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Vol. 75/No. 1      January 10, 2011

S. Africa: Youth share
experiences of struggles
(front page)
PRETORIA, South Africa—Nine days of rolling political exchanges among 15,000 young people from across the African continent and every region of the world came to a close here December 21. The 17th World Festival of Youth and Students, dedicated to the struggle against imperialism, was the first in the 65-year history of these gatherings to be held in sub-Saharan Africa.

A mock anti-imperialist court was the main event of the final two days of the festival. Dozens of delegates testified. Their speeches included condemnations of U.S. colonial rule of Puerto Rico, the legacy of British imperialist domination of Sri Lanka and Nepal, and the long-term effects of the spraying of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange on Vietnam during the U.S. war there. Delegates from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States also testified about the struggles of workers, farmers, and other oppressed peoples inside the imperialist countries.

How to respond to the fight of immigrant workers was debated in several workshops. This discussion took place at the same time massive lines of Zimbabweans stood outside at Home Offices in South Africa, trying to get legal papers. As many as 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa are facing a December 31 deadline to apply for legal status or face deportation.

Speaking about the challenges in South Africa itself, chief judge Andile Mngxitama gave final remarks at the anti-imperialist court. “After 16 years of democracy only 6 percent of the land has been returned to those from whom it was stolen. Some 80 percent of the land remains in the hands of 1 percent of the population,” he said. “At the same time teachers and nurses had to strike for very reasonable wage increases and our schools and hospitals are falling apart.”

Many young delegates from South Africa drew out this picture. Decius Neo Letlhogile, 26, a student at North-West University and one of the thousands of African National Congress Youth League delegates, said, “The government helps with loans to pay tuition,” but that falls far short of what is needed. He depends on his family selling goats, sheep, and cows they have raised during the year to pay for his schooling.

“We are a rural country,” explained Butsha Lali, 30, a municipal worker from the Eastern Cape, “but development is concentrated in cities far from where most South Africans live.”  
Struggle in Swaziland
More than 100 young people from Swaziland came to the festival to report on the struggle against the repressive monarchy of King Mswati III. Over 200 delegates attended a workshop about that fight. The Swazis explained they face possible arrest upon their return for coming to the festival.

Pius Vilakati, 28, is a student who led several marches protesting government cuts in education earlier this year. He described how the police told him to “stop these demonstrations and threatened me.”

Vilakati told the story of Sipho Jele, who had been arrested along with others at a May Day demonstration for wearing T-shirts with the acronym PUDEMO. The People's United Democratic Movement, the main opposition group in Swaziland, is banned. Jele died in police custody.

Shortly after speaking at the funeral for Jele, Vilakati learned police planned to arrest him and he managed to escape to South Africa.

Students from South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, and Mozambique joined the discussion on how to support the fight for democratic rights in Swaziland. Many said they had not known of the repressive conditions in the country.  
The fight to free the Cuban Five
A major discussion among the delegates was the fight to free the five Cubans unjustly imprisoned in the United States for monitoring right-wing groups that have carried out violent assaults against Cuba. The five are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González.

Speaking in a workshop, Ailí Labañino, daughter of Ramón, described the impact of international solidarity for the five. When Hernández was released from solitary confinement earlier this year, “the prison official begged Gerardo to please make a call and let people know to stop calling the prison because he had been besieged by protest calls,” she said.

Others in the Cuban delegation included Guerrero’s son Antonio Guerrero, Jr.; Irma González, daughter of René González; as well as family members of those killed when a Cuban plane flying off the coast of Barbados was blown up by opponents of the Cuban Revolution in the mid-1970s.  
Debate on national struggles
In one workshop a Turkish delegate argued that the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq serves the interests of imperialism. A group of Kurdish delegates took issue with that characterization. They cheered the remarks by one delegate from the United States who said the right of nations to self-determination is a pillar of the fight against imperialism.

The Festival News, distributed to delegates daily, sparked a debate when reporting on elections held in independent Kosova. A delegate from Serbia spoke in several workshops to denounce independence for Kosova saying it was a tool of U.S. imperialism, which was primarily responsible for the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Annalucia Vermunt, a delegate from New Zealand, responded in one of the workshops that you could oppose U.S. intervention in Yugoslavia and support the right of Kosova to independence. “Revolutionary working-class movements have always supported the right of self-determination of oppressed nations, including the right of complete separation,” she said.
Related articles:
Sahrawis explain fight against Moroccan rule
Keen interest in revolutionary books in South Africa  
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