||THE ongoing financial crisis, whose epi-centre is the north, is now
clearly shifting to the south.
Last Sunday, The New York Times cited South Africa as one of a dozen
countries that were endangered as speculators race in and out,
demolishing the values of the rand and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
In Swaziland, of all places, a mid-October convergence of Southern
African Development Community civil society groups, the Southern African
Social Forum, decided to fight back.
Regardless of the promises made to the masses by the liberation forces
and pioneers of democracy in the region, bad government prevails.
Instead of democratic rule of the people by the people, SADC has
witnessed the emergence of an elite ruling class that does not keep its
word: instead of distributing power fairly, it rather centralises it for
the benefit of the few.
Robert Mugabe and his chief negotiating ally, Thabo Mbeki, are good
examples, as was our host, King Mswati.
Braving a banning order that was overturned in the courts, several
hundred social forum delegates met to talk politics. The activists
confirmed that although some SADC country ruling classes (like our ANC
leaders) have learned a left rhetorical repertoire, they remain fully
committed to capitalistic policies, no matter how disastrous these are
This the new ruling elites have done in cahoots with former colonisers,
conveniently renamed foreign investors, who together privatise state
assets and loot Africa's raw materials.
Economic dependency is kept in place by fear, for many SADC countries
are still ruled by undemocratic, oligarchic and dictatorial regimes, not
just those of Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
And South Africa is seen by social forum activists as the springboard
for neo-liberalism in the region.
During the forum, delegates agreed that bad government is a crucial
source of abject poverty (70% of SADC's people live below the poverty
line), of job losses and unemployment, and of environmental injustice.
The exploit-ation, casualisation, recycling and commodification of
labour are rife. The Swazi textile industry was accused of being a major
culprit. Not only have vast resources of the region been spent on
servicing unsustainable debts, but also in paying odious debts that come
from dictators and corrupt officials.
The privatisation of assets, neo-liberal policies and trading with
foreign investors has also led to the lack of decent, secure jobs.
The growing informal sector in the region suffers xenophobia and
corruption at the hands of municipal, police and border post officials.
Many demands were made by activists at the forum, especially to revisit
neo-liberal policies made in Washington, and free market agreements with
foreign investors. Policies such as Gear and Asgisa in South Africa were
condemned, and delegates suggested the reintroduction of the
reconstruction and development programme of 1994. Other demands of SADC
include: the implementing of measures to alleviate poverty; finding
alternatives to neo-liberalism as a basis for the development of
home-grown economies; calling upon the textiles transnationals to abide
by the region's labour policies; advocating for safer and cleaner
mechanisms for the extraction of natural resources and reparations to
the affected communities; encouraging local people to extract local
resources for their own benefit to ensure wealth is for all, not for a
few; rejecting willing seller/willing buyer land policies; and
pressuring undemocratic states such as Swaziland to become democracies.
While making noble and authentic demands, no one denied that civil
society activists themselves have problems.
Civil society is accused of aligning with opposition parties, which
leads to mistrust. And civil society is often weak and divided.
Zimbabweans seemed a very united front - unlike South Africans, who were
accused of being divided between labour and social movements.
Nevertheless civil society is the voice in the wilderness that can no
longer be ignored. A good example is the landmark water case won by the
people of Soweto against the Johannesburg Municipality, which had
installed prepaid water meters without consultation.
Civil society has made advances through many campaigns. Halting economic
recolonisation of the SADC region is a top priority. As Thomas Deve of
the Zimbabwe Social Forum put it: Destroy the enclaves of privilege
everywhere and do not be afraid to proclaim your struggle!
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