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Mphutlane wa Bofelo explores the role of the newly-established Democratic Left Front in dealing ‘creatively and proactively’ with the challenges of neo-apartheid and neoliberal capitalism in South Africa.

The establishment of the Democratic Left Front (DLF) by social movements, community organisations, political parties, labour unions and working-class organisations across the ideological spectrum of anti-capitalist left politics, is the most positive development in the efforts to creatively and proactively deal with the challenges presented by the neo-apartheid, neoliberal capitalist dispensation.

The DLF is envisaged to be a mass political movement that seeks to explore and establish bottom-up, people-driven participatory democratic forms of organisation and people's power beyond elections, the government, the state and the party-political space. Therefore the DLF does not obsess with state power nor does it seek to transform itself into a political party contesting elections. Its focus is connecting and escalating the struggles of the poor and working-class communities and exploring and building together with communities – through action and the culture of ‘each-one-teach-one’ – sustainable, democratic, and egalitarian, eco-friendly economies and community driven development.

In many ways the DLF will be a mobilisation, solidarity, advocacy, awareness, conscientisation, campaigns, projects, action and resistance platform as well as a vigilant watchdog. It will have the role of speaking truth to power, keeping government and the political parties in check as well as the functions of building the confidence and ability of the people as a collective to reclaim and seize power from tiny and minute political and corporate elite. It will have the task of building new and democratic organs of people's power, new forms of resistance, providing alternative information and building and developing a new democratic, eco-conscious, caring, sharing and compassionate person. To play this role effectively it is better that the DLF remain a mass sociopolitical movement operating outside parliament and not contesting elections.

But the DLF cannot afford to preach anti-voting or anti-elections politics. A no vote is simply retention of the status quo. With all its limitations, the electoral process illustrates the significance and importance of the voices of the people through the ballot in deciding who attains political power.

Through voter education, electioneering platforms and other activities related to the electoral process, people's consciousness of the power of their voices and the significance of the political choices they make can be heightened. The electioneering process can also be utilised by leftists campaigners to articulate and put on the agenda issues, demands and concerns of the poor and the working-class.

Even if the left do not attain significant number of seats, the electioneering platform and the few seats they attain provides a vital platform for popularization of democratic left ideals and of contesting the hegemony of the establishment on dissemination of knowledge and influencing public opinion. If we agree that government, parliament and the state have access and control of information, knowledge and resources that legitimately must be accessed and controlled by the people, then we cannot leave that space uncontested.

The DLF cannot afford to tell workers, the people and communities that the ANC-SACP–COSATU (African National Congress-South African Communist Party-Congress of South African Trade Union) alliance are responsible for the mess in which the country is and that the policies of the liberal and rightwing opposition parties (DA, IFP, UDM, ACDP, Freedom Front Plus, etc) will put the country in worse conditions, and still leave the workers at the mercy of having to choose between the two devils. It will have to openly tell workers not to vote for neoliberal capitalist parties. But in their current state of disarray and weakness, the left-leaning formations within the DLF who are contending elections cannot hope to seriously contest elections and make any meaningful impact.

It is therefore critical that member-organisations of the DLF who are involved in electoral politics should constitute themselves into one election platform of the left instead of contesting as separate entities. In my view, there's no need to reinvent the wheel in this regard. In 2008 several social movements and political parties established the Socialist Green Coalition but it could not contest the national elections due to failure to afford the exorbitant fee required for registration.

The content of the election manifesto of that was put up by the Socialist Green Coalition is compatible with the essential principles and the main goal of components of the DLF that contest elections and with the ideal society that the DLF envisages.

This input therefore proposes that members of the DLF that aim to contest elections either as independents or individual organisations should come together with those who are already in the Socialist Green Coalition and engage in vigorous debates aimed at updating the electoral plank/manifesto that was established in 2008 and at developing consensus on the principles and practices of the Socialist Green Coalition and then contest elections under this one banner.

In this way, the components of the DLF who are involved in electoral/parliamentary politics will be able to provide the new democratic left with one election plank, as the DLF provides one platform for new democratic left politics beyond state-centric, vanguardist models of leftwing politics.

In short, here one advocates a simultaneous process of building a powerful mass political movement (DLF) pushing new democratic left politics grounded on participation and power from below and participation and power beyond elections, and building one powerful left election platform (SGC) aimed at using the parliamentary and state space to advocate and popularise the socialist agenda.

The critical thing here is to ensure that the activities of the SCG (which is made up of some components of the DLF) in government have no negative bearing on the image of the DLF and that even if the SCG was to be on the ascendancy on the political space, the DLF will continue to play the role defined above. Imagine if the UDF did not dissolve into the ANC but together with COSATU, the SACP, SANCO and other community, social and labour organisation retained the Mass Democratic Movement, playing the role that the DLF is envisaged to play.


* Mphutlane wa Bofelo is a cultural worker and social critic.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.