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Publication Details

Reference
Dwyer Peter (2004) The Contentious Politics of the Concerned Citizens Forum (CCF). Centre for Civil Society : 1-45.

Summary
The Durban based Concerned Citizens Forum (CCF) is popularly considered part of what is
called a ‘Social Movement and the New Left’ (Pokwana 2001).1 That is a group of postapartheid,
largely, community based organisations (CBOs) including, but not confined to, the
Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), the Landless Peoples Movement (LPM) and the Western
Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (WCAEC). All of which are independent and critical of, to
varying degrees, the policies and practices of the African National Congress (ANC)
government and the ANC led Tri-partite Alliance.2
Launched in July 2001, comparatively little is known about the CCF. The only published
account is We are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2002) by
Ashwin Desai. This book is something of an ‘insider’ account of how the CCF evolved, by a
high profile activist-intellectual who works closely with it. Practically, it is largely orientated
around the working class urban areas that make up the eThekweni Metropolitan municipality,
with a particular focus on two poor areas, Bayview and Westcliff, in the ‘Indian’ township of
Chatsworth. Mostly, it shows how people in these communities have been forced to defend
them against the impact of government neo-liberal polices (contained in the macroeconomic
framework Growth Employment and Redistribution - GEAR), and how poverty and struggle
is woven into the social fabric of their daily existence.3
As a result, the roots of the CCF lay in the experiences of tens of thousands of working class
people and their exposure to the concrete manifestations and impacts of the government’s
GEAR policy, and not in any pre-theorised ideological critique or commitment.4 As such,
initial actions were largely reactive and sought to ameliorate the worst and immediate
excesses of government policy, such as evictions and disconnection from water and
electricity, at the local level.
In the process the CCF has enabled people to swap experiences and skills such as training
‘struggle plumbers and electricians’ to illegally reconnect those disconnected and held video
screenings and other social events. Nationally, the CCF was central to organising the Durban
Social Forum (DSF) to protest against the ANC government at the World Conference Against
Racism (WCAR) in August 2001 (Desai 2002). This forum was in many ways a precursor to
the SMI, and the CCF was a founding affiliate and has organised solidarity marches, rallies
and memorandums with and in support of groups elsewhere in the country, such as the LPM
and APF. The CCF also participated in the ‘counter events’ outside the World Summit on
Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in September 2002, including the ‘Social
Movements United’ march of up to 30,000 people.
What this research reveals is a loose association of individuals and organisations, that brings
together disparate and autonomous CBOs initially drawn together by the commonality of,
what Meszaros (1971: 33) has called, the ‘elementary imperatives of survival’. Yet they are
further united by what they bring to the CCF: a broad array of shared living experiences,
identities, loyalties, symbols and resources that they draw on (and continually create and
exchange) as a source of mobilisation and campaigning.
Whilst the term ‘the poors’ (Desai 2002) sought to capture this messy amalgam of people, it
underplays an organisation differentiated by uneven experience, age, gender, ‘culture’ and
‘real politick’. This heady cocktail of people, ideas, and experiences does not lend itself
easily to simple classifications. Participants of the CCF cannot be straightforwardly
categorised as having a single, coherent political consciousness or identity in opposition to
‘neo-liberalism’, and ‘globalisation’, neither do they have or represent a ‘blueprint’ - a ‘how
to’ guide to campaigning in the ‘new’ South Africa.5
As we shall see, some participants believe that the loose and ad hoc form the CCF has so far
taken has contributed to the lull in organised public activities of the group since December
2002. Others see the loose form as a virtue, as the organisation can be quickly mobilised if
and when need be, with the component groups then returning to the ‘hum-drum’ of ‘ordinary’
life. For some the CCF is moribund and for others it no longer exists.6
Objectively, this lull is also due, in part, to a change in tactics by local government who in
response to the CCF have retreated, perhaps temporarily, from direct confrontation and mass
generalised evictions and disconnections in areas where the CCF emerged and the bulk of
their participants live. Whilst this has not precluded sporadic activity by independent
participating groups, such as the Tenants Association of Sydenham Heights (TASH), a partial
fragmentation of constituent groups and some leading participants has taken place, as internal
differences over the organisational, strategic and tactical future of the CCF tests people’s
resolve to maintain unity.7

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