||Dennis Brutus and Patrick Bond report on the greening of the Jubilee
movement against the North’s financial power
In this arid terrain of struggle in this desertland of planned oppression
in this Sahara of corporate exploitation
where stubby outcrops, stunted scrubbrush
offer apparent relief, offer delusive pledges
in this nightmare of our half-lives
let us reject all palliatives
let us commit ourselves to resolute struggle
we will cry Enough, Enough, Enough!
until we have freedom for all
No more debt, no more slavery
No more debt-slavery
No more, no more, no more
- Voices of the Assembly by Dennis Brutus, August 10 2008.
We are the creditors! insist a new layer of African social activists
victimised by the ongoing Third World debt crisis, but now gathered to
And they are right, particularly when we consider how much the north has
looted from the south in ecological terms.
Last week, the Africa chapters of Jubilee South, a social movement,
converged in Nairobi to debunk limited debt relief by northern powers
and to plan the next stage of financial campaigning.
Later today in Johannesburg, the revival of Jubilee South Africa is
partly based upon members' attention to the reverse debt owed by big
capital for environmental damage.
Ecological debt is now an especially important concept for our
collective future, as a new official simulation of the disastrous impact
of rising sea levels on Cape Town creates similar concerns for us in Durban.
Who should pay for mitigating global warming and adaptation?
After all, hedonistic northern hemisphere financial agencies (especially
the World Bank), corporations, governments and consumers made most of
the greenhouse gas mess.
Yet Africans will clean up after the party they didn't go to, and pay
mightily in the process: increased droughts and floods will leave
potentially 90% of the continent's food producers at risk by 2100,
according to the main UN climate body.
That bill should now be reckoned and invoiced, to recover trillions of
rands' worth of ecological credits given unwillingly to industrial
countries each year for their illegitimate occupation of too much global
According to the leading scientist in the field, Autonomous University
of Barcelona's Joan Martinez-Alier, The notion of ecological debt is
not particularly radical.
Think of the environmental liabilities incurred by firms under the
United States Superfund legislation, or of the engineering field called
restoration ecology, or the proposals by the Swedish government to
calculate the country's environmental debt.
His examples are diverse: Nutrients in exports including virtual water,
the oil and minerals no longer available, the biodiversity destroyed,
sulphur dioxide emitted by copper smelters, the mine tailings, the harm
to health from flower exports, the pollution of water by mining, the
commercial use of information and knowledge on genetic resources, when
they have been appropriated gratis ('biopiracy'), and agricultural
As for the north's lack of payment for environmental services or for
the disproportionate use of environmental space, Martinez-Alier
criticises imports of solid or liquid toxic waste, and free disposal of
gas residues (carbon dioxide, CFCs, etc).
The sums involved are potentially vast.
The founder of ecofeminism, Vandana Shiva, and the South Centre's Yash
Tandon estimate that seed biopiracy contributes some $66 billion (R517
billion) annually to the US economy.
Another $75 billion (R587 billion) is effectively donated by the south
to the north each year through mopping up carbon emissions in tropical
forests, according to the UN.
A 2005 study commissioned by the Edmonds Institute and African Centre
for Biosafety identified nearly three dozen cases of biopiracy, such as
a diabetes drug produced by a Kenyan microbe; antibiotics from a Gambian
termite hill; an antifungal from a Namibian giraffe; the South African
and Namibian indigenous appetite suppressant Hoodia; and drug addiction
treatments in kombo butter from Central and West Africa.
Jubilee South Africa is focusing on the damage done by platinum mining
in the North West and Limpopo, especially by AngloPlats, which exports
profits from non-renewable resource extraction to London shareholders in
spite of intense community protest.
Another Jubilee campaign supports the Wild Coast's Amadiba Crisis
Committee against the coming titanium grab by Australia's Mineral
Resource Commodities firm.
In now familiar ANC crony-capitalist style, the firm has full support
from minister Buyelwa Sonjica, who last Friday launched a bizarre attack
in Xolobeni upon heroic eco-lawyer Richard Spoor.
In all these ways, ecological debt is now being tabulated. Promising a
wave of formal debt audits across the continent, Nairobi-based Africa
Jubilee South co-ordinator Njoki Njehu concluded that: Africa and the
rest of the Global South are owed a huge historical and ecological debt
for slavery, colonialism, and centuries of exploitation.
Prof Brutus again goes to the New York Southern District courts in late
September, as his and the Khulumani/Jubilee case continues against three
dozen multinational corporations which supported apartheid.
Our Eye on Civil Society column on July 8 argued that these firms need a
strong legal signal so they desist from investing in repressive regimes
such as Burma, Zimbabwe and the Sudan.
We raised this with deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad at a recent
parliamentary seminar hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and he
sounded concerned, but unable to dislodge Pretoria's anti-reparations
alliance with Bush, Brown, Merkel and the corporations.
In this space a fortnight ago, we raised the alarm that the Centre for
Civil Society was under threat of closure.
Last Wednesday, the UKZN faculty board responsible for humanities,
development studies and social sciences voted overwhelmingly to save the
We are extremely grateful for this support, and to Vice-Chancellor
Malegapuru Makgoba who wrote (the day before the faculty board meeting):
I shall insist on the input of the academic voice on this matter as I
regard this as the only way to protect academic freedom, academic
integrity and academic excellence. These are values I not only cherish
but hold very dear.
# Professors Patrick Bond and Dennis Brutus update eco-debt and Centre
for Civil Society survival at www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs and more information
can be found at www.jubileesouth.org