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Bond, Patrick (2014) Post-carbon, Post-capitalist Development in South Africa: Starting from here the Movements Already Are. Patrick Bond lecture on South Durban strategy, Gyeongsang National University : 1-50.


South Durban is perhaps the most important site in South Africa to assess how the society might move towards post-carbon, post-capitalist development. The country’s biggest single location-specific investment project ($25 billion – the cost estimated prior to what could become a typical 50-300 percent price escalation) is the proposed eight-fold expansion of South Durban’s port-petrochemical complex over the next three decades. The doubling of the petroleum pipeline capacity from Durban to Johannesburg recently cost $2.3 billion alone. The notorious refineries owned by BP, Shell and the Malaysian firm Engen present major health threats to neighbouring residential areas.

These neighbourhoods have been occupied by black South Africans for generations –the ‘Indian’ areas of Merebank and Clairwood and ‘coloured’ Wentworth –but have become slightly desegregated since the end of apartheid, mainly through the influx of low-income African shackdwellers. Jobs for a vast unemployed labour reserve are desperately needed, and government planners claim the expansion of world shipping, from the ‘Panamax’ 5000-container ships to super post-Panamax ships more than three times larger, will raise annual container traffic from 2.5 million to 20 million units processed annually in Durban by 2040. However, local residents’ organisations – united as the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) – offer multiple overlapping critiques of this project, including the flawed participatory process; the destruction of small-scale farming and long-standing neighbourhoods (with tens of thousands of expected displacements; major ecological problems in the estuarine bay; climate-change causes and effects; and irrational economics fuelled by overly generous state subsidies but still resulting in an unaffordable harbour.

The framing of the campaign is of great importance not simply because the state and allied businesses promise tens of thousands of ‘jobs’ (in an increasingly capital-intensive sector) but because an alternative vision has been established by SDCEA based on an ecologicallysensitive, labour-intensive economic and social strategy for the South Durban Basin. To achieve victory will require a major shift in the balance of forces, one which campaigners argue can be enhanced by financial sanctions against the project and its parastatal corporate sponsor, Transnet. This is a site-specific project but one with more general lessons for grassroots contestation of industrial mal-development, in part because so many issue areas are up for contestation.

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