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Food Security & Agriculture

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South Africa: Building the Solidarity Economy from Below
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From the 20-23rd January 2011, 250 delegates gathered at Wits University, South Africa to discuss the emerging solidarity economy movement. Building a new food system based on the principles of social justice, democracy and ecological consciousness must be a part of the broader vision for change, argues this document from the Conference of the Democratic Left.

31st January 2011 - Published by Democratic Left Front

The ecological and economic crisis of South Africa’s transnationalising capitalist economy is also reflected in increasing hunger, increasing food prices, unhealthy diets and polluting agro-processing food production. Advancing an Anti-Hunger and Food Sovereignty Campaign challenges this reality and politicises the food question in a more consistent way. Such a campaign has to be advanced bottom up, through a participatory democratic logic for Democratic Left politics. These campaign notes intend to promote such a process and emerge out of the Gauteng Democratic Left conference held in March 2010.

The Solidarity Economy (SE) Alternative in South Africa

The Solidarity Economy Alternative has existed since the 19th century when workers attempted to challenge the negative consequences of industrial capitalism. Today these traditions and practices are being renewed through the World Social Forum and popular forces in the global South and North wanting a socialist alternative that is not state centric and which is grounded in an ecological perspective, an Eco-socialist perspective. To this extent the solidarity economy alternative is not the same as the ‘social economy’ or ‘social business movement’ or ‘informal economy’ seeking change within the system. It is certainly not:

  • Another business model that enhances social capital and hence is an extension of the private sector. Instead, the solidarity economy is an alternative informed by ethical and social goals. Profits and market relationships are subordinate to these purposes. It is an end in itself.
  • A version of Black Economic Empowerment (narrow or broad) supported by the state. The solidarity economy rejects the corruption, state control and lack of ethics within BEE. In the South African context the solidarity economy is an independent and grass roots alternative to BEE.
  • A component part of the mixed economy; an add on within the existing system or a third sector. The solidarity economy is a process with many possibilities of scale, scope, location and depth. It is a means to transform society.
  • A band aid to fix state or market failure like poverty. The solidarity economy addresses poverty and more. The solidarity economy is a preferred choice by all who believe in its vision, values, principles and practices.

In short the solidarity economy alternative and movement is transformative, seeking to go beyond capitalism. The emerging solidarity economy alternative and movement is also one of many responses from below to the multifaceted crisis – ecological, economic, social and political - of global capitalism. It is a collective humanist response and democratic alternative from below to the crisis we face. It draws on our common humanity as the basis for solidarity action. More concretely the solidarity economy is a voluntary process organised through collective struggle and conscious choice to establish a new pattern of democratic production, consumption and living that promotes the realisation of human needs and environmental justice. South Africa’s solidarity economy and movement exists in pockets, little islands of isolated cooperatives, for example, and is an emerging activist current but has not taken an institutional form. To overcome this the solidarity economy alternative has to be part of a broad vision to construct a socialised and ecological mode of production. It is a process that seeks to achieve:

  • Collective self organising to sustain life (human and non-human);
  • Democratic coordination of economic and social enterprises;
  • Self managed enterprises;
  • Worker and collective ownership;
  • Participatory civic and social action;
  • Ongoing education and learning for progress;
  • Social transformation centered on human need and the environment.

The solidarity economy process has the potential to become the central means for meeting the requirements for society and nature to sustain themselves. The state and market can potentially be subordinated to the logic of the solidarity economy. This is a crucial strategic vision for activism, movement building and all activities that inform the solidarity economy process. Some of the main ethical values guiding the emerging solidarity economy and movement are: caring, sharing, self reliance, honesty, democracy, equality, learning, ecological consciousness, social justice and openness.

The process of building a solidarity economy is guided by the following principles:

  • Solidarity: provides the social basis for the solidarity economy. It informs the cooperation between members inside a solidarity economy enterprise, between such enterprises and with the community more broadly.

  • Collective ownership: ensures the assets and resources of the solidarity economy enterprise brings benefits to all within the enterprise, to the community and future generations. It ensures control and power is shared.

  • Self management: gives members (women and men) and worker owners the rights to impact on decision-making. Such a principle ensures one-person-one-vote institutionalises accountability and responsibility. Ongoing education and training is crucial for viable self management.

  • Control of capital: is a crucial practice to secure benefits for the individual enterprises, the wider solidarity economy and the community. It requires developing mechanism’s to build up capital from below and subordinating it to democratic control so that the vision, values and principles of the solidarity economy informs lending practices. Such criteria will also inform the behaviour of the borrower.

  • Eco-centric: places an emphasis on a non-destructive relationship with nature through inputs, production processes, services rendered, consumption and household practices.

  • Community benefit: encourages a broader social awareness as an integral part of how the solidarity economy works. Such community benefit to be accounted for through transparent financial reporting.

  • Participatory democracy: provides an institutional space for the decentralised power of citizens and solidarity economy actors for and with the solidarity economy process. Such an institutional space to bring together and unite such social forces to ensure effective coordination and development of the solidarity economy.

The Solidarity Economy Alternative is an initiative of the Democratic Left. We are seeking to advance the solidarity economy alternative as a grass roots led activist process, as an independent movement and a transformative alternative. The Anti-Hunger and Food Sovereignty Campaign is a crucial thrust to lay the basis for building a solidarity economy alternative and movement.

Objectives of the Anti-Hunger and Food Sovereignty Campaign

The objectives of this campaign are as follows:

  • Mobilise mass forces against hunger and the globalised value chain of the agro-processing fossil fuel based food industry;
  • To provide a platform for advancing food sovereignty through building an alternative food economy as part of the solidarity economy;
  • Lay the basis for a Solidarity Economy Movement.


For this campaign to be transformative it cannot reduce the food question to charity or subsistence. Neither can it focus narrowly on ‘food prices’ and anti-competition policy within the system. These are important aspects of an anti-hunger campaign but in themselves are not transformative.

The tactics of this campaign must lay the basis for ecological transformation and structural change for a solidarity economy mode of production. It must place popular and working class control of food(production, distribution, consumption) at the centre of food politics. This means taking the food question beyond capitalism and its globalised value chains to ensure local food sovereignty.

Direct Action Tactics

Are one part of the campaign to raise awareness, mobilise mass forces and problematise the globalised fossil based agro-processing value chain. It is about taking the fight to capital and the state. This could include legal challenges to price fixing but must go beyond this to also include placard demonstrations, mass rallies, marches etc outside food monopolies, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and so on. It could even include a food sovereignty march or caravan ( a Food Sovereignty Bus and cyclists) across the country to raise mass awareness.

Transformative Tactics

Are the other side of the campaign to ensure solidarity economy enterprises and relations are constituted. This includes actively promoting, building, supporting and linking ecocentric food production cooperatives, supply cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, local food markets, food exchanges and other forms. It is about connecting household food consumption to healthy, affordable and ecological food production. In short transformative tactics in this campaign are about organising food sovereignty through an alternative food economy, a crucial sector, that is part of the solidarity economy movement.


There are four phases in this campaign and each phase can move in parallel:

Prepare a Democratic Left Campaign Platform

  • Gathering research on the food crisis and the consequences of the monopoly agro-processing value chain;
  • Gathering information on the alternative food economy like local farming cooperatives, food gardens, cooperative bakeries, markets, food stores etc
  • Preparing activist information packs
  • Running 3 or more education workshops on materials gathered involving interested parties
  • Develop a Democratic Left anti-hunger and food sovereignty platform as outcome of workshops – demands and tactics of campaign – national meeting.

Organise mass forces

  • Identify two or three wards/ communities in provinces and call Democratic Left mass meetings on campaign platform;
  • Have Community Workshop combined with house visits to understand local food economy and household consumption. Launch local Democratic Left forums to coordinate community campaign efforts.
  • Map mass forces in provinces and engage them face-to-face with Democratic Left Campaign platform.
  • Have provincial workshop involving community forces and mass organisations. Develop tactical plan and launch provincial
  • Democratic Left Forums to coordinate mass struggles and efforts to organise alternatives;
  • National Meeting to finalise tactical plan and have launch – press conference etc

Mass Campaigning Against the Globalised Agro-processing and Fossil Fuel Based Food Chain

  • Organise tactical plan through provincial and local Democratic Left Forums including campaign pamphlet and other
  • Initiate non-violent direct action tactics: anti-hunger marches in communities, then targeting agro-processing value chain, sit ins, placard demonstrations
  • Engage in media offensive: articles in local and national newspaper, community radio, Amandla, websites, face book etc

Advancing Food Sovereignty Through Mass Organising of the Alternative Food Economy

  • Organise tactical plan through provincial and local Democratic Left Forums including campaign pamphlet and other media
  • Initiate transformative tactics: community awareness on nutrition and organic foods through school talks, house visits, mass meetings, workshops, radio etc. Set up community organic food production coops, link existing alternative production and distribution structures with communities through community green markets, engage mass forces to support and initiate a Green
  • Fair Price Consumer Cooperative model including peoples restaurants. Put proposal to communities.
  • Where possible and after planning with communities launch local food sovereignty strategies to promote local food economies through organic food production and consumption.
  • Engage in media offensive: articles in local and national newspaper, community radio, Amandla, websites, face book etc

Read the full Declaration of the Conference of the Democratic Left here.

Link to original source