South Africa: First national Conference of the Democratic Left called

A call to the 1st national Conference of the Democratic Left

Unite to make Another South Africa and World possible!

A call for united anti-capitalist action and for democratic left politics

Issued by the Interim Steering Committee of the Conference of the Democratic Left 

December 7, 2010 -- This is a call to social movements, trade unions, other progressive mass organisations, progressive civil society organisations, left forces and supportive individuals committed to an anti-capitalist politics to come together in unity and action in the 1st national Conference of the Democratic Left (CDL), a conference against capitalism and for democratic left politics.

Through this conference, the momentum of the two-year old CDL process is reaching an important milestone. The conference will take place as follows:

Date: 13h00 on Thursday, January 20, 2011, ending 13h00 on Sunday, January 23, 2011.

Venue: Wits University, Johannesburg.

The CDL process started in October 2008. Since then, the process has seen hundreds of activists take part in forums and platforms of this initiative in different provinces of the country. This has seen CDL activists and constituents immersed in struggles on the ground around farmworkers' rights, building a progressive campaign in support of a pro-poor national health insurance system, alternatives to unemployment and retrenchments, against homelessness, for factory occupations by workers whose jobs are threatened, and in defence of democratic rights and freedoms of expression.

The CDL has built concrete solidarity relations and activism with organisations such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Masibambane Unemployed People’s Organisation, the Unemployed People’s Movement, Abahlali BaseMijondolo, the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, the New Women’s Movement, the Landless People’s Movement, the Commercial Stevedoring and Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, the Metal and Electrical Workers’ Union of South Africa, and tens of other local organisations in Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces. The CDL has also initiated the publication of the Phakamani/Oorstan newspaper that is produced and distributed by mass organisations in the Western Cape. In the Western Cape, the CDL is also an active part of Congress of South African Trade Unions-civil society discussions.

Based on participation by mass movements and individuals in existing initiatives and structures of the CDL in various parts of the country, the conference will be attended by a total of 200 delegates as follows: Eastern Cape – 30; Gauteng – 60; KwaZulu Natal – 20; Western Cape – 50; and other provinces (organisations, individuals, guest and observers) – 40.

In outline, the conference program will cover the following activities: sharing and analysis of lessons; experiences and reflection on current mass struggles (including workplace struggles, rural struggles, service delivery protests, student struggles); building left responses and alternatives to the ecological, social, economic and political crises in South Africa and the world; building an eco-socialist perspectives and policy alternatives; building a Platform of Common Action, and concrete solidarity in practical campaigns and actions; debates and decisions on the nature, form, orientation, identity and building of a democratic left as a united anti-capitalist platform.

Conference discussion documents will be released at the beginning of January. These are currently being debated and drafted in the various provincial structures. The last day of the conference (January 23, 2011) will host a mass meeting to launch a Democratic Left Platform of Common Action, as well as objectives and tasks of the CDL process as will be contained in the conference declaration.

The CDL process is motivated by various crises facing the world and South Africa. Our world is facing unprecedented and multifaced economic, social, ecological and political crises. South Africa’s post-apartheid project has floundered on the back of neoliberalism, domination of capitalist logic, corruption and greed, authoritarian populist politics, the hollowing out of democracy and the absence of sustained mass participatory processes. The CDL initiative is a response to these realities. There is a need to build a platform of struggle and politics of the people!

The world is in crisis

Global capitalism threatens our world with disaster. If it is left to plunder the natural resources of our planet and pollute the atmosphere, the oceans and the soil, life itself will be under grave threat.

The current global economic crisis represents the exhaustion of a system that is driven by profit and competition. The basic tenet of capitalism is to grow endlessly with no regard to natural limits, to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few. It explains why wherever we look we see the crisis and decay of the system: be it financial, energy, food, environment, cultural and social. War, global warming and health pandemics threaten the annihilation of humanity within a couple of generations. Internationally, at least 60 million workers have lost their jobs since 2008 and 50 million more people in the ‘Third World’ are likely to be plunged into poverty as a result.

The rise of a new global left in the context of the World Social Forum, the emergence of left parties (socialist, green) in Latin America and Europe and new anti-capitalist social movements challenge our dogmas.

Another South Africa and another world, free of violence and exploitation, is possible. We have to overcome our disillusionment in the politicians and policy makers.

The crisis in South Africa

In spite of the break with apartheid and the establishment of political democracy, the situation for the working people and the poor gets worse. This is because the same crisis-ridden model of development is imposed. The high levels of corruption that have accompanied the transition from apartheid must be seen not just as greed but an outcome of the failure to redistribute wealth. Government tenders and patronage are the vehicles for accumulation in the face of the extreme monopolisation of the economy. The post-Polokwane period [the site of the African National Congress (ANC) congress at which Thabo Mbeki was replaced by Jacob Zuma as ANC president, with the support of COSATU and the South African Communist Party] has not signalled a break with a system that has seen a rise in social inequality, social decay and a resurgent social conservatism in the form of ethnic politics, xenophobia, attacks on women and reproductive rights, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, etc.

More than 1.5 million jobs have been lost since the start of the recession in October 2008. We have become the most unequal society in the world. We exceed the world in violence against women and children. Despite building of houses, more than 2 million families lack decent housing, the same number as in 1994. We have one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world.

The promise of a better life for all has not been realised. As long as the ANC government refuses to confront capital and redistribute wealth, poor communities will continue to be downtrodden.

The COSATU's 25th anniversary and the COSATU-led civil society initiative

This anniversary was a key moment to capture and consolidate the ongoing working-class concerns and action that we have seen in 2010. Holding the CDL national conference in January 2011 provides an immediate opportunity to consolidate a collective analysis of these struggles and in collectively building a common and shared program of sustained, effective and united anti-capitalist action.

The CDL shares a common premise and strategic objective with COSATU, that is, to oppose the neoliberalisation of South Africa and ensure that post-apartheid transformation places the interests of the workers and the poor at the centre. For this reason, the CDL endorses and is an active part of the COSATU-led civil society initiative that was launched at the much-talked about civil society conference that was co-hosted by COSATU, Treatment Action Campaign and Section 27 at the end of October 2010. The CDL seeks to contribute to this process by underlining the imperative of reclaiming lost ground for the left and uniting the widest array of anti-capitalist and progressive forces to overcome the hegemonic rule of transnational capital in South Africa.

While many believe the working class has been defeated or even captured in South Africa, we do not accept this. Instead we share with COSATU the imperative of struggling for a new accumulation model for South Africa through working-class led struggles from below.

For the CDL such struggles from below must reinvent democratic politics in post-apartheid South Africa to serve the interests of workers, the poor and society. We are doing this in an atypical way. Instead of building on dogmas and prescriptions, for us democratic left politics is a long-term process built around possibilities, ethical values and  transformative practices drawing on a people's history of struggle as expressed through the United Democratic Front. We are not converging around pre-determined outcomes.

Build a platform of struggle and politics of the people!

The future rests in the hands of the working class, the dispossessed, the unemployed, the youth, women and rural people as well as radical intellectuals. But only if we wrestle for power and the right to shape a new agenda rooted in the power of a gigantic movement resting on independent autonomous mass organisations of working people. We must struggle to give meaning to the slogan “we are our own liberators”.

In a number of forums where the acute problems confronting our people are being discussed the idea that we must draw together left and progressive forces into a united front to confront the ravages of global capitalism is growing. In this task of shaping a new agenda that can make a radical break with disaster capitalism 60 activists from trade unions, social movements and a wide range of radical political organisations and currents came together in October 2008 to  begin this process.

At the start of the CDL process in October 2008, it was agreed to work towards developing a new programmatic platform of action on an anti-capitalist basis for democratic left politics. The intention is to  create a platform that can:

  • build a political consensus on the challenges posed by the current international and national situation;
  • take forward national and international struggles;
  • work towards developing a grassroots democratic ecosocialist, feminist, political program;
  • develop strategies for overcoming race, gender, age, sexual orientation and other divisions within South African society and particularly among the working class; and
  • provide a means of uniting and strengthening the ability of the working class and progressive social forces to struggle around the issues affecting them.

We must struggle to rekindle the mass movement of the 1980s which brought apartheid to an end. We recognise that the conscious forces of transformation are still weak, but believe that such actions can eventually unite class struggle forces in all working class movements not least from COSATU and the South African Communist Party.

What is envisaged is a process of bottom-up deliberation, debate in which voices from below shape outcomes and collective action. The organising of the CDL is about creating local forums, provincial forums and a national platform. The CDL is merely one moment in an exciting, vibrant and self-organised process.

This is a conscious political initiative informed by a recognition that we all fought for the liberation of South Africa. The CDL is an affirmation of democratic pluralism and is a process which seeks to elaborate political objectives, practices, alternatives and new ways of engaging in left politics. It aims to create a united front around a program of action while preserving the autonomy of constituent organisations. The CDL aims to become a vehicle for the self-organisation of the excluded, the exploited, the discriminated and poverty-stricken majority in South Africa (including all progressive strata) with the power to radically transform South Africa along eco-socialist and participatory democratic lines.

For more information, contact: Brian Ashley (082 085 7088,, Jane Duncan (082 786 3600,, Mazibuko K. Jara (083 651 0271,, Vishwas Satgar (082 775 3420,