Day Three: Local popular power and prefigurative politics

About this day

By the 1980s in the struggle against apartheid, the mass movements exercised the notion of dual power where they were both challenging the apartheid regime and also experimenting what a future South Africa would look like. As a result, the notion of people’s power was present in the consciousness and practices of activists and organised communities. This was seen in slogans such as “People’s Education for People’s Power” and “Build Organs of People’s Power”. There were even attempts to concretely experiment with building people’s power – street committees, civics, SRCs, parent-teacher-student associations, people’s education camps, cooperatives and other local initiatives demonstrated such practical experiments. As a result of such self-organisation, in 1987 the police could not enter the township of Alexandra. Even though there were no police, the township did not have any cases of crime for some 3 months in 1987. This was achieved through effectively organised street committees that involved every household in every street and block of the township. But this self-organisation was broken when the police forcefully re-entered Alex and arrested the key leaders of the Alexandra Civic Organisation which was at the heart of the township’s self-organisation. This was an example of prefigurative politics: people consciously organising to build tomorrow today. It was also an example of building local popular power. Ironically, today’s post-apartheid South Africa is very far from such prefigurative politics where people had radical imaginations and were involved in a collective search for routes to freedom based on building the organised collective power of ordinary people.

In contrast to today’s South Africa, a number of important case studies elsewhere in the world various movements are actively and consciously prefiguring and building what the future of freedom could look like. The cases we have chosen highlight how such prefigurative politics are predicated on building democratic popular power. One case study shows how such power is being shaped through democratising and transforming the local state (municipalities). Given the municipal focus, there has been a rise in the use of the radical municipalism option amongst activists and movements in Europe. This route often involves democratic popular participation in decision-making, planning and budgeting at the municipal level. Other case studies show different attempts that build people’s power outside the state particularly through a focus on land and agrarian reform driven by movement initiatives outside the state. Present in all these prefigurative experiments is a deliberate effort to construct, conceptualise and deepen radical feminist politics.

From the above, the day’s central themes grapple with the following questions: What is the place of the organised collective power of ordinary people in winning freedom? What examples do we have in the world today where people are organising their collective power to win freedom? What is the possibility of advancing the struggle for freedom through land and agrarian-based alternatives? What do these examples tell us about strategy in the struggles for freedom? What can South African activists and movements learn from these experiences?

Objectives for this day:

At the end of this participants would have:

  • grappled with the possibility of advancing struggles for freedom through route that are based on local people’s power (instead of a pathway centred on and driven by the state);
  • a critical understanding of the scope, problems and prospects of such pathways;
  • learned about these popular power pathways imagine freedom; relate to the state and how land, agriculture and food have become a central point of mobilisation and action in the struggles for a decent future;
  • learned how in building tomorrow today, movements and activists seek to consciously and deliberately apply, build and centre feminist politics in the struggles for freedom in the here and now.

Day activity sessions:

This day comprises the following activities:

Activity 8: That decision-making game

Activity 9: Understanding people’s power

Activity 10: Case study role player (Rojava/Umoja)

Activity 11: Prefigurative politics – land and agrarian struggles in Brasil and Zimbabwe


Last updated December 15, 2019 5:49 pm