||This past fortnight saw extensive commentary on matters of ‘sustainable development’, and hence allows us an opportunity to relate global discourses to local politics and reflect upon both. Is there a thread linking South Africa’s outstanding physical features and the stressed human condition, where the intertwining of environment, development and social protest can be theorised? Colonial-era geographical thinking certainly located social outcomes in an allegedly foreordained relationship of people to their land, even though people struggled mightily against geographical determinism because their freedom and often their very survival depended upon it. Today most intellectuals, aside from outlyers like Jeffrey Sachs, have also finally come to resist explanations of social processes by recourse mainly to inherited physical attributes such as land-lockedness or climatic conditions.
Yet fierce debates over utilisation of natural resources do offer us the opportunity to consider explicit linkages between human and environmental developments. What is different is that in the early twenty-first century, the interconnectedness appears strongest at the nexus of capital and state power, for the commodification of nature and society, together, has become the most profound experience of our time.
Likewise, struggles for decommodification--of water and electricity, anti-retroviral medicines, land, education and livelihoods through a Basic Income Grant--have come to play the most exciting role in the local backlash. It is here that we really, genuinely, do need something for nothing--so as to sustain society and nature by protecting both from the forces of the market. Internationally, the backlash is known as ‘anti-globalisation’ but we will better define it as the ‘movements for global justice’. There are, in my view, four other currents or tendencies of global politics that contest the discursive space of commodification. Three of these five tendencies, located in Washington, aim to bolster the architecture in the interests of the North. In contrast, two other tendencies are much more critical of the status quo, even though they differ about ‘fixing’ or ‘nixing’ the international financial, investment and trade system. The five positions, from left to right, can be labeled a) ‘Global Justice Movements’; b) ‘Third World Nationalism’; c) the ‘Post-Washington Consensus’; d) the ‘Washington Consensus’; and e) the ‘Resurgent Rightwing’ (Table 1).
Although the philosophical positions associated with the five currents appear ever more clearly delineated, the balance of these forces shifts constantly, with no durable alliances in sight. The unsatisfying status of crisis management, in relation to the trembling architecture of the international economy, was reflected in the inputs and outputs of the November 2001 WTO summit in Doha, Qatar; the March 2002 Financing for Development meeting in Monterrey; and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Notwithstanding the infamous collapse of the Seattle WTO summit in December 1999 due to a refusal to offer consensus by African countries led by Zimbabwe, the trend appears to be one of Third World nationalist conciliation. A key factor has been the comprador roles of South African government officials (especially president Thabo Mbeki, finance minister Trevor Manuel and trade minister Alec Erwin), who tend to line up in the middle three, depending upon circumstances.