Anti-racist conference in Durban: Smash racism and smash capitalism

FRFI 163 October / November 2001

You cannot get rid of racism unless you are prepared to fight to get rid of capitalism, a social system that engenders inequality, class division and racial prejudice. This was the message from the Durban Social Forum, a coalition of organisations which came together for the biggest march held during the United Nations anti-racism conference held in Durban recently.

The march marked a turning point in South Africa. For the first time anti-imperialist forces were able, independently of the labour movement and the hegemonic ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance, to pull a crowd big enough to match the marches held during the anti-apartheid struggle in this country. Moreover on 1 September 2001, a day after the Durban Social Forum’s 20,000-strong march, the ruling ANC held its own pro-capitalist and pro-United Nations march with a much smaller turnout. This was a victory for the forces linked to the international anti-globalisation movement; they challenged the bourgeois nationalist ANC regime in the streets and won.

The Durban Social Forum’s march consisted of the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Concerned Citizens’ Forum, the Landless People’s Movement, the Palestinian Support Committee, the South African NGO Coalition, the Jubilee Movement, the Campaign Against Military Spending, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, and other organisations fighting against neoliberalism. These organisations are the core of the anti-capitalist movement in South Africa.

The anti-racism conference brought together rank-and-file activists from different parts of South Africa to share their experiences. The Anti-Privatisation Forum, for example, brought a trainload of grassroots activists from Johannesburg who were able to meet with activists from Chatsworth, Mpulanga, Lamontville and other ghettoes in the Durban area. Comrades went to Durban because they felt the world government leaders gathering in Durban could never solve the problem of racism, because they were part of the problem. Their meeting was actually a talking-shop for hypocrites. The US government would never stop supporting the Zionist state because Israel defends US oil interests in the Middle East. Bush’s rich friends had to be protected from paying reparations because the US economy was built on slavery.

The march was colourful and attracted many Durbanites going about their daily business. It also attracted delegates who were attending the NGO Forum, a meeting which ran parallel to the main anti-racism conference. Many anti-globalisation activists and anti-racist groups from all over the world made common cause with the Durban Social Forum. Afterwards comrades developed a plan for the Durban Social Forum to represent all anti-imperialist forces and to attend the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre next year as one South African bloc.

Some slogans seen in the march were: ‘Our world is not for sale: stop privatisation’, ‘Zionism is racism: a free Palestine now’, ‘Cancel the debt: we demand reparations for slavery and colonialism’, ‘No to evictions and service cut-offs: Yes to basic services for all’, ‘No to GEAR: Mbeki stop selling us to the World Bank’.

The march was followed by a rally with speeches and cultural activities culminating in the adoption of a People’s Manifesto by the Durban Social Forum. A ceremony was also held to mark the launch of the Global Movement against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine. Sections of the march did not reach the rally as some comrades baited the police and threatened to storm the enemy barricade.

The People’s Manifesto adopted in Durban contained the following main points: an end to Israeli occupation of Palestine and US support of this; scrapping the South African government’s anti-working class and World Bank-inspired economic policy GEAR; a demand for massive government expenditure on housing, basic services, education, health care (including HIV-AIDS), job creation; a ban on electricity and water cut-offs and evictions; redistribution of land to the rural proletariat based on need and not profit; an end to the privatisation of state assets and the renationalisation of public goods and services already privatised; a call to cancel the Third World debt; a demand for reparations to be paid to the victims of slavery and colonialism.

The movement born in Durban has a vision of a world without racism. Such a world is possible, according to the Durban Social Forum, only if we attack the real roots of racism, namely, the capitalist system. To even begin tackling racism requires massive redistribution of wealth. This requires a struggle against the bosses and private property. By organising around bread-and-butter issues affecting the working class in South Africa the new movement has a real chance of raising public awareness and winning political support for its anti-capitalist project.

Phansi (down with) capitalism! Phansi racism!

Trevor Ngwane