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BRICS 'anti-imperialism' or 'subimperialism'?

Debate with Ebrahim Ebrahim draws out pro-BRICS journalist on whether critique is just 'old-style communist student politics.'

Licking their lips over Africa's Resources
Patrick Bond (Mercury Eye on Society) 12 March 2013

Writing last Friday (“Will SA’S new friends turn out so different from the West?”) about a debate over the coming Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) heads-of-state summit, our country’s leading foreign policy journalist, Peter Fabricius, chose insults, perhaps to avoid addressing some deep dilemmas.

“Bond is a familiar exponent of old-style communism,” he alleged, and thus Ambassador Anil Sooklal “ought, from a purely rhetorical perspective, to have dismissed Bond’s attack as student politics. For certainly Bond was firing a blunderbuss at all of what the Left regards as the ANC’s sell-out to international capital and neo-liberalism etc, rather than just at Brics.”

No, actually, like many South Africans, ideas of the New Left attract me – while Stalinism and corrupted nationalism repel. And although the ANC’s adoption of neoliberalism instead of the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme was indeed an historic sell-out, I do plead guilty to hoisting a blunderbuss.

Why? Because we must now be blunt if, as is certain, the Durban summit will be remembered as a latter-day 1884-85 Berlin conference. Five colonial powers – host Germany, Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium (plus Italy and Spain) – divvied up the continent back then with one common objective: efficient resource extraction through export-oriented infrastructure.

To update this very task, five Brics leaders will invite 16 heads of state from Africa, many of whom are notorious tyrants, to a gated Zimbali luxury lodge on March 27 – having confirmed the continent’s economic carve-up the day before. Their knife of choice is a sharp new ‘Brics Bank’ that London and New York economists Nick Stern and Joe Stiglitz – both former World Bank senior vice presidents – told them would cost $50 billion in start-up capital (exactly the thumbsuck number they’ve already chosen to announce).

This new Bank comes nine months after $75 billion was wasted by the same five, bailing out the International Monetary Fund in a manner that shrunk both Africa’s voting share and prospects for world economic recovery. And 11 months ago, two Brics nominees for World Bank president were soundly defeated by Washington’s candidate thanks to unfair US-EU voting power.

The Brics aim to replace the ‘Bank of the South’ – dreamt of by the late Hugo Chavez although repeatedly sabotaged by more conservative Brasilia bureaucrats and likewise opposed by Pretoria –but will theirs be any different than Washington’s twin banks?

If Sooklal is correct that Beijing now backs South Africa’s bid to host the new bank, with no other offers from the remaining three at this stage, then we should worry.

After all, our own precedent, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), is a very sick institution. It promoted dumb ideas like commercialised water and toll roads, and turned a blind eye to construction industry collusion. After losing a stunning R370 million in 2012, its work was termed ‘shoddy’ by its new Chief Executive last December. The DBSA was also attacked last July by the Southern African Development Community, whose second-in-command remarked that a new SADC Bank would be preferable.

And yes, we have grounds for concern about dubious overseas influence when the DBSA’s main international envoy is Mo Shaik, a former spy who wrongfully accused the attorney general of being an apartheid agent, who has zero banking or development experience, who was party to questionable Ferrostaal arms dealing, who revealed Zuma cabinet secrets to US State Department officials (according to secret Washington cables published by WikiLeaks) about what really goes on in Pretoria.

Also disturbing is that when it comes to reforming world finance, finance minister Pravin Gordhan has called on the IMF to be more ‘nasty’ to low-income Europeans, while SA Reserve Bank deputy governor Daniel Mminele bragged last November that Pretoria stands alongside Washington in opposing global regulation such as the ‘Robin Hood tax’ on financial transactions.

Moreover, as Mminele put it, “South Africa is aligned with advanced economies on the issue of climate finance” – i.e., against paying ‘ecological debt’ to increasingly desperate countries already losing 400,000 people per year to climate-caused deaths. The same Washington-Brics alliance can be found at the UN climate summits, which refuse to adopt binding emissions cuts: a decision that the name Durban will always be remembered for in shame following the failed COP17 in December 2011.

As a result, Africa could become an even more violent battleground for conflicts between Brics firms intent on oil, gas and minerals extraction, whether Brazil’s Vale and Petrobras, or South Africa’s Anglo or BHP Billiton (albeit with London and Melbourne financial headquarters), or India’s Tata or Arcelor-Mittal, or Chinese state-owned firms and Russian energy corporations.

A few years ago, minister of justice Jeff Radebe termed such firms ‘new imperialists’ because “many SA companies working elsewhere in Africa come across as arrogant, disrespectful, aloof and careless in their attitude towards local business communities, work-seekers and even governments.”

The maldevelopment that results is exemplified in South Durban where R250 billion in white-elephant state infrastructure subsidies will soon flow to chaotic port, freight and petrochemical industry expansion notwithstanding resistance by victim communities.

That resistance will grow, including at a March 23 community teach-in next to the area’s main oil refinery, and then from 25-27 March, during the ‘brics-from-below’ counter-summit at the Diakonia church in central Durban. It’s here that critics can discuss Brics and ANC neoliberalism without Fabricius’ shallow journalistic distortion.

Will SA’s new pals be so different from the West?
Peter Fabricius 8 March 2013

The ANC doesn’t enjoy being attacked from the Left. Attacks from the Right can, of course, be breezily dismissed as racist/neo-colonialist/imperialist/liberal, you name it. The ANC dictionary overflows with ready-made ripostes to the Right.

But it is rather devoid of easy ripostes to the Left. This was evident at a recent public debate organised by the development NGO ActionAid on South Africa’s hosting of the Brics summit in Durban later this month.

The theme was “Brics: Paradigm Shift or more of the same?” and ActionAids’ South Africa director Fatima Shabodien framed the debate by asking if Brics offered a “fundamental shift in ideology” or just more of the same “neo-liberal” economic ideology, but now with the new big emerging powers – namely South Africa’s Brics partners Brazil, Russia, India and China – as the key actors rather than the old Western powers.

Patrick Bond, a senior professor in the school of built environment and development studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, answered the question in no uncertain terms, berating the government for not just abetting but for “actively collaborating” with the new “sub-imperialist” powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China by helping them to “carve up Africa”.
“This is 1885 all over again,” Bond declaimed, accusing the Brics countries of mounting a “second Scramble for Africa” in their haste to extract the continent’s natural resources. China’s major construction of infrastructure on the continent – much lauded by South Africa and other African governments as well as development economists – became, in Bond’s perspective, just an instrument of Beijing’s neo-colonialist enterprise.

It was all about getting minerals from mines to ports to be shipped to China, he declared, adding that the new Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will attend this month’s Durban summit, “would be perfectly comfortable” with the arch-colonialist Cecil John Rhodes’s view of Africa.

He and Shabodien asked some familiar questions, which have emanated from no particular ideological direction, such as: if South Africa’s Brics partners are such good friends, why have China and Russia not supported our bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; why did the Brics countries not back Africa’s candidate to be boss of the World Bank; and why did China pressure South Africa to deny a visa to the Dalai Lama?
Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim, representing the government, seemed rather nonplussed by Bond’s attack, although he could hardly not have expected it, as Bond is a familiar exponent of old-style communism.

He offered the standard government line, that the emergence of the Brics represented a fundamental shift in global economic power away from the West and towards a new multipolar – or “plurilateral” – world. South Africa’s role in Brics should be seen, essentially, as helping to shift the world in that direction. But that didn’t answer the question posed by Shabodien, whether Brics offered a “fundamental shift in ideology” or just a rearrangement of the players in the old game.
Ebrahim took some refuge in South Africa’s “sous-sherpa” for Brics, Anil Sooklal, the deputy director-general for the Middle East and Asia, to reply to some of the questions. Sooklal seemed taken aback by Bond’s frontal assault from the Left, suggesting it was arrogant. It recalled the attitude both of the “apartheid lecturers” at the segregated Indian university he had had to attend in the old South Africa and of EU academics “who have answers to everything”.

Bond had done a “disservice to academia”, he added.

Sooklal was probably on the right line in recalling his university days, as he probably ought, from a purely rhetorical perspective, to have dismissed Bond’s attack as student politics.

For certainly Bond was firing a blunderbuss at all of what the Left regards as the ANC’s sell-out to international capital and neo-liberalism etc, rather than just at Brics.

Yet the one nagging question posed by him and Shabodien remained: what does Brics really offer South Africa that is different, other than the satisfaction of poking the West in the eye?
Sooklal touched on that when he said the definition of infrastructure articulated by Bond was much too narrow, and that Brics had in mind a far broader definition – addressing poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment – in its policy of investing in infrastructure.

That evidently referred to South Africa’s belief that the Brics partners will fashion their investment in South Africa – and the rest of the continent – to process and thus add value to raw materials, creating local jobs and greater local growth, rather than just extracting the stuff and shipping it out.

President Jacob Zuma put it more directly in an interview with the Financial Times this week when he warned Western companies that they would have to stop treating Africa as a former colony or Africa “will go to new partners who are going to treat them differently”.

He particularly accused Western mining companies of only extracting ore and not fostering support industries, such as diamond-polishing, in the host nations.

He nonetheless added that Africa was aware that its new friends such as China might do the same.

Zuma was articulating what his government presumably regards as the essential difference between Xi Jinping and Cecil John Rhodes. And it is revealing that for him it did not seem yet to be an entirely closed question.

Peter Fabricius is Independent Foreign Service editor. (The Star)

Civil society groups plan parallel summits as Brics countries meet in Durban
Khulekani Magubane (Business Day) 4 March 2013

NONGOVERNMENTAL organisations and members of civil society critical of developments between emerging economies will hold their own summits alongside this month’s long-awaited Brics summit in Durban, as they are not convinced membership of the economic grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will benefit the working class in South Africa or in other Brics nations.

Apart from being emerging economies, the Brics nations share common challenges such as infrastructure backlogs and what South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation calls the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Organisations including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN’s) School for Development Studies said at a debate in Johannesburg on Thursday night that they would hold their own events during the first Brics summit to be held in Africa.

Deputy International Relations and Co-operation Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said the Brics grouping and the proposed Brics development bank could play a role in reforming global governance and addressing deadlocks such as the North Korean missile veto.

Though Brics might not agree on reforms in all areas, it is an important platform for South Africa and other nations to voice their views on global governance. Failure to reform the United Nations Security Council will erode confidence in the world’s multilateral systems, Mr Ebrahim said.

Fatima Shabodien, director at anti-poverty agency ActionAid in South Africa, said her organisation hoped the Brics grouping would lead to infrastructure developments that would benefit the working-class majorities in Brics countries. ActionAid is active in at least four of the five Brics nations.

Often decisions of a small group of people in one part of the world can affect the lives of people in another part of the world. The development challenges in these countries are so complex they need nations to work together to find a new path of global governance. The world we want is not possible in the current prevailing governance structures Ms Shabodien said.

She said that while infrastructure was important, even infrastructure in South Africa was cold comfort for the poor people who could not access it.

The UKZN School of Development Studies’ Prof Patrick Bond said there was little chance of South Africa’s membership of Brics serving to meet South Africa’s goals for global governance reform.

Why should South Africa expect this reform when two of the Brics nations oppose a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council for South Africa? There is also a sense of resentment towards the Development Bank of Southern Africa because the Southern African Development Community doesn’t have any power over it and the region needs its own bank, Prof Bond said...

Prof Bond also criticised decisions South African leaders have made, apparently in light of bilateral relations with some Brics nations, including denying Nobel laureate the Dalai Lama a visa to visit South African Nobel recipient Desmond Tutu.

Mr Ebrahim said the Brics countries’ foreign policy was guided by national interests and states would make decisions according to what met those interests.

I don’t think the majority of South Africa cares much for the Dalai Lama coming to the country…. South Africa is better off in Brics than outside it and we have to make difficult decisions to serve the national interest, Mr Ebrahim said.

South Africa’s Brics ambassador, Anil Sooklal, said pessimism over South Africa’s role in Brics was not needed, especially from South Africans.

Europeans and the West seem to have all the answers and every time we as the developing world do something we are put down. It seems the sexy thing to do these days is to bash Brics and we do not need this kind of pessimism, Mr Sooklal said.

Cosatu communications manager Norman Mampane said Cosatu would hold its own below the Brics summit in Durban.

The chief director of the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Rasigan Maharajh, said engagements between Brics nations at a platform such as the summit needed to include civil society and not be reserved for political leaders and business.

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