Youth development

Young people are in crisis across the world, facing high levels of unemployment, precarious and exploitative work, and exploding costs of education. This is such a pronounced global trend that many political commentators have predicted that disenfranchised young people may form a new, international revolutionary sub-class that may initiate mass insurrection. Certainly, young people with nothing to lose have been at the vanguard of political uprisings across the planet: from Occupy in the West, to the Indignados in Spain, Yo Soy 132 in Mexico, the student uprising in Chile and the Arab Spring.

Young people in South Africa are equally disenfranchised, but have not yet had an adequate political outlet or mechanism to express and address their grievances. We believe it is important to work with them to help them get organised to develop and articulate a political voice, so that they can fight for their own interests as young workers.

We have organised a labour film festival every year since 2006. Films that focus on labour or issues of concern for the working class are taken on a roadshow and shown around the country, in cooperation with local unions, community organisations and NGO’s. The film shows are public events that include discussions and education. Our film festival takes labour films deep into working class communities to reach people where they live.

Our most recent festival was hosted in 11 different townships and cities in South Africa. Over the years we have tried unsuccessfully to persuade our partners in neighbouring countries to similarly initiate labour film festivals there.

This is an outreach project to address capacity and support problems in the labour movement and poor communities. As mentioned before in this report, many trade unions have neglected basic shop steward training and development. This has a real impact on our effectiveness, because it reduces the pool of empowered and capable activists we can engage with.

In addition, because of the lack of properly trained shop stewards, many trade unions are failing to adequately service their members, for instance with legal advice. Despite some misgivings, we felt it was necessary to provide structured institutional support where unions are failing to do so directly.

To address this deficit we developed two media, education and advice centres- LAMECs. These are physical hubs which act like social centres in the townships of Khayelitsha (outside Cape Town), and Alexandria (outside Johannesburg). We have worked with a very wide range of organisations to develop the capacity of the centres. These have included trade unions and labour service organisations, community organisations, environmental campaign groups, paralegal advice NGOs and others like unemployed youth who have gravitated to the centres.

We identified serious capacity issues among trade union and community activists, and decided to embark on a mass education programme, covering everything from basic shop steward training, political education through to paralegal support and media development. During 2010 we partnered with Cosatu’s national education desk and launched the campaign at a national conference attended by over 200 representatives (see Declaration of the Mass Education Conference held during 13–16 April 2010).

The education campaign has many facets and is delivered in different ways as outlined below, primarily via Labour-Community Media  Forums (LCMF’s) and Cosatu Locals at community level. Unfortunately Cosatu’s participation in the campaign has been inconsistent, weakening the achievement of our goals. Nevertheless we have persevered and have had good co-operation from unions at regional and local level.

During the week the week of 13 – 16 April 2010, we, over 200 delegates from trade unions, labour service organisations and community organisations met in Johannesburg to assess the momentum of class struggle in order to initiate and plan a strong mass education campaign whose primary aim is to raise class consciousness and develop alternative forms of knowledge and struggle in order to build working class power.

Our Conference Aims were:

  • To develop and enskill local groups of labour and community media and education practitioners in approximately 40 communities to regularly produce and disseminate education.
  • To provide organisational and resource support to local working class communities’ mass education initiatives.
  • To develop a dynamic and sustainable local organisational base for labour education and media activities.
  • To develop a popular publication on mass education.

The campaign and the conference was a strategic response by COSATU and WWMP to the increasing levels of exploitation, widespread poverty and oppression evident in the harsh reality demonstrated by the following indicators:

  • Over 50% of our people living in poverty
  • Over 40% unemployed with 1 million jobs lost in just one year
  • South Africa is the most unequal society in the world.
  • Over 1 million farm-dwellers evicted (1994 – 2004)

These indicators are demonstrative of the fact that the fault lines of the apartheid political economy remain largely intact, with the current growth path reproducing these fault lines. In economic terms, workers and the poor have little to celebrate.

The apartheid economy was characterised by massive inequalities and uneven development across industries and regions. There are five basic fault-lines that this economy has created:

  • Inequalities in education quality and access,
  • Inequalities in health quality and access,
  • Inequalities in the provision of housing,
  • High, racial- and gender-structured unemployment, and
  • Deepening income and wealth inequalities.

The conference self-critically acknowledged that:

  • While much has been done, we have not done near enough to confront the challenges resulting from capitalism and the legacy of apartheid, particularly as regards raising and deepening class consciousness.
  • In serving the interests of working class communities we must deepen a profound and radical agenda for revolutionary transformation.
  • We have been weakened politically and organisationally to resist attacks upon the working class resulting in a serious decline in working class living standards.
  • We have not been able to effectively enhance the unity of the working class, including our organisational responses.

We are not only confronted by “Organise or Starve” but “Organise or Die” as our average life expectancy has declined to 47 years (from 62 years in 1990).

Our biggest obstacle is the capitalist system and those who uphold it in the interests of the rich minority. Despite the fact that our hard-won democracy has created possibilities for change in the living and working conditions of the majority, it is evident that in many respects it has failed the working class and the poor.

Our response, led and supported by COSATU and WWMP, is to develop “A Mass Education Campaign” to assist in re-building us politically and organisationally on the ground, in communities and workplaces. In this regard we acknowledge and accept that the content of our mass education must be agitational and that it must challenge the capitalist system, strengthen existing revolutionary and working class formations, build such organisations where there are none, in order to assert working class hegemony and build alternative working class power in the process of struggle. Our mass education campaign and struggle activities are guided by our universal principles for the widest working class unity, political and class independence and the fullest possible democracy. This includes building international solidarity – in particular with our comrades from Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Palestine.

We therefore resolve to commit ourselves to vigorously, tirelessly and energetically implement our programme of action as agreed at this conference. We also agree to reconvene at a national mass education forum in 2012 to assess and further advance our campaign and struggle.

The powerful words of Haroon Aziz will be our inspiration moving forward:

When a scientific knowledge of revolution is placed, through the patient and painful process of conscious struggle , in the hands of the people it becomes a powerful weapon of the revolution – the primary weapon which is necessary for the creation of a just order out of a relative chaos of an unjust political and social system. Without that knowledge, the people are as helpless as soldiers are without weapons. With it the people become the skilful soldiers of the revolution.

Agreed and adopted unanimously on Friday 16 April 2010 at the conference held at the Birchwood Hotel, Boksburg.

In 2006, WWMP was part of a pioneering group that initiated the development and launch of Cape Town TV in 2008. Since then we have been an important stakeholder and was party to developing what is probably the first and only regular weekly labour TV show on the continent and probably the only regular weekly broadcasted labour TV show in the world. CTV now has an additional channel on digital TV as part of the DSTV network as Channel 263. This has increased its viewership to over 2 million monthly viewers. Potentially the labour TV show on the DSTV network makes the show available to six million people across sub-Saharan Africa.

Every year we produce and broadcast two 13-week seasons that started as a 30-minute show that has evolved into a full hour. The quality of the shows has been excellent: well-produced and professional. We are working hard to ensure that it continues to improve in quality and also in representation, by increasing the number of women participants.


Southern Africa Worker Educator's Network

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“To have an informed, organised and mobilised working class acting in its own interests.”



“To provide quality, relevant and informative media productions, access to the media and education and training for the labour movement and working class people.”

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