||Writing last Friday (“Will SA’S new friends turn out so different from the West? about a debate over the coming Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) heads-of-state summit, our country’s leading foreign policy journalist, Peter Fabricius, chose insults, perhaps to avoid addressing some deep dilemmas.
“Bond is a familiar exponent of old-style communism,” he alleged, and thus Ambassador Anil Sooklal “ought, from a purely rhetorical perspective, to have dismissed Bond’s attack as student politics. For certainly Bond was firing a blunderbuss at all of what the Left regards as the ANC’s sell-out to international capital and neo-liberalism etc, rather than just at Brics.”
No, actually, like many South Africans, ideas of the New Left attract me – while Stalinism and corrupted nationalism repel. And although the ANC’s adoption of neoliberalism instead of the 1994 Reconstruction and Development Programme was indeed an historic sell-out, I do plead guilty to hoisting a blunderbuss.
Why? Because we must now be blunt if, as is certain, the Durban summit will be remembered as a latter-day 1884-85 Berlin conference. Five colonial powers – host Germany, Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium (plus Italy and Spain) – divvied up the continent back then with one common objective: efficient resource extraction through export-oriented infrastructure.
To update this very task, five Brics leaders will invite 16 heads of state from Africa, many of whom are notorious tyrants, to a gated Zimbali luxury lodge on March 27 – having confirmed the continent’s economic carve-up the day before. Their knife of choice is a sharp new ‘Brics Bank’ that London and New York economists Nick Stern and Joe Stiglitz – both former World Bank senior vice presidents – told them would cost $50 billion in start-up capital (exactly the thumbsuck number they’ve already chosen to announce).
This new Bank comes nine months after $75 billion was wasted by the same five, bailing out the International Monetary Fund in a manner that shrunk both Africa’s voting share and prospects for world economic recovery. And 11 months ago, two Brics nominees for World Bank president were soundly defeated by Washington’s candidate thanks to unfair US-EU voting power.
The Brics aim to replace the ‘Bank of the South’ – dreamt of by the late Hugo Chavez although repeatedly sabotaged by more conservative Brasilia bureaucrats and likewise opposed by Pretoria –but will theirs be any different than Washington’s twin banks?
If Sooklal is correct that Beijing now backs South Africa’s bid to host the new bank, with no other offers from the remaining three at this stage, then we should worry.
After all, our own precedent, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), is a very sick institution. It promoted dumb ideas like commercialised water and toll roads, and turned a blind eye to construction industry collusion. After losing a stunning R370 million in 2012, its work was termed ‘shoddy’ by its new Chief Executive last December. The DBSA was also attacked last July by the Southern African Development Community, whose second-in-command remarked that a new SADC Bank would be preferable.
And yes, we have grounds for concern about dubious overseas influence when the DBSA’s main international envoy is Mo Shaik, a former spy who wrongfully accused the attorney general of being an apartheid agent, who has zero banking or development experience, who was party to questionable Ferrostaal arms dealing, who revealed Zuma cabinet secrets to US State Department officials (according to secret Washington cables published by WikiLeaks) about what really goes on in Pretoria.
Also disturbing is that when it comes to reforming world finance, finance minister Pravin Gordhan has called on the IMF to be more ‘nasty’ to low-income Europeans, while SA Reserve Bank deputy governor Daniel Mminele bragged last November that Pretoria stands alongside Washington in opposing global regulation such as the ‘Robin Hood tax’ on financial transactions.
Moreover, as Mminele put it, “South Africa is aligned with advanced economies on the issue of climate finance” – i.e., against paying ‘ecological debt’ to increasingly desperate countries already losing 400,000 people per year to climate-caused deaths. The same Washington-Brics alliance can be found at the UN climate summits, which refuse to adopt binding emissions cuts: a decision that the name Durban will always be remembered for in shame following the failed COP17 in December 2011.
As a result, Africa could become an even more violent battleground for conflicts between Brics firms intent on oil, gas and minerals extraction, whether Brazil’s Vale and Petrobras, or South Africa’s Anglo or BHP Billiton (albeit with London and Melbourne financial headquarters), or India’s Tata or Arcelor-Mittal, or Chinese state-owned firms and Russian energy corporations.
A few years ago, minister of justice Jeff Radebe termed such firms ‘new imperialists’ because “many SA companies working elsewhere in Africa come across as arrogant, disrespectful, aloof and careless in their attitude towards local business communities, work-seekers and even governments.”
The maldevelopment that results is exemplified in South Durban where R250 billion in white-elephant state infrastructure subsidies will soon flow to chaotic port, freight and petrochemical industry expansion notwithstanding resistance by victim communities.
That resistance will grow, including at a March 23 community teach-in next to the area’s main oil refinery, and then from 25-27 March, during the ‘brics-from-below’ counter-summit at the Diakonia church in central Durban. It’s here that critics can discuss Brics and ANC neoliberalism without Fabricius’ shallow journalistic distortion.