conference. “An ideological offensive assumed a common ideology among those who made up the Concerned Citizens Forum, and this was an issue that had, deliberately, never been clarified. After the cannon-fodder approach to politics that many people had suffered at the hands of either Inkatha or the so-called liberation movements, it was no wonder that these ideas were treated with some suspicion at first. Why go to Durban and march for or against a conference? Those are politicians’ issues,” page 122. But, as one woman wrote after a meeting where Dennis Brutus ‘explained global apartheid’, the abstraction could also be useful: “By the time we left the meeting, there was a buzz amongst us all like I have never felt before. People were talking to each other. Suddenly so many things made sense. Why our water was getting cut off and our people thrown onto the street. Why our children had to pay school fees or else. Why the local clinic had been closed down. Why Engen had retrenched workers to increase its share price. Why foreign companies are happy to give Yengenis [4x4 cars] to local elites. Why our president doesn’t support the intifada. Why the youth of the North are also out on the streets and why our Minister of Finance hates them so…” page 127
  • 2. The vibrant combination of dancing, singing and running that characterised the mass scale protests of the 1980s and 90s in South Africa, originally imported from Zimbabwe where many ANC armed fighters were based in the 80s.
  • 3. But “It attracted the usual array who earn their keep lobbying, politicking, and gaining public notice for some or other cause. Many of the causes are noble but many of those speaking on behalf of those causes are not. The world of the NGO is a cynical yet self-righteous, populist yet undemocratic, and sympathetic yet disempowering arena.” In fact, when the Jo’burg contingent arrived, those very NGOs – who were holding an official ‘alternative’ conference at the Cricket ground - called the police to disperse them when they wanted to camp and sleep the night there