Power to the People
Pouvoir au Peuple
Cameroon/ Cameroun

Social Democratic Front

Front Social Démocratique /

THE SDF DIASPORA STORY: THE SDF SOUTH AFRICA (SDF SA) STORY 18 YEARS AFTERWARDS: Blessings and Bruises

The leading opposition Social Democratic Front, SDF SA was formed barely seven years after the return of multiparty politics in Cameroon. The branch in SA was created with the blessings of the mother party home and with same objectives: To ensure that the struggle to achieve genuine democracy, the rule of law and the development of the country are achieved.

Creation, SDF SA

In 1997 some Cameroonians under the leadership of Comrade Balhiki Balhiki were the pioneer members of SDF SA. The party had a coordination committee which sought to ensure the implantation and day to day running of the party in SA.

“I was the one who received all the letters of accreditation on the implantation of the party which I joined in 1991 back at home. I think the party could have achieved more if the militants remained committed. The SDF remains a veritable force to reckon with in Cameroon and I urged militants to continue to denounce impediments to democracy and human rights violations. SDF SA’s contribution to democracy in Cameroon is unmeasurable. Those of us here in SA are exposed so much to how real democracy functions and how there is accountability. We must all stand to say no to governments attempt to reduce the SDF to an Anglophone or Bamilike party.  I am from the Littoral. We should not allow that mentality to continue. We must continue to work for change and development in our country” says. Comrade Balhiki.

Other SDF SA members like Comrade Francis Mbah joined in 1998The following year, 1999 the first elections were held and Comrade Nti Valentine became the President. Chris Zenkeng and Tapi  were some of the executive members. Some of them are not in SA today.

“Within the same year, 1999 The SDF SA as young as it was ran into difficulties. Members became too busy sorting documentation problems in South Africa .No meetings were taking place and there was no communication between SDF SA and the mother branch in Cameroon for almost three years. Things slowed down for SDF SA. The desire to fight for equal rights and justice caused some of the members to rejuvenate the party which had gotten comatose,” recalls comrade Francis Mbah.

Between 2000 and 2001, Douala and Cameroon was boiling on the ‘Bepanda 9 Affaire’ (The government had launched a crackdown on crime in Douala characterised by raids and arbitrary arrest and detentions of suspects. Nine youths then suspiciously disappeared from the Bepanda neighbourhood in Douala. Cameroonians were demanding their whereabouts and warned the government against extra judicial killings.) 

The firebrand SDF SA members could not remain indifferent to the violation of the fundamental rights of Cameroonians to a fair hearing. That is how the SDF SA regrouped itself again and gave its voice by carrying out protest at the Cameroon embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. Attempts by embassy officials to bribe SDF militants failed futilely.

Between 2001 and 2006, SDF SA functioned with the good will of Cameroonians who were eager to continue and bring change to Cameroon though out of the country.  Women were not left out of the struggle and want it to continue.

Comrade Ngwa Dorothy Lem, who is leader of the Socialists Women Movement of the SDF SA joined in 1999 and has remained steadfast till date. “Women must play a leading role like in other parties. Women must understand that the struggle has to continue until we have a better Cameroon. They should know that even if the change does not come during our life time, by participating actively in the SDF, our children and grand children could benefit from the change we fought for. They should look at the contribution of other women in other countries and come on board,” she said.

 

SDF SA gathered steam in 2007 when Comrade Milton Taka then became Interim Regional Chairman. He has been at the helm of the party in SA after his election in 2009 and 2013 as leader and thinks there is need for introspection and celebration of 25 years of the SDF at the same time.

“We are not just celebrating the 25 years existence of the SDF alone, but the great strides and value the SDF has added in advancing our fight for genuine democracy and accountable governance in Cameroon. A great moment of reflection to point and celebrate so many achivements, and also genuinely reflect on our failures, avoidable setbacks and challenges. To take the future by storm you need to do an honest introspection. We can boast that SDF brought Democracy to Cameroon. It also brought freedom of expression though with its own limitations, given that journalists are locked up, some go on exile while others dieing in jail. There is increased accountability and awareness. The constituents can today hold officials accountable at election time. There is increased participation in elections. In 2011 the SDF came out with an 11 point agenda which forced the government to accept the Diaspora to begin voting. The SDF also forced the government to improve the electoral process by removing it from the MINATD to ELECAMS which is still predominantly CPDM, amongst many others.

The many electoral challenges faced by the home front are practiced here by agents of the CPDM. During the 2011 elections in South Africa for instance, the Focal Point represented by the Deputy High Commissioner at the Cameroon High Commission in Pretoria ensured that the SDF had no polling agents. We called the police and warned that the embassy would be held accountable if violence erupted. We also called the attention of the Chair of ELECAM, Dr Fonkam Azu, who ordered that SDF be represented. Though the SDF did not emerge victorious due to the characteristic rigging of elections before election day by agents of the CPDM government through violating the electoral process from registration through to card distribution every step of the way, our rights to be part of the electoral process were respected” SDF Sa Chairman, Comrade Milton Taka explained.

To the second Regional Vice Chair SDF SA, Paul Nkemakang who has been in the party since January 1999, SDF SA and as a party has much to celebrate though much could have been achieved. “I am so far very satisfied with what SDF SA has done for the party in Cameroon though I believe we could do a lot more especially if the political situation within SDF Cameroon was less divisive and more inspiring to Cameroonians“ he said.

His Chairman corroborates him. “As leader of SDF SA, we have contributed to the growth of the party and our focus has been on critical thinking. We are putting more effort to support in any circumstance that would help the SDF to be more strategic.

We have in place a technological mechanism, (Whatsup groups, Twitter, Facebook accounts, etc) that would allow the SDF to be more proactive and visible in the eys of its followers. We must admit that our communication has been weak for about the past 10 years reason for which more effort is needed in that direction. We are doing our best to reposition our party’s communication using the most modern and far-reaching technological options possible”.

One of our biggest achievements was getting the National Convention formally recognize and include the Social Youth wing as a formal party organ within its structures after experimenting with an SDF SA Youth League structure led by Comrade Jessy Itambi Ade as its Pioneer Chairperson informed by solid research findings that with an active and militant youth base, structures take shorter periods to achieve their set goals. SDF SA fought for over 3 to four years to have a Social Youth wing in the SDF which we branded as Youth League. Thank God to the vibrant democracy in the SDF that we now have the Socialist Youth and we think their contribution would soon be felt. We are however disappointed that the structure has not been resourced to go operational” he regretted.

Most of the SDF militants in South Africa belief the party is to take power in Cameroon. “The SDF is Cameroon’s government in waiting. The fact that the SDF has resisted bribes from joining a corrupt government for 25 years only indicates our will to create a just and democratic Cameroonian society.  NESPROG as a framework of the new Cameroon looks at Cameroon from the social, political and economic perspective. A federal Cameroon under the SDF would bring power back to the people; encourage regional development and economic growth. We believe that the SDF which remains the strongest and biggest opposition party will rule Cameroon very soon,” adds Roland Chebefuh, of the South African National School of Government and  Regional Secretary of SDF SA.

Despite Much talk about the leadership of the party, the SDF SA hierarchy thinks the party still has a bright future.

“The SDF has critical thinkers who are officials captaining industries and companies all over the world. The SDF is ready for leadership because we have all the capabilities, competencies and experience to govern and time would prove us right. We would continue to fight for the voice of the people to be heard and for change to come to Cameroon through the ballot box. I am one of those who believes in transformational leadership and timeous change at the head of every movement, so that others have the opportunity to bring in new ideas and strategies and try different options even when the previous leader took the team and his/her people to the top of the mountain. SDF SA has taken a decision in session to be an official constructive opposition within the party. To support when there is strong merit and to challenge when there are more attractive alternatives to certain positions. Our biggest disappointment is that we have become too political. The SDF is made up of freedom fighters too who simply want a free Cameroon with little interest in politicking and so require leadership at all times to understand that ours is a broad church mad of politicians – some who have achieved great strides for our party and country, freedom fighters, sympathisers, etc.  We of the SDF SA still believe we can take power through the ballot box and time will proof us right, “explains Comrade Chair Milton Taka.

Others are expecting a change of leadership in 2016. “The situation of the party back home is intrinsically linked to SDF SA and the other branches in the Diaspora. Negative sentiments against the party back home definitely have knock on effects on militants and Cameroonian participation in the Diaspora. This is still the case currently as there are still so many unsettled frustrations with the mother party. Unless the SDF makes ground breaking decisions on the succession debate, separation of powers, inclusiveness and reconciliation we risk becoming far irrelevant (like the current IFP in SA) on the Cameroon political scene post the 2016 National Convention of the party” posited the second Regional Vice Chair SDF SA, Paul Nkemakang.

The Regional Chair concluded that SDF will take power in 2018 with the contribution of SDF SA and many other good voices and forces in and out of Cameroon. “The SDF SA would continue to play a pivotal role in the new SDF. SDF SA remains selfless to the National party and is sure to contribute to take the SDF to power in Cameroon. The SDF needs to be rebranded, repositioned and renewed. Cameroonians don’t believe in the CPDM and trust the SDF. We need to reassure them with results and action. That has to be done in 2016 when we expect a new leadership that would put the party on the rails and take it to power in 2018, while having it on record that few can untie the lases of the shoes of our National Chairman, Comrade Ni John Fru Ndi and the many true founders and leaders of this party who sacrificed life and all to see Cameroon as a truly free and democratic country. We will for ever remain grateful for their endless sacrifices to the struggle to date” Milton Taka promised.

 

OTHER ACHIEVEMENT OF SDF SA

PICKETING

At 18 years the SDF SA has contributed immensely in denouncing the wrong goings in Cameroon through its protest and picketing. As far back as 1998, The SDF SA protested against the lack of democratic values in Cameroon at the Commonwealth Summit in Durban, SA.

The SDF SA was also part of the Non Alliance Movement and took part in a protest against the Presence of President Biya in Durban. The protest made the president to make a premature departure from SA, after he watched SDF militants protesting on TV.

SDF SA made its voice head more than once at the French Embassy. Protests were held at their embassy in Pretoria and their consulate in Johannesburg against their somewhat grip and exploitation of Cameroon. The events had an impact because it took place when the French were celebrating their national day.

Again at the PAN African Parliament in Midrand, the SDF mobilised Cameroonians and some members of Kameroon Oboso, a civil society organisation in another protest demonstration. They forced some government Ministers to hastily leave the event.

In 2010, SDF SA led massive protests at the Cameroon High Commision in Pretoria demanding “Biya Must Go” as the campaign was captioned in alliance with other Cameroon Groups in South Africa like Cameroon Obosso, a Cameroon stand alone civil rights movement based in South Africa. That saw the biggest mobilization of Cameroonians here in South Africa against the government.

Their protest has not been only at Embassies but also at the OR Tambo Airport. The militants waited for President Biya during the President Thabo Mbeki inaugural but in vain. He was also waited during the Mandela Funeral in futility.

Political School

Political Achievements

The SDF SA in 2011 causes SA embassy officials through petitions and meetings to get Cameroonians register for the elections. Though the embassy did so half-heartedly their protest against their non-participation in the entire process sent a strong message to Yaoundé authorities. The SDF SA has been sensitising Cameroonians to register for elections.

The highlight of our political life in SA was the visit of our Charismatic National Chairman, Comrade Ni Joh Fru Ndi and the massively attended Press Conference of June 2012 at 18th Floor Orion Hotel where Cameroonians heard from their National Chairman, appreciated him and his entourage including 1st Vice Chain Man, Comrade Honourable Osih Josh, asked very difficult questions and spoke on their perspective of how Cameroon can be achieved using SDF as the only reliable vehicle of change. Comrade Honourable Mbah Ndam is credited for regular visits to South Africa through which he has offering valuable insights and feedback with updates on the way forward.

With its SDF SA patriotic project, the party was able to download Cameroon’s anthem which it distributed to Compatriots whom many could not sing our National Anthem after being out of Cameroon for long.

The SDF SA has always stood for the parliament to adopt the Dual nationality bill and has never relented its efforts in that. The SDF SA is already having a Procurement Bill, as its own contribution to fight corruption, graft and embezzlement in Cameroon. It believes a well-crafted and implemented Procurement bill and a functional and independent judiciary will root out corruption significantly in Cameroon.

Through a well crafted proposal by the SDF SA, National party now has a Youth League, approved by NEC, which is doing its best to radicalise the youths with political knowledge and the need for them to remain steadfast in the struggle for a better Cameroon.

SDF SA is spearheading the creation of a School for Political Education and Training. It can boast of the pioneer SDF ward in Turfontein with Comrade Mokolo as Chair.

The SDF SA remains very vocal about the changes needed in the party and Cameroon, between 2016 and 2018. They are looking very closely on candidates to lead the party come SDF convention 2016 and have indicated that their support will strictly be based on key issues articulated and the message.

 

Investments and Social Achievements

The SDF SA has not only been protesting against injustices in Cameroon but has made in routes in the social domain.  SDF SA donated some computers to the National Secretariat in Bamenda Cameroon (2010). SDF in 2013 mobilized Cameroonians in South Africa to mourn Africa’s icon Nelson Mandela after the Cameroon leadership was visibly absent.

In March 2014, the SDF SA mobilised Cameroonians and a big Lapiro de Mbanga memorial was organised in Johannesburg, CapeTown and Pretoria to mourn the passing away of the Freedom fighter. Funds were raised to support Lapiro”s family in the USA.

The SDFSA has also assisted many Cameroonian freedom fighters and rights activists to regularise their stay in SA and other parts of the world, as well as with funds, shelter and you name them in their time of need.

In 2015, the SDF SA organised Cameroonians and other civil society groups and took part in a peaceful protest against xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals. It gave Comrade and Journalist Solomon Amabo, the support he deserved when he was victim of the said attacks. It did same to other militants who were victims in 2008.

During their last GA meeting, funds were raised to support the Cameroon army in its efforts to fight Boko Haram.

The SDF SA is battling tooth and nail to make the party visible. It is brazing up to launch the Party’s website in not too distant future. It currently has two Whatsup groups which it is using to mobilise and inform militants and Cameroonians about their stay in SA and their rights.

It is working with party leadership at home to support the creation of the Ni John Fru Ndi Democratic Foundation, a vehicle that will be used to position National Chairman Ni John Fru Ndi at the forefront of change in Cameroon.

The SDF SA has released the first edition of its newspaper, the Cameroon Diaspora Voice.

Difficulties

It has not been a bed of roses for SDF SA as the party struggles to implant itself in South Africa. The Cape Town Branch of SDF is due to have elections while the Pretoria branch is still in gestation. The SDF SA has some positive links with the ruling ANC of South Africa. The link was further cemented when the SDF SA Chair and National Chair met with top brass of the ANC in Cape Town during the Socialist international Gathering in 2012.

Militants turning orphans as they increasingly sit on the fence due to the slow pace of transformation in the party and country.

Most militants wanting to militant but shying away from investing in the struggle making the bundle quite heavy on the most committed.

At 18, the SDF SA is brazing up to continue to struggle to make Cameroon better.