a counter-summit to the
Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africaheads-of-stage summit in Durban, March 2013
the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (http://www.sdcea.co.za)
the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society (http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za)
In Durban, South Africa, five heads of state meet in late March, to assure the rest of Africa that their countries’ firms are better investors in infrastructure, mining, oil and agriculture than the traditional European and US multinational corporations. The Brazil-Russia-India-China-SA (BRICS) summit will include 25 heads of state from Africa, many of whom are notorious tyrants.
A counter summit is required, and three organisations with a strong track record of advocacy and research on social, economic and ecological justice have several events organised.
Rationale: critical voices must be heard
Locally, critics point to four groups of problems that are rampant in all the BRICS:
· socio-economic rights violations, including severe inequality, poverty, unemployment, disease, violence (especially against women – such as the high-profile rapes/murders of a Delhi student last December 16 and of 17 year-old Anene Booysen on February 2 in Bredasdorp, Western Cape), inadequate education, prohibitions on labour organising and other suffering;
· political and civil rights violations, such as increased securitisation of societies, militarisation and arms trading, prohibitions on protest, rising media repression and official secrecy, debilitating patriarchy and homophobia, activist jailings and torture, and even massacres, including in Durban where a police hit squad killed more than 50 in recent years;
· regional domination by BRICS economies, including corporate exploitation of hinterland minerals and oil, and through BRICS promotion of ‘Washington Consensus’ neoliberalism – for example, in the recent donation of $100 billion to the International Monetary Fund, or in the desire of China, Brazil and India to revitalise the World Trade Organisation; and
· elites’ eco-destructive, consumerist-centric, financialised, climate-frying, nuclear-powered ‘maldevelopment’, which works very well for corporate and parastatal profits, but is reaching crisis proportions in all the BRICS, as witnessed in South Africa during the Marikana Massacre carried out by police on behalf of Lonmin platinum corporation last August, and in South Durban where $30 billion in white-elephant state infrastructure subsidies for chaotic port, freight and petrochemical industry expansion – and more labour-broking exploitation – are now being vigorously fought by communities that will be destroyed.
Confusingly to some, BRICS regimes carry out this agenda quite consistently at the same time they offered radical, even occasionally ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric and mainly trivial diplomatic actions. Their growing alliance is not entirely coherent, of course, as observed in the interface between BRICS and the Bretton Woods Institutions, or in the UN Security Council – where each of the BRICS exhibits very different self-interests as they seek greater power for themselves, not the collective.
BRICS in Durban: a new corporate carve-up of Africa
Meanwhile, the African continent expanded its rate of trading with the major emerging economies – especially China – from around 5 to 20 percent of all commerce since 1994, when apartheid ended. In this context, facilitating economic relationships with the continent is one of the South African government’s leading objectives, according to deputy foreign minister Marius Fransman: ‘South Africa also presents a gateway for investment on the continent, and over the next 10 years the African continent will need $480 billion for infrastructure development.’
But destructive development often follows such infrastructure, especially when it comes to protecting investments. The main military conflicts associated with Washington-centred imperialism have been in the Middle East and Central Asia. Now, both the old and new forces mainly seek resource extraction. Enforcement is more subtle in Africa, these days. Recently, the US Air University’s Strategic Studies Quarterly cited a US military advisor to the African Union: ‘We don’t want to see our guys going in and getting whacked… We want Africans to go in.’ In late 2006, for example, when George W. Bush wanted to invade Somalia to rid the country of its nascent Islamic Courts government, he called in South African president Thabo Mbeki to assist with legitimating the idea, though it was ultimately carried out by Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian army three weeks later. When in 2011, Barack Obama wanted to invade Libya to rid the country of Muammar Gaddafy, South Africa voted affirmatively for NATO bombing within the UN Security Council (where it held a temporary seat), in spite of enormous opposition within the African Union. And in January 2013, Pretoria deployed 400 troops to the Central African Republic during a coup attempt because ‘We have assets there that need protection,’ according to deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Ebrahim, referring to minerals.
A variety of cross-fertilising corporate relationships have emerged, symbolised by the way Lonmin’s main black shareholder, Cyril Ramaphosa, used his connections to Pretoria’s security apparatus to break a mid-2012 wildcat strike at a platinum mine, in what became the notorious Marikana massacre. Profits sent to London headquarters soared in late 2012 once production resumed, even after the company paid a 22 percent wage increase to the miners.
In 2010, 17 out of Africa’s top 20 companies were South African, even after extreme capital flight from Johannesburg a decade earlier, which saw firms like Anglo American, De Beers, SA Breweries and Old Mutual run to London. Their post-apartheid role as ‘new imperialists’ was of ‘great concern’, according to leading South African politician Jeff Radebe: ‘There are strong perceptions that many South African 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.’
To illustrate drawing upon a telling incident in 2012, the Johannesburg parastatal firm Rand Water was forced to leave Ghana after failing – with a Dutch for-profit partner (Aqua Vitens) – to improve Accra’s water supply, as also happened in Maputo (Saur from Paris) and Dar es Salaam (Biwater from London).
The traditional SA, US, European, Australian and Canadian firms in Africa have been joined by major firms from China, India and Brazil. Their work has mainly built upon colonial infrastructural foundations – road, rail, pipeline and port expansion – for the sake of plantations, minerals, petroleum and gas extraction.
But if South African capital’s agenda in Africa is nefarious, so too have government officials complied. Even Pretoria’s neoliberal National Development Plan – overseen from within the Presidency and endorsed at the ANC’s December 2012 national conference – conceded that there is a ‘perception of the country as a regional bully, and that South African policy-makers tend to have a weak grasp of African geopolitics.’
The climate crisis and a new BRICS Bank
It was evident that South African elite interests conflicted most with those of the African hinterland when it came to climate management. The post-apartheid government has not only increased the country’s greenhouse gas emissions levels – from the notorious ‘Minerals-Energy Complex’ – higher than apartheid’s, but actively colluded with Washington to cook the planet. Egged on by Obama, Zuma helped destroy the Kyoto Protocol at the United Nations Copenhagen climate summit in 2009. It was what Naomi Klein called ‘nothing more than a grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.’
As for the ‘Durban Platform’ signed at the 2011 UN climate summit, it ‘was promising because of what it did not say,’ bragged US State Department adviser Trevor Houser to the New York Times. ‘There is no mention of historic responsibility or per capita emissions. There is no mention of economic development as the priority for developing countries. There is no mention of a difference between developed and developing country action.’ The Durban deal squashed poor countries’ ability to defend against climate disaster.
There is similar collusion between the partners and Washington when it comes to global finance, for last July, the BRICS treasuries sent $100 billion in new capital to the IMF, which was seeking new systems of bail-out for banks exposed in Europe. South Africa’s contribution was only $2 billion, nevertheless a huge sum for finance minister Pravin Gordhan to muster against local trade union opposition. Gordhan explained the SA contribution as coming with the condition that the IMF became more ‘nasty’ (sic) to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough. The result of this BRICS intervention was that China gained dramatically more IMF voting power, while Africa actually lost a substantial fraction of its share.
The forms of BRICS intervention are diverse but increasingly obvious, the more that BRICS leaders prop up the IMF’s pro-austerity financing and catalyse a renewed round of World Trade Organisation attacks; the more a new BRICS Development Bank exacerbates World Bank human, ecological and economic messes; the more Africa becomes a battleground for internecine conflicts between emerging markets intent on rapid minerals and oil extraction (as is common in central Africa); the more the hypocrisy associated with BRICS/US sabotage of climate negotiations continues or offsetting carbon markets are embraced; and the more that specific companies targeted by victims require unified campaigning and boycotts to generate solidaristic counter-pressure, whether Brazil’s Vale and Petrobras, or South Africa’s Anglo or BHP Billiton (albeit with London and Melbourne headquarters), or India’s Tata or Arcelor-Mittal, or Chinese state-owned firms and Russian energy corporations.
A brics-from-below counter-summit, 22-27 March
In this context, building a bottom-up counter-hegemonic network has never been more important. The proposed schedule of events for 22-27 March is as follows:
Friday 22 March:
* 7-10pm UKZN Time of the Writer festival panel (Sneddon Theatre at Howard College Campus), with a focus on progressive critiques of SA Political Economy and Social Culture (likely with Sampie Terreblanche, Ashwin Desai, Andile Mngxitama, Jonny Steinberg, etc), in conjunction with brics-from-below
Saturday 23 March:
* brics-from-below free morning at Fairvale High School in Wentworth, South Durban (next to Engen oil refinery), with rooms available for meetings, seminars, etc
* 1-6pm: Teach-Out, Teach-In in South Durban at the main Fairvale High School hall, aiming to educate brics-from-below visitors about adverse conditions in SA communities, and visitors educate SA about their struggles (with isiZulu translation)
* 6-10pm: Cultural event to entertain brics-from-below and link African counter-hegemonic culture with music
Sunday 24 March:
* meeting times/places available for brics-from-below visitors, possibly at Diakonia (progressive church centre) in central Durban (Economic Justice Network may use this space at that time)
* brics-from-below Reality Tours of Durban (various sites being organised along with inexpensive transport)
* potential high-visibility brics-from-below protest site to target incoming BRICS delegates, TBA
Monday 25 March:
* Diakonia as main site for brics-from-below Counter-Summit, Day 1 - proposal is to focus on the specific problems and eco-social-labour struggles within BRICS countries
* evening still to be determined
Tuesday 26 March:
* Diakonia as main site for brics-from-below Counter-Summit, Day 2 - proposal is to focus on what are BRICS countries doing in Africa and at the multilateral, global scale
* a special series of talks will occur on the BRICS Development Bank sponsored by the Brazilian organisation Mais Democracia
* around 6pm, potential high-profile brics-from-below public event, possibly at City Hall, with leading critical speakers
Wednesday 27 March:
* Diakonia as main morning site for brics-from-below meetings of visiting groups/networks
* potential brics-from-below march (11-noon) to ICC via US Consulate and City Hall
* potential brics-from-below "Occupy BRICS" around lunchtime, at Speaker's Corner next to ICC, or in front of ICC itself if permission is granted
* Diakonia could be available for follow-up brics-from-below afternoon/evening meetings
28 March onwards:
* there are plenty of sites in Durban to continue network meetings and events
Where does it all happen?
MARCH 22 and 23: UKZN Sneddon Theatre hosts Time of the Writer and South Durban hosts brics-from-below
MARCH 24-27: Diakonia, City Hall and ICC