||Politicians’ pleas for global justice ring hollow at home
While lights flicker off across South Africa, eloquent sounds reverberate back from faraway lands. President Thabo Mbeki crossed to New York last month for the United Nations Heads of State Summit, demanding a fair deal for the Third World: ‘Something is wrong when many
Africans traverse, on foot, the harsh, hot and hostile Sahara Desert to reach the European shores. Something is wrong when walls are built to prevent poor neighbours from entering those countries where they seek better opportunities.’
In Pretoria, does Mbeki make the same plea to his Home Affairs and SA Police Services officials who torment South Africa’s poor neighbours, hauling them into the notorious Lindela Accommodation Centre on the West Rand. Or did he ever mention his welcoming attitude to senior members of the ANC Women's League (Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile, Adelaide Tambo, Nomvula Mokonyane and Lindiwe Maseko) who created Dyambu Trust, the private
Agency, which saw in Lindela a chance for a tidy profit?
As many as twenty percent of the people snatched from kombi taxis or sidewalks and interned at Lindela were legitimate residents or visitors to South Africa, according to Human Rights Watch a decade ago. Corruption is rampant, as an SABC Special Assignment report on Lindela
showed three years ago. Unnecessary deaths at the detention centre were so blatant that the following month, an internal investigation left Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to admit, ‘This report is indeed a damning report and a real indictment on our work as a department.’
What did she then do? In June, she defended the rehiring of the Lindela management company, Bosasa, on grounds there were not enough bidders, and then permitted her own communications adviser, Stephen Laufer, to also serve Bosasa as a client. The ‘rip-off’ contract with Bosasa, as it
was described in a parliamentary hearing by the chair of the public accounts committee, gives the company an additional R49 million a year.
Despite South Africa’s role as magnet for regional migrants, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel made the same move as Mbeki at an Institute of International Finance conference in Washington: ‘From the perspective of the South it seems that developed Western countries, who in their quest
to save and minimise costs and maximise returns, are producing too few engineers, doctors and nurses to even meet their own demands. And so the developed world plunders developing countries for the skills that they have failed to create.’
South Africa’s policy of higher university fees and financial exclusions – which will adversely affect my own university in coming weeks – confirms Manuel’s drive to minimise costs. State subsidies per learner will drop 20% in the next three years.
Manuel continued: ‘National leaders look in despair at the outflow of their talented and educated people to opportunities in other countries - this is all too-easily a self-reinforcing deteriorating spiral: people leave because the outlook for their own countries looks unfavourable,
and the outflow itself reduces the prospects for growth and development.’
That’s a reasonable description of what is happening to Zimbabwe, thanks to migration of both skilled and unskilled workers to South Africa, in turn thanks to the failure of Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy with Robert Mugabe.
At the UN, Mbeki’s speech was thus disturbingly close-to-home: ‘The wretched of the earth know from their bitter experience how their resource-rich areas were transformed into arid, uninhabitable and desolate areas forcing migration to better-endowed regions thus
exacerbating conflicts and struggles for scarce resources.’
Of course, such rhetoric is advances beyond Mbeki’s earlier claims that the ‘first’ and ‘second’ economies – as he terms them - are ‘structurally disconnected’. They are obviously not, as we learned again last week in Limpopo province where land wars between wretched ex-bantustan residents and mining houses temporarily left Ga-Chaba villagers successful against Lonmin Platinum, forcing the company to back off a new dig (after earlier fights with Anglo Plats). How many days will it be before Mbeki’s police help Lonmin transform Ga-Chaba
into a desolate mine dump?
Mbeki’s UN speech shows full awareness of the relationship between peasants in the likes of Ga-Chaba and the platinum lords: ‘The two economies, one developed and globally connected and another localised and informal, display many features of a global system of apartheid. As
South Africans, we sought to strengthen the first economy and use it as a base to transfer resources to strengthen and modernise the second economy and thus embark on the process to change the lives of those who subsist in this second economy.'
In reality, Mbeki still endorses a trickle-down strategy, as shown in the vast corporate welfare subsidies now flowing to invent a first economy at Coega, allegedly for unemployed residents of the Nelson Mandela Metropole. In the process, the world’s cheapest electricity will
be supplied to Canadian corporate Alcan so they can hire fewer than 1000
workers in their smelter.
The grid will need to add an extra 3.5% power from somewhere, and Minister Alec Erwin is convinced privatized power supply is the answer to the supply crisis, both in Durban and Mandela Metropole.
It’s not. The answer is to cut down on huge industrial projects which create few jobs, not only because of the current supply crisis, but because their electricity hunger leaves South Africa with one of the world’s worst carbon dioxide emission rates, twenty times worse per unit
of economic output per person than even the United States.
Mbeki’s UN speech continued: ‘Gathered here as representatives of the people of the world we know very well that climate change, poverty and underdevelopment are not acts of God but human-made. Clearly, the starting point for a future climate regime must be equity.’
Clearly not at home, though. Poor South Africans are unable to afford more than a small flow of electricity (50 kiloWatt hours are offered free) because domestic price rises so steeply, resulting in more than a million people hit with disconnections each year and millions more
self-disconnected because of pre-paid meter blackouts.
Since South Africa draws electricity not only from filthy coal but also the Cahora Bassa dam in Mozambique, problems there last week left Gauteng with sustained load shedding. Rolling blackouts were especially painful because the switch-off of traffic lights combined with bad weather.
Because ordinary South Africans were not party to the cheap electricity deals cut with large corporations, long-term supply guarantees mean the starting point for electricity shortages is inequity. As Frater Asset Management services reported last week, ‘If Eskom has a choice between cutting supply to a large city or an aluminium smelter, you now know
which one it will choose. We recommend you ensure gas lanterns are in good supply.’
The lamps will be useful for reading magnificent speeches by local politicians in far-away places.
Patrick Bond is director of the Center for Civil Society