||On 31 August 2002, under the banner of Social Movements United (SMU), over
20 000 red-clad activists marched from Alexandra to Sandton 1 in protest against
the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Just two hours later,
another march left Alexandra following the same route. This march, under the
banner of the Global People’s Forum, was smaller but no less significant when
looking to understand growing social contestations in South Africa.
The SMU marched against the Summit, renaming it the World Summit on
Sustainable Destruction (W$$D), and rejecting its framework for sustainable
development. The march provided a platform from which local activists would draw
attention to the continued and deepening crisis in the roll-out of services to the poor
and the increasing poverty of South Africans at the bottom of the economic ladder.
For many on the march, it was a return to the glorious traditions of resistance
cooked up in activist laboratories in the 1980s. But the march also represented a
break with the traditions of the old liberation movement, finding itself within an
international community of activists struggling to find new ways of responding to
neo-liberalism and corporate globalisation.
In stark contrast, the Global People’s Forum march did not come to challenge, but
rather to congratulate and celebrate. The gulf between the two marches was more
than a clash between partisan loyalties or a difference in approaches. Rather, the
conflict between the two represents the growing rift between the rulers and the
ruled, between the old and the evolving, between the government’s commitment to
the Washington Consensus and the people’s desire for that other world of possibilities.
It is, at its core, representative of the growing contestation of notions of development
and social change that have characterised this review period.
We begin this chapter with the WSSD because it speaks so clearly, and recently, to
the position of the South African state and to civil societies within the current neo-liberal
world order, highlighting most importantly the differences with regard to
notions of, and approaches to, social change and development. While we examine
the nature and extent of social delivery within the state’s development through
export-led, market- and private-sector-driven growth, we also look at the arguments
made by social movements that any delivery within a neo-liberal macro-economic
framework is of necessity limited, since it cannot deliver the extensive resource
mobilisation necessary for far-reaching economic redress, social justice and equity.
In this light, we argue that government’s continued mobilisation of the discourse of
development and ‘meeting the needs of the poorest and most marginalised’ onlyworks to create the illusion of a commitment to rapid, far-reaching social change
while the state is in fact extending the reach of the neo-liberal project. We also look
briefly at the challenges that this poses for a civil society that has invested much
time, energy and other resources in targeting the state for social change and
development in the interests of the majority.
Our choices for discussion in this chapter have been determined not only by their
currency in recent debates and discussions, but also by the fact that they are the
daily, lived realities of the majority of South Africans being forced to engage with
neo-liberalism in its many forms in their daily lives.
Rather than exploring issues of delivery individually within the context of how the
state has addressed these, we explore the general trends that are evident across
sectors; this will provide an assessment of the impact of the state’s delivery on the
nature and extent of poverty, both generally and specifically, and will also highlight
the differences in approach amongst different sectors of South African society.
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