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‘A universe we choose’ – Part 2 June 18, 2007

Posted by Andreas in History, Politics, rant, Society, South Africa.
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‘A universe we choose’ – The Fight against Corporate Globalisation: A South African perspective (Part 2)

(Part 1 is here)

by Sam Wilson and Andreas Späth

The impact of neoliberalism in SA

Post-apartheid South Africa took to neoliberal policies like a stock market raider to a currency-market loophole.

First, there was our apartheid debt. In 1994, SA owed nearly $20 billion in foreign debt, advanced by global financial institutions to a corrupt, illegitimate government. To cement our commitment to the neoliberal paradigm, and so as not to raise eyebrows at the World Bank or IMF, we simply paid this staggering sum back. Without a fuss.

Then with the creation of the government’s Growth, Employment and Redistribution program (GEAR), we are probably the only developing nation to pen its very own neoliberal economic strategy (with some help from World Bank and IMF advisers). Other developing countries, often highly indebted and dependant on the 1st World, have tended to adopt neoliberal policies (such as the IMF’s notorious structural adjustment programs) under some duress.

And the truth is, ten years into our fêted welcome into the global economy, it isn’t looking so good.

The great divide

SA is Africa’s richest country. We are also one of the world’s most unequal, with 40% of the poorest household’s garnering only 3.3% of the country’s income. And this divide is getting worse… not better.

Unemployment and the rise of the ‘McJob’

Unemployment has been spiraling. In the last 10 years we have lost over half a million jobs (some peg that figure at closer to one million). Equally frightening, only some 40% of South Africans with jobs have permanent positions – the other 60% are forced to settle for contract, part time or casual work, with reduced or non existent benefits, no security, yet often, exactly the same job description as their permanent counterparts.

Cutting lifelines

Despite repeated promises of free lifeline basic services and the much-touted rollouts by the likes of Eskom and Telkom, the increasing insistence on total cost-recovery for such services has resulted in tens of thousands of households affected by water, electricity and telephone cut-offs and evictions. Ashwin Desai suggests that “the cost-recovery prerequisites of neoliberalism are creating a new kind of apartheid”.

Lowering of import taxes

The drastic lowering of import taxes has been disastrous to sectors of the local manufacturing industry such as the clothing and textile branches.

The global resistance movement…

The good news is that we are still South Africans, and many of us still put our money where our mouths are when we are gatvol.

Over the years, a growing number of grassroots organizations have started to question and oppose some of the neoliberal policies that affect their lives at the local level throughout South Africa.

The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign has been fighting house evictions in the townships around Cape Town, while the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee has illegally reconnected power to thousands of homes. The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has doggedly challenged the governments AIDS policy, Jubilee South Africa has highlighted the injustice of apartheid debt repayments and the need for reparations, the Landless People’s Movement (LPM) has demonstrated against the painfully slow rate of land redistribution, and green groups such as Earthlife Africa and Groundwork have tackled a range of environmental concerns.

Slowly, these groups have made the connections between their local problems and those of other organizations around the country and gradually also with similar communities throughout the world. This process of networking has been going on globally for years and has resulted in the world-wide web that is the anti-globalisation movement, which has demonstrated against the IMF, World Bank and WTO, as well as a wide range of issues from the wars in the Middle East to the introduction of genetically-modified crops.

Frequently misrepresented by the mainstream media and maligned by some opponents as leaderless and aimless, this is not a rigid political organization in the old-fashioned mould. Rather it is a diverse, somewhat anarchic and voluntary association of equals who share common views on numerous issues.

Characterised by its savvy use of the Internet, a widespread rejection of hierarchical organizational practices, a stress on creativity and spontaneity, and a preference for direct participatory democratic process, it has confounded many a critic by its longevity. Although the movement has no individual leaders as such, it has also provided a platform for a number of intellectuals, among whom the strong female voices of Canadian Naomi Klein and Indian Arundhati Roy are particularly notable.

After the 2000 annual IMF/World Bank meetings in Prague were cut short by demonstrations, Trevor Manuel (chairperson of the IMF/World Bank board of governors at the time) remarked: “I know what the protesters are against, but I don’t know what they are for!” Given a chance to reply, the demonstrators. whose most often repeated slogan insists that “another world is possible”, may have answered that what one is for is often implicit in what one is against.

Just as 10 years ago, being against apartheid implied being for democracy and non-racialism, being against economic globalisation and neoliberalism is being for human rights over corporate profits.

It is about being for a world which is not specifically GEARed towards widening the gap between rich and poor. It is about being for a world where ordinary citizens do not have to risk life-threatening disease because their inability to participate in the global economy makes them worth less than cows.

It is about having the courage to believe in people over profits, and then to act on that belief. It is about the courage to believe that another world is indeed possible.

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