The opening ceremonies of the World Festival of Youth and Students wrapped up with a bang, as fireworks exploded over a large sports stadium in a township outside Pretoria that had just heard President Zuma welcome the delegates to South Africa, and the leader of the African National Congress Youth League call for free public education and putting the economy under the people’s control.
Some delegations are still in arrival. The opening gates and registration are a flurry of activity as youth people from all over Africa, but also Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America enter the festival looking tired but excited.
At the festival grounds, around the Tswane University of Technology and the Tswane Fair grounds, there are some logistical challenges but a great mood of friendship and solidarity as young people from diverse backgrounds and different ideologies gather.
A word picture for readers is not adequate.
Picture a street closed from traffic flowing with young people of all nationalities and people’s, some draped with national flags, others wearing sports jackets in their countries colours, or just casual shorts and t-shirts. Suddenly a group of South African youth, about fifteen, appear from around the corner of the building in a quick-step run. Their fists are in the air and their voices fill the space with a powerful yet beautiful struggle song in one of South Africa’s many national languages.
The delegation gets larger and their chants echo of the big festival hall buildings. Young people join in and follow them. Then another delegation appears with a giant banner – Our country will never again be a colony, it proclaims. The chanting and singing grows. In the background are giant, red, Vietnamese flags.
The South African sunshine is slipping away and bold thunderstorms are appearing on a horizon of small rolling hills with a beige dried grass. The rain falls and people rush indoors. Turning into a large hall, young people are seated behind a main podium discussing peace, sovereignty and social transformation in their respective countries. The current speaker from Bahrain is declaring the need to break with US imperialism in the Middle East with a series of lengthy but powerful slogans.
There are problems with translation and the delegates are hungry because the food has not yet arrived, but people are excited. Everyone has stories of new countries they have just met, what they have told them, gifts exchanged.
The rain has stopped and back out on the street a bus has stopped. Suddenly Latin American music blares as the delegates get off and a dance party appears in the street, joined by a crowd of small South African children dancing with the delegates. As the music fades the scene seems to almost blur in the heat, but the diversity and energy of this tremendous event, the largest anti-imperialist gathering of youth and students in the world, becomes clear.
The delegations from Africa are the largest. There are big groups from Angola, Zimbabwe, Libya, Algeria, and South Africa but also smaller delegations from countries like Senegal, Mozambique, and Egypt. But there are also sizable delegations from Sri Lanka, India, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Spain, France, Brazil, Cuba, and Venezuela.
Forty young delegates are attending from Canada, including youth activists from the Canadian Federation of Students, the Quebec solidaire political party, numerous local student organizations, and several locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Palestine solidarity activists, queer youth, young Metis and First Nations delegates, Quebequoise youth and the Young Communist League of Canada.
In the opening ceremonies the All-Canada delegation proudly marched with behind a banner demanding that a better Canada is possible, and with flags from Quebec, Aboriginal nations including the red Mohawk Unity Flag, and the Canadian flag.
What we are learning is that the young people all over the world do not accept the miserable future offered them by capitalism and imperialism. They yearn for a new world and a different social order, that puts people first. They are from Spain, talking about the strikes and protests. Iraqi Kurds, talking about ending the occupation and the fight for peace. They are US delegates who denounce their countries foreign policy. They are from Nepal and talking about the struggle to defeat the monarchy and now win democracy and for socialism.
People’s Voice will feature interviews from the festival in subsequent issues. Already young socialists and communists from diverse countries such as Palestine, Western Sahara, the United Arab Emirates, Hungry, Paraguay and Vietnam have been interviewed about struggles in their country.