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New webs of power: Reflections on the Zimbabwe Social Forum
Samm Farai Monro
November 15, 2004

After struggles with a paranoid ZANU PF regime the Zimbabwe Social Forum erupted in central Harare. Running from the 28th to the 30th of October the forum saw the uniting of grassroots forces and the birth of a new hope. Its transparent and horizontal organising made it an event owned and controlled by all. This article offers an insight into the difference between a horizontally organised, anticapitalist ZSF and the elitist, neoliberal hijacking of the ESF.

When it happened minds came together. Struggles converged like many rivulets forming a powerful river. Floating hopes joined to become an unstoppable Hope. It all flowed towards the future. This was the force of the just-ended Zimbabwe Social Forum as thousands of radical spirits came together in central Harare. Problems were attacked, common struggles found. Visions of The Society We Want abounded, strategies were laid out. The future was on the horizon, it felt.

The Powers-That-Shouldn’t-Be had tried to stop the event. The police denied us ‘permission’ to host the forum. But the future does not ask for permission. Ourstory does not seek clearance. The fattened spider sat in the centre of its’ web of power always fears the hordes of other spiders ready to sew new, diverse power webs. But the webs were already knitted. Months of meetings, endless hours of planning, ever-expanding networks. The webs were already knitted. Believing in the importance more of the process than the event our months of meetings were open, transparent and directly democratic. Those of us creating the Freedom Youth Camp to be held at the ZSF believed the tools we use must build the house we want. So FYC meetings were held with the fighting words of horizontality and participation. We sewed new webs of power, webs that empower.

The three day event was an eruption of diversity. The Freedom Youth Camp was a space where hundreds of young radicals had fiery discussions on sexism, grassroots democracy, non-violent direct action, alternative youth culture and a web of other subversive realities. In the camp the Students’ Solidarity Trust hosted a heated discussion on ‘Student Vicimisation’ which saw youths erupting into toyi toyi war dances before sitting down, sweaty, and looking at the history of Zim university students in struggles against Rhodesian colonialism followed by IMF-imposed structural adjustment programmes and now a brutal bourgeois black regime. New forms of organisation were the key words as students at the discussion talked of the need to organise grassroots, outside of the traditional hierarchies.

The debate on ‘Grassroots Democracy’ facilitated by the Zimbabwe Youth Survival Alternative Project saw youth giving birth to visions of community democracy where communities control the decisions that affect them and the resources around them. This is democracy that doesn’t rely on distant ‘leaders’ but empowers communities to run their own lives with community assemblies and committees in charge of everything from their water to their schools. The 2001 Argentinian social rebellion came to people’s minds as Argentinians rose up against the IMF and a corrupt government and began to run their communties and factories. Youths at the discussion then broke into deliciously democratic groups and came up with strategies for building democracy from the grassroots. Ideas blossomed. Community discussion groups, economic co-operatives, radical drama groups.. ‘Alternative Youth Culture’ was another inspired event at the camp where young rebel artists held a mock talk-show talking about corporate exploitation of artists and Zanu PF politicians’ use of musicians for their power-hungry dreams. The hip hop groups gathered on stage rapped about the need for young artists to counter this through Do-It-Yourself style recording and promotion while keeping the message socially conscious and anti-commercial.

At the same time other tents saw young workers gathering to fight for a living wage, economic justice activists attacking debt and capitalist trade, HIV/AIDS activists shouting about their need for free anti-retroviral drugs, constitutional militants strategising on how to win a new people-centred constitution... The future was being born.

The Forum culminated in feelings of hope. Webs were woven uniting the oppressed as many struggles became one. Capitalism, patriarchy and centralised power were surrounded by these webs. Social justice and economic justice became fighting words linking one soul to another. A grassroots movement was born. The fattened spider should be wriggling in fear.

For more info, solidarity and the FYC daily newsletters contact me.

*Samm Farai Monro. E-mail:

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