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Patrick Bond  (2014) No time for the masses when it comes to bucks . Eye on Civil Society (The Mercury) : -.


SOUTH Africaís ďminerals-energy complexĒ keeps getting away with murder, including economic strangulation. Parliament is preparing to make matters worse.

The Infrastructure Development Bill could give fast-track approvals for mines, oil pipelines and refineries, coal-fired power plants, ports and new airports. Was the billís mention of water/sanitation, clinics and schools snuck in to make the mega-project bias more palatable?
The two types of project need to be separated, and the latter need a new sense of urgency, because installation of a R2 300 township sanitation connector pipe is rather easier than digging a R23 billion Durban to Johannesburg pipeline.

Recently when I was able to testify to Parliamentís economic development committee about the Infrastructure Billís deficiencies, I witnessed the unlikely alliance between a white former New National Party MP and a former Umkhonto we Sizwe operative, both now in critical seats on the committee.

At the meeting, a Durban community group was egregiously censored, proving the point that when it comes to the big bucks, Parliament really has no space for the masses.

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) leader Des DíSa, the first to testify, covered problems related not only to general infrastructure processes, but to the single largest site-specific project ever attempted in South Africa: Durbanís R250bn port-petrochemical expansion. SDCEA and its allies (myself included) have tried to lobby for this project to be transformed into a detoxed South Durban offering for workers with more housing and environmental amenities such as clean rivers and beaches.

Testifying about the stateís lack of consultation on mega-projects, DíSa was three minutes into his presentation when ANC committee member Francois Beukman asked chairwoman Elsie Mmathulare Coleman to shut him down, on the grounds that DíSaís arguments were irrelevant to the bill.

Coleman gave DíSa just one more minute and then abruptly told him to leave the podium. The attack on DíSa was confirmation of his complaint that the process of participation in South Africaís moneyed politics is purely tokenism.

Coleman was also hostile to me, but the exchange of views was robust. Beukman said I was too biased to acknowledge that Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel had taken ďaccount of the lessons of the 2010 World Cup infrastructure and the growing experience in the build programmesĒ, including the Gautrain, and Medupi and Kusile.

But Patel was unconvincing, I replied. The government keeps making the same mistakes: white elephantism, fossil-fuel dependence, climate denialism, mindless export orientation and public-private partnerships fraught with corruption. Soon the environmental impact assessment stage for mega-projects will be shortened dramatically, and tripping up Transnet for ignoring climate change when proposing major port redesign may not be so easy.

A genuine peopleís Parliament would have an easy time rewriting this bill. It would make our economy far less vulnerable to globalisation by stressing local connectivities.

The mandate would be revised to first and foremost meet basic human needs. Climate would be taken seriously, and infrastructure policy would promote renewable energy, public transport and a decarbonised, de-smokestacked economy.

Although DíSaís and my appearances were a waste of time and taxpayersí money, it was an opportunity to confirm my theory about how the elite rules: fusing the worst aspects of apartheid and postapartheid nationalism with pro-corporate neoliberalism, lubricated by hundreds of billions of rand of subsidies spurring ever-greater profits for the minerals-energy complex.

Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society

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