||How mature and unified must a broad Left front in a given city become before it establishes a coherent critique of, and hosts demonstrations against, the international establishment?
If movements in Seattle, Washington, Quebec City, Genoa, Barcelona and many other Northern sites have posed and successfully answered this question, and if Porto Alegre's World Social Forum provided the answer of one no, many yeses!, it has also occupied South Africans since the Durban World Conference Against Racism last August.
Here in Johannesburg, there is added urgency in the four weeks before the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), or Rio+10, which will be held in the haute-bourgeois suburb of Sandton from 26 August-4 September.
The main problem from Durban remains: a split between mass-based organisations and the more militant social movements whose exasperation with the African National Congress (ANC) government puts them at the frontline of protest. An attempt to reconcile in mid-July, through a proposed South African Social Forum hosted by the SA NGO Coalition (Sangoco), failed largely because of insufficient time for a unity process.
That leaves two major blocks:
* the Global Civil Society Forum of unions, churches, Sangoco and some important members, and a faction of the once-formidable township civics (residents) movement; and
* the Social Movement Indaba which brings together Jubilee South Africa, the AntiPrivatisation Forum of radical Johannesburg-area community groups and their allies in other cities, the national Landless Peoples Movement, the Environmental Justice Networking Forum, the First People indigenous nations, the Limpopo Province Movement for Delivery, and a variety of groups which had originally played a role in what was termed the UN Civil Society Indaba hosting committee.
Ideologically, the different factions' critiques of the pro-privatisation WSSD and its African section--the New Partnership for Africa's Development--are also uneven. Most importantly, bitter divisions have grown over how tough to be with the host government and president Thabo Mbeki in particular.
A bit of background on progressive strategy is important. Beginning in late 1995, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) became visibly concerned about the direction the ANC was taking after 18 months in power, following the country's first democratic elections in April 1994. Privatisation of state services, which cost tens of thousands of jobs and raised prices to impoverished consumers, was the early and ongoing basis for national strikes. The first was December 1995 against then deputy president Thabo Mbeki's announcement that privatisation would begin in earnest.
By August 2001, frustration had built up in the trade union movement to the point that when Cosatu's leadership called a two-day national strike, more than four million workers--more than twice Cosatu's formal membership--heeded the call. The timing was important, for the strike humiliated the ANC at the time of the Durban racism conference, attended by more than 10,000 delegates who wanted to believe that South Africa was genuinely liberated.
Still, demonstrating the fickle nature of Alliance politics, Cosatu won no concessions but then immediately agreed to hold a joint march (of around 7,000 people) against racism alongside the Durban ANC and the SA Communist Party. The previous day had witnessed a much more militant demonstration by anti-neoliberal movements which marched under the banner of the Durban Social Forum. The Social Forum pulled together an estimated 20,000 protesters on behalf of Palestinian freedom, land rights, debt cancellation, community housing and services, and the need for an alternative to neoliberalism. The mood was extremely hostile to the ANC. Neither president Mbeki nor UN secretary-general Kofi Annan deigned to personally accept the memoranda presented at the Durban convention centre.
As tensions simmered and then cooled within the ANC-SACP-Cosatu Tripartite Alliance in subsequent months, leaders of Cosatu joined Sangoco, the SA Council of Churches and the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) to take over the civil society secretariat in early 2002. The Civil Society Indaba was booted out unceremoniously, on grounds--according to Cosatu--of financial mismanagement (subsequently shown to be false) and, politically, that The structures of the Indaba give disproportionate power to small and unrepresentative NGOs which were anti-government.
Another angle also emerged, as reported in the Mail & Guardian newspaper: The New Partnership for Africa's Development appears to be key to the divisions in this sector... The Civil Society Indaba has a leftist, anti-globalisation focus. It has claimed there is `big brother' interference from the government in the new, mainstream South African Civil Society Forum set up by Cosatu and its allies.
During the first six months of 2002, virtually all African civil society groups rejected that partnership plan of Mbeki, known as Nepad (see Bond, Nepad, No Thanks, Say African Progressives, ZNet Commentary, June 21, http://www.zmag.org). Later, after Mbeki's disappointing meeting with the G8, a major push from Pretoria brought on fence-sitting churches, NGOs, labour and even a few intellectuals. The conceptual trick was for these civil society forces to continue to criticise Nepad's form, content and process, yet now politely agree to engage Mbeki and other African leaders by requesting a rewrite.
However, it is safe to predict that nothing will come of the demand for a Nepad with and for the workers and the poor, as the SA Communist Party put it at its congress this week (http://www.sacp.org.za). One indication of the difficulty in turning around Mbeki's plan--and entire neoliberal approach--was the cancellation of his opening SACP congress speech. Another was the vicious attack launched against deputy SACP leader Jeremy Cronin by Mbeki's main ANC assistant, Smuts Ngonyama, last week, caused by reports on a January 2002 website publication of Cronin's frank interview about marginalisation of the Left within the ANC (http://www.comms.dcu.ie/sheehanh/sheehan.htm).
Yet because the social weight of the working class and progressive activists remain strong, even the ANC as a political party spoke in the same anti-neoliberal language when giving its support for the Global Civil Society Forum protest march in Johannesburg against world poverty on Saturday, August 31. Consider last week's ANC statement to the Forum:
The Johannesburg Summit convenes against the backdrop of a city visibly scarred by the profound contradictions of its history. Wealth and poverty lie cheek by jowl, a stone's throw from the central venue of the intergovernmental conference. And Jo'burg's landscape is strewn with the waste of one hundred years of resource extraction; in the service of which South Africa's racial hierarchy was constructed with violent determination. The city's contemporary social and environmental panorama is an ever-present reminder of our country's painful past. This divided geography also reflects the state of the world as we enter the twenty first century: a globalised world built on the foundation of imperial conquest and colonial domination, which continues to define the contours of privilege and underdevelopment...
In the developed capitalist countries it is monopoly companies, particularly transnational corporations, which set the globalisation agenda. These corporations have the potential to determine economic, social and environmental policy of governments throughout the world. Already, the content and form of globalisation of trade, investment and capital flows, and the operation of some of the critical multilateral institutions reflect in large measure the wishes of these corporations. Combined with these forces, the nation states of the North have also continued to drive and shape the process of globalisation in a manner that suits their national interests.
Such a statement mainly reflects how far leftward the South African political-ecological narrative is situated. In other societies, a proud, neoliberal ruling party would hardly denigrate the country's largest city just prior to its welcoming the largest-ever UN event, and then blame potential foreign investors for having too much power, i.e., for maintaining the contours of privilege and underdevelopment. These are merely two of the paragraphs in the ANC statement that talk left, act right (http://www.anc.org.za), in a manner familiar to all who have read Frantz Fanon's critique of the pitfalls of national consciousness.
Yet the critique of Johannesburg's inhumanity cannot disguise the fact that in socio-economic terms, life deteriorated for the masses as a function of the ANC's municipal and national urban policies. Moreover, the rude treatment of transnational corporations (TNCs) is merely a veil for Pretoria's deference to footloose investors. For example, the systematic empowerment of TNCs at the World Trade Organisation's Doha summit was lubricated by the ANC trade minister, Alec Erwin, who split durable African opposition to corporate-controlled trade (see Dot Keet's superb documentation in a new Alternative Information and Development Centre booklet, at http://www.tni.org/archives/keet/sawto.pdf). Thus ANC rhetoric may merely exhibit a subconscious desire for a naughty Green Oscar award at an August 23 ceremony in Sandton, where San Francisco's Corpwatch, Friends of the Earth International and local activists at the excellent NGO groundWork will recognise (and ridicule) world-class greenwashing (http://www.earthsummit.biz).
ANC claims of successful delivery fool fewer and fewer people. Grassroots anti-evictions and services reconnection mobilisations carried out in Soweto, Cape Town's townships and many other sites are growing and are often successful, simply by the force of nuisance--sometimes disconnecting the ANC politicians themselves--and by virtue of strong moral righteousness (see, e.g., http://www.antieviction.org.za, http://www.queensu.ca/msp and especially Ashin Desai's brilliant new book, We are the Poors, http://www.monthlyreview.org). An international day of protest at SA embassies on August 15 will coincide with the trial of Trevor Ngwane and 86 other Soweto activists. In April, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee members and allies were arrested at a non-violent demonstration against disconnections at Johannesburg mayor Amos Masondo's house. Unprovoked, the mayor's bodyguard shot eight live rounds of ammunition into the crowd, injuring two. Ngwane and 49 others spent 11 days in jail without being granted bail, and their court case will be closely watched for signals about the repression WSSD protesters can expect.
If we scan the landscape for other signs of social discontent in the run-up to the WSSD, several prominent features come into view. The most impressive examples are the national stayaway strikes of millions of workers. Last week, another two-day protest was called by Cosatu for October 1-2, on grounds, as general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi put it, that Privatisation of basic services has continued unabated. The bloodbath of job losses has intensified despite millions protesting against this attack on the working-class living standards since 1999 (http://www.cosatu.org.za). Cosatu's suspension of anti-privatisation strikes this year in favour of intra-Alliance talks got the labour movement nowhere, Vavi conceded. The municipal workers union also carried off a successful three-week strike earlier this month (http://www.samwu.org.za). The major cities were, as a result, littered with rubbish, embarrassing Mbeki when he hosted the controversy-ridden Durban launch of the Africa Union in early July.
Closely allied with Cosatu, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has done exceptionally powerful advocacy work to gain access to Aids medicines for five million HIV+ South Africans, resulting in formidable pressure against the government's ongoing Aids-denialist, genocidal policies. Although TAC's victory in a precedent-setting constitutional court case in early July forces Pretoria to provide the drug nevirapine to pregnant HIV+ women and rape survivors, the roll-out process is slow and subject to central government sabotage. Health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was quoted at the recent Barcelona Aids conference calling nevirapine poison, and she hijacked a grant to KwaZulu-Natal province from the UN-administered Global Fund last week so as to centralise funding into programmes that don't emphasise treatment as much.
Robust alliances and campaigns have emerged around other issues. Although they have a lower profile than grassroots services reconnections, labour's anti-neoliberal demands and the struggle for Aids medicines, several activist initiatives will continue during the WSSD. The Jubilee movement put the apartheid debt on the agenda and will protest last month's appalling loan by Pretoria to the Democratic Republic of the Congo so as to clear IMF arrears from Mobuto's days. Progressive church groups and NGOs have formed advocacy coalitions demanding a universal Basic Income Grant (of $10/month); prohibition of Genetically Modified food; the cancellation of the $6 billion arms deal; and reparations from apartheid-era profiteering. On the latter front, a lawsuit against US and European companies and banks filed last month was only one of the many activities underway to raise consciousness about the historical legacy of injustice. Conveniently, the new Africa headquarters of apartheid-financier Citibank happens to stand next door to the Sandton convention centre which is hosting the WSSD (for infinite reasons to run on Citibank, see http://www.ran.org).
The Landless People's Movement marches and occupies land periodically. The Environmental Justice Networking Forum includes strong community-based campaigns, as well as national issue development on problems ranging from leaded petrol to global warming. Students regularly contest expulsions from universities on grounds of affordability, and recently joined eight other organisations--including NGOs and education-sector trade unions--to mobilise around the demand of free education for all, including expanded Adult Basic Education. Women's rights are pushed strongly by leading individuals and Cape Town's New Women's Movement, although without a sense of a broader feminist movement emerging yet.
Overall, tough progressive movement politics prevail in gatherings of labour, communities, HIV+ people and a few other sectors, even if unity between those fighting neoliberalism, patriarchy, racism, ecological degradation and many other ills remains several years away, until the trade unions ultimately, inexorably break from the ANC. Meantime, purity is often on display, as the Landless Peoples Movement made clear in a press statement last week:
The March of the Landless on 31 August, 2002 will not include organisations which are part of the Tripartite Alliance whose record of governance has ensured the failure of land reform in South Africa. The March of the Landless will be led by the LPM on the same day in alliance with other civil society organisations. The march will be the culmination of an alternative Week of the Landless that will take place decisively outside of the formal UN processes of the WSSD.
The purpose of the March of the Landless will not be to support the World Summit on Sustainable Development, or to make vague calls for `sustainable development' through unsustainable policies like Nepad or Gear. Instead, the purpose of the March of the Landless will be to denounce the unsustainable policies being fortified by the world's elite in the Sandton Convention Centre; to focus world attention on the failure of South Africa's World Bank style land reform programme; and to forward the demands of the 19-million poor and landless rural South Africans and 7-million poor and landless urban South Africans. That demand is: `End Poverty: Land! Food! Jobs!'.
Rhetoric from the South African Lefts remain inspiring, and are as robust as those generated by any mass movements today, at least in the english-speaking world. But the divisions and infighting--sometimes logical and sometimes shameful--are just as fierce. Let's hope that they do not become debilitating over coming weeks, because the elites from global to local need the strongest message possible: the privatisation of everything anticipated at the WSSD will get its comeuppance.
(Aside from http://www.und.ac.za/ccs, the best place to watch the action here, as ever, is http://southafrica.indymedia.org)