||DENNIS BRUTUS is a world-renowned South African poet and anti-apartheid campaigner who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela in the 1960s. In the 1990s, he became a leading voice in the global justice movement and the World Social Forum (WSF). This year’s WSF takes place in Kenya this month. Dennis wrote to Socialist Worker to offer his perspective on the upcoming conference.
By Dennis Brutus 18 January 2007
THE WORLD Social Forum starting in Nairobi, Kenya, January 20 looks to
be a major event that will have an impact on African and global affairs.
As many as 100,000 are expected; there will certainly be more than 50,000.
The usual problems are expected, as they were at the previous World
Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Mumbai, India, and the
smaller-scale polycentric forums last year in Bamako, Mali; Caracas,
Venezuela; and Karachi, Pakistan. Some of these are probably
unavoidable--arranging places to stay, transportation, inadequate
Still, this is likely to be an event of global significance and an
important component in the worldwide movement to try to create a better
world; building on the Zapatista slogan, Another World is Possible.
Many of the discussions and panels--about 1,000 of them over five
days--will focus on globalization--sometimes, more broadly, imperialism,
or American imperialism. Others will center on corporate globalization,
with a focus on more specific aspects of the globalization process.
Crucial--and more controversial--debates will focus on the nature of the
Forum itself and on its future. Will it continue to be--as its critics
call it--a talk shop? Or, as some insist, is it time for it to become a
body that also takes decisions and engages in action?
Other burning issues that need to be discussed are U.S military action
in Africa, Africa’s increasing importance in oil wars, and the troubling
complicity of African governments in U.S. action in Africa. Another
urgent topic is the AIDS pandemic that is devastating Africa--with a
serious failure to act in South Africa and elsewhere in the continent.
In any case, bringing the message of “Another World is Possible” to
Africa will be of significance to the continent and the world. The world
will never be the same again.
Interview with Patrick Bond on the neoliberal project The draining of Africa’s wealth
PATRICK BOND is a political economist and activist at the University of
KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. He is the author of numerous books on
Africa, most recently, Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation. He
spoke to Socialist Worker’s LEE SUSTAR about imperialism and resistance
in Africa today.
WHAT ARE the dynamics of the looting of Africa?
LET’S START with the process by which the new imperialism relies on the
extraction of resources at ever-cheaper prices.
We are in a confused period, because since 2002, commodity
prices--minerals, energy and even cash crops--have been on the rise. But
many people will agree that it’s a small upturn in a commodity-price
cycle that since the 1970s has been on a dramatic decline. It’s that
sense in which multinational corporate power, and fealty to that power
by African elites, has reached unprecedented peaks now.
This has become so extreme that even the World Bank has recognized that
there’s no basis for economic development from the extraction of
resources under the present regime. A little-known World Bank report,
Where is the Wealth of Nations? which was published on the Web site this
year, has even acknowledged the wealth drainage.
For example, in Gabon, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in 2002
was $3,370, which is fairly high because of oil wealth. But net savings
per capita is negative $1,183. That’s the most extreme case. But the
pattern is true of virtually all of the African resource-extractive
economies. The two most intensive cases, by the way, Angola and the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), aren’t even listed because they
don’t have enough data.
There you see the process of extraction of Africa’s wealth without
reinvestment. This is combined with capital flight by African elites--as
well one other factor, the incredibly high GINI coefficient [a
statistical measure of social inequality]. These countries are really
the worst in the world for inequality, for relative capital flight, and
for the extraction of resources without reinvestment.
In those respects, Sudan is a more extreme version, but still part of
the overall process by which multinational capital doesn’t flow into
Africa, but skips from one site of mineral extraction to another. That’s
the way Africa finds itself integrated.
There are two other factors to be mentioned. One is U.S. imperialism,
and the other is the China factor.
With U.S. imperialism, we’ve also had South African subimperialism, and
the U.S. and South Africa--notwithstanding a few rhetorical differences
now and again--are operating fairly coherently in setting up the
structures to drain Africa. One of them is the New Partnership for
Africa’s Development--NEPAD--which the U.S. State Department has called
philosophically spot on, because it amplifies the neoliberal project.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced last year
that there would be a new Africa command. Until recently, Africa has
been patrolled by the Mediterranean command, the southern command of Europe.
The other factor, China, is critical because of the new trade regime,
with China entering the WTO. There used to be a sort of smallish benefit
for manufacturing in Africa because of the U.S. Africa Growth and
Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allowed a few countries, Lesotho for
example, to export a little bit of manufacturing, especially clothing
and textiles into the United States.
That’s now history, and the big story is the destruction of virtually
all of Africa’s clothing and textile capacity through the imports. It
extends to footwear and electronics and a variety of sectors. The
Chinese import wave has simply destroyed much of Africa’s capacity.
WHAT IS the Chinese government’s policy in Africa?
THE RELATIONSHIP seems to be one of opportunistic patronage.
Last year, the Chinese government advanced a $200 million loan to the
Zimbabwe government. This came more or less exactly a year after
Zimbabwe turned down a $500 million loan from the South African
government because of reported conditions that might have opened up more
space for opposition and engagement with the regime. In addition, it
would have entailed more liberalization of Zimbabwe’s economy vis à vis
What the Chinese have done, we don’t know in detail. But it is
comparable to another arrangement that was made in 2005, in which China
bailed out the Angolan government, which, although it’s got very strong
oil revenues, urgently needed $2 billion.
It was going to the International Monetary Fund, and the IMF had a
variety of conditions. The Chinese made the loan, presumably at or near
the same interest rate--I don’t have those details--but without those
And likewise in Sudan, there’s plenty of Chinese infrastructure
investment to support oil extraction--in the range $8 billion, I’ve heard.
In these three cases, plus many more we’re now familiar with in terms of
details, Chinese relationships with repressive regimes in Africa seem to
be growing, and seem to be occurring without any leverage for
progressives, who somehow want to condition those relationships.
Just to illustrate: The grassroots movement in Zimbabwe is calling for
smart sanctions against Robert Mugabe. The South African relationship
with Zimbabwe is also terribly important, because so much of the
material resources and ideological support for the Mugabe regime can be
found in official South Africa.
In Zimbabwe, there was terrible torture of trade unionists in September,
arrests of women activists, and beatings and continuing repression. It’s
really important to amplify the voice of progressives in Zimbabwe to get
international solidarity up and running. Pambazuka, the leading African
progressive Web site, has come out with a major publication on China,
Africa and alternatives from below, rather than the elite,
patronage-based systems that seem to have solidified from above.
WHAT IS the political situation in South Africa?
AFTER A very confusing period, the trade unions, meeting at a conference
last year, again endorsed the candidacy of Jacob Zuma in the upcoming
leadership elections of the African National Congress (ANC).
Zuma also had to apologize for an incredibly homophobic remark he made
to a traditional Zulu gathering. But he’s also said on the record that
if he becomes president, he’d reappoint the neoliberal finance minister,
Trevor Manuel, and that economic policy is going just fine.
The way in which COSATU--the Congress of South African Trade Unions--and
the South African Communist Party (SACP), the SACP Youth League and the
ANC Youth League have embraced Zuma is ground for some concern. This is
no left candidate.
WHAT IS Zuma’s base?
HE HAS an extraordinary base that the South African Communist Party
strategist Jeremy Cronin describes as a coalition of those with grievances.
President Thabo Mbeki has acted in such a haughty and non-consultative
manner centralizing power, and imposing his choice of bureaucrats and
politicians upon party structures--even municipalities--from above. A
widespread revolt has solidified. Although the ANC is still a popular
party, and Mbeki does surprisingly well in opinion polls, the actual
internecine dynamics reflect a profound split.
The base of Zuma is partly the largest ethnic group, the Zulu people,
who have felt some ethnically grounded concern that their
underdevelopment in one of the three poorest provinces, KwaZulu Natal,
might have something to do with ethnic fears. I don’t know if there is
any basis for that, but certainly ethnicism is on the rise, because Zuma
plays the Zulu card as much as he can.
“One hundred percent Zulu boy” is one of the ways this has manifested as
a slogan. It has appeared on placards, and some ethnic slurs made
against him as a Zulu in some hoax emails that were circulating in the
highest ranks of the ANC late last year.
Secondly, and much more importantly, the trade union leadership--at
least the largest faction--got behind Zuma. This was partly, in my view,
because of frustration with Mbeki and the neoliberal clique around
him--especially Manuel, the finance minister, and Alec Erwin, the public
This has reached a point of despair for these union leaders, who have
pursued a social contract between labor and government. That has been
unfulfilled, as the government has broken virtually all its promises to
them, especially in relation to economic policy.
So trade union leaders, also joined by most of the Communist Party
leadership--although there are some important exceptions--have felt that
Zuma is a better track into the ANC leadership.
There is always talk that with a Zuma presidency might come cabinet
positions, and the so-called ladder between the trade unions and the
government has been a very strong incentive. Several of the top trade
union leaders have walked out of COSATU or affiliates into government
That’s always a factor--the way the tripartite alliance of the ANC, SACP
and COSATU reproduces its own ruling managerial and political elite
without necessarily having any ideological framework. Zuma represents a
better route for that process than anybody that’s closer to Mbeki.
There’s a final factor, which is a genuine sense that Zuma was harmed
[by being put on trial for rape], and that organs of the state were
illegitimately used to try to destroy him.
Another major allegation is that Zuma pulled a lot of pressure away from
an arms deal investigation within the parliament, particularly because
he wrote a letter to the parliament, which decommissioned a major
investigative arm of the parliament.
Allegedly, that had something to do with a bribe of some $70,000
supposedly given to Zuma by a French arms company, Thint. It transpires
that that letter was authored by Mbeki and only signed by Zuma. That
arms deal, which was worth roughly $1 billion in offensive weaponry, put
South Africa in a very strong subimperial location to do all manner of
activities across the continent.
The arms deal--for which one parliamentarian already went to jail--also
represents the way in which Zuma is becoming a fall guy for a much wider
So this is a very convoluted moment in which people with integrity are
probably supporting Zuma on some of these grounds.
Although Zuma was recently acquitted of rape charges, there is all
manner of evidence to suggest that what he did, as Archbishop Desmond
Tutu said, was take advantage of a woman half his age--an HIV-positive
woman he ran the risk of re-infecting, and to protect himself from
infection went and took a shower. This is the sense in which Zuma has
become a laughingstock.
There is a bloc in the ANC strongly supportive of Mbeki. There is a bloc
in the ANC and the trade unionists strongly in support of Zuma. And
there is an independent left disgusted by both. Who knows the relative
strength of these blocs? We’ll know about the first two when Mbeki puts
forward his own candidate to replace himself as ANC president and then,
in 2009, the country’s president.
WHAT ARE the most important social movements in Africa today?
MOST OF the campaigns that represent a kind of progressive or
anti-capitalist sensibility have been limited to either projects or
sectors of the neoliberal threat. There are seven or eight struggles to
There is the struggle over anti-retroviral medicine access. AIDS
treatment activists have broken the hold of pharmaceutical corporations
on their branded medicines, so we now have more generic medicines in
Africa, although that has to be watched very carefully.
A second important struggle is the genetic modification
drive--especially of Monsanto, which is using South Africa and Kenya as
a launching pad for GM crops.
A third would be the blood diamonds victims’ struggles, including one in
Kimberly, South Africa, home of one of the biggest diamond mines, where
De Beers was headquartered. Another related struggle is over diamonds
and other minerals in Botswana, where the Kalahari Basarwa San Bushmen
have fought very hard against De Beers and the World Bank to prevent
their forced removal.
Also, major hydroelectricity projects and water transfer projects are
being opposed by the Lesotho peasantry. The Bujagali hydropower dam near
Kampala, Uganda, is also being opposed by residents. These are very
effective struggles that link indigenous rights and land struggles with
concern over the ways in which hydroelectricity is continuing to be
fostered through white elephant dam projects, especially by the World Bank.
Then we’ve got the petroleum and energy-related struggles in Chad and
Cameroon, because of a huge pipeline that’s been contested by
environmental activists, indigenous people who have had their land
dispossessed, and human rights activists who are concerned about the
dictatorship in Chad having access to arms because of the inflow of
There has been a little dance between the Chadian dictatorship and the
World Bank over the issue of corruption, and it ended recently with
World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz signing off on the Chadian
governments misuse of the funds flowing from new oil revenues.
Likewise, in the Niger Delta, there is probably the most powerful
struggle in Africa against capital--especially the move by guerrilla
groups to kidnap oil workers, which reflects just how desperate and
difficult it’s become to do any above-ground work.
We’ve had women leading that work, doing sit-ins in oil company
facilities to try to get environmental justice and resources to flow
back into the Niger Delta. That hasn’t been successful, so now groups
are resorting to kidnapping oil workers--who are given, as far as I can
tell, decent treatment, and who come out of the experience, in some
publicized cases, in favor of the activists’ demands.
Finally, I would point out the Ghanaian and South African activists
fighting privatization, especially water privatization. A South African
company is involved in the Ghanaian project in Accra, the capital, which
is leading to higher prices and worse services.
In South Africa, the water struggle has gotten to the point where major
court challenges are being filed by left forces, like the
Anti-Privatization Forum, to try to stop prepaid water meters. This goes
to show the extent to which commodification is moving into every aspect
of life--even the air, with carbon trading under the Kyoto protocol.
The South African activists--even though there are splits throughout the
movement--are doing a marvelous job in making clear these kinds of
problems that occur through privatization. They’re also advancing a
socialist strategy of decommodification through re-nationalizing the
water, telecommunications, electricity and health systems, and really
making them much better able to serve poor people, as a very explicit
The immediate strategy entails what some autonomists will call a
self-activity of reconnection. After a disconnection of electricity or
water, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee have got teams of
township plumbers and electricians to reconnect illegally.
The extent to which that can continue is based on the strength of these
movements, which is so far quite impressive. But over time, clearly,
what is going to have to happen is the evolution of a major program by
Hopefully that will be joined in the next five years by trade unions
that have split from the ANC--and perhaps with the Communist Party
joining them, in a new party of the left, a workers’ party. But that’s a
few years away.
What else to read
A collection of Dennis Brutus’ poems, articles, speeches and memoirs
spanning 50 years of struggle can be found in Poetry & Protest: A Dennis
Brutus Reader, edited by Lee Sustar and Aisha Karim.
Patrick Bond’s latest book, Looting Africa: the Economics of
Exploitation, provides an overview of neoliberalism and imperialism in
Africa today. An edited volume, Fanon's Warning: A Civil Society Reader
on the New Partnership for Africa's Development, provides other
left-wing criticisms of the free-market agenda.
Bond has written several books on politics and society in South Africa,
including Elite Transition: from Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South
Africa and Talk Left, Walk Right: South Africa’s Frustrated Global Reforms.