The commons is a hardy, resilient mode of coordination and production that has existed since the dawn of human history. But in modern times, the commons has been largely eclipsed by the market/state and unsustainable fantasies of economic growth, consumerism, and centralized control.

For a number of years, Heinrich-Böll Foundation (HBF) Berlin has played a leading role in advancing the commons discourse as it relates to the management of natural resources, social welfare and democratic participation. The forthcoming publication of Free, Fair and Alive – The insurgent power of the Commons – the latest books by experts David Bollier and Silke Hilferich provides an opportunity to advance the notion of the commons in South Africa.

It is envisioned that the book will be launched in March 2020, with the participation of David Bollier or Silke Hilferich and will be combined with a visit of activists from Rojava. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), commonly referred to as Rojava, is a de facto autonomous region in northeastern Syria.

Rojava has been the site of a civil society experiment to expand democracy since 2012, and to build a radically democratic and feminist society. Structures such as communes and councils are used to run people’s day to day lives on a democratic and participatory basis. The idea of this model – known as Democratic Confederalism – is to democratise all aspects of life including the law, education, and the economy. Women play a central role in this, and each commune or council is enjoined to ensure gender equality.

The discourse of the commons, alongside the Rojava experiments present a unique opportunity for a process of popular, internationalist education and an opportunity to engage with an attempt to build a society based on direct democracy. In a patriarchal run world, Rojava also presents an example of how democratic, political and institutional alternatives can be built and how women can be in the forefront of this. ‘Free Fair and Alive’ presents similar experiments, and both Bollier or Silke Hilferich, as well as the Rojava activists will benefit from the exchange, as well as South African civil society.

The intervention will be undertaken in conjunction with ILRIG and Civic Action for Public Participation (CAPP) and will aim to:

  • Raise awareness of commons theoretical frameworks that challenge narrow patriarchal economic conceptions of value and limited democratic modes of governance;
  • Profile commons experiments from around the world to show that radically democratic and egalitarian alternatives are possible;
  • Encourage south African civil society to begin to explore more decentralised, autonomous and directly democratic forms of organisation in South Africa;

The intervention will potentially consist of:

  • Preparatory workshops/ build up activities with grassroots activists in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Makhada. These will be held in late 2019 introducing notions of the commons and the Rojava experiment and their relevance to South Africa. The aim of this is to prepare activists to fully engage the speakers during the visits and ensure a rich learning experience takes place;
  • A speaking tour of the Rojava activists in the four cities over a period of 3 weeks March 2020.
  • A deeper engagement in Johannesburg and/or Cape Town with the authors of Free Fair and Alive with activists and academics over a period of 1 week.
Free, Fair and Alive – The insurgent power of the Commons