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‘A universe we choose’ – Part 3 June 21, 2007

Posted by Andreas in History, Politics, rant, Society, South Africa.

‘A universe we choose’ – The Fight against Corporate Globalisation: A South African perspective (Part 3)

(Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here)

by Sam Wilson and Andreas Späth

The female face of global resistance
(I guess this was going to be a sidebar to the main story, but here it is anyway, for completeness sake) .

Arundhati Roy
The daughter of a Syrian Christian mother, a divorcee who managed a tea plantation (much like the character of Ammu in Roy’s Booker prize winning novel, The God of Small Things), 43-year-old Arundhati Roy did not attend school until she was 10, being schooled instead by her mother.

After boarding at a school in Southern India, and training at Dehli’s School of Planning and Architecture, Roy supported herself as an aerobics instructor before becoming one of the world’s most celebrated novelists. She has since used her public profile to voice many of the tenets of the global resistance movement, and her political journalism is every bit as lyrical and hard-hitting as her much fêted prose.

By characterizing corporate globalisation as no more than the new face of imperialism, Roy exhorts us to follow our hearts and relearn the art of civil disobedience.

In her own words? ‘We can hone our memory, we can learn from our history. We can continue to build public opinion until it becomes a deafening roar…. In other words, we can come up with a million ways of becoming a collective pain in the ass.’

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and author of the international bestseller No Logo, described as ‘ a movement handbook’ by the New York Times. She comes from strong activist stock, her mother Bonnie Klein is a leading Canadian feminist while her grandfather, an American Marxist, was a Disney animator fired and blacklisted for organizing the company’s first strike. Her parents moved to Canada in protest over the Vietnam War.

Where Roy enchants with her prose, Klein follows in the more traditional journalistic steps of feminists such as Susan Faludi, gathering and presenting the facts which then speak for themselves. She sees herself as ‘an activist journalist’, rather than an activist as she ‘hates crowds – I know, great irony’ and is ‘physically incapable of chanting’.

From exposés of sweatshop workers in the Philippines who have to urinate into plastic bags under their desks, as they are not allowed to leave their Gap/ Liz Claiborne sewing long enough to go to the toilet, to detailing the nefarious corporate strategies of companies like Wal-Mart and Starbucks, Klein has, nevertheless, given the global resistance movement a lot to chant about.

For nearly a decade, Klein has been traveling through Asia, Latin America and Europe, tracking the rise of anticorporate activism.

‘When people say the movement lacks vision, what they are really saying is that it is a completely new kind of movement – just as the Internet is a completely new kind of medium… the movement should be in no hurry to define itself,’ says Klein. ‘Before they sign on to anyone’s 10-point plan, they deserve the chance to see if, out of the movement’s chaotic, decentralized, multi-headed webs, something new, something entirely its own, can emerge.’



1. dionysusstoned - June 22, 2007

hi andreas. this is a good post, informative and well written. Leaving aside useless praise for what I like about this piece, I’ll tell you what I don’t like. So ja, it seems to me that the piece merely rehashes much of the simplistic narrative of South African’s short (neoliberal) journey from the RDP to GEAR (where the latter is treated as the highpoint of the South African encounter with neoliberalism) and uncritically embraces what Franco Barchiesi has called the Seattle canon.

For instance, I am not sure you are correct when you say “Government is turning basic services like water and electricity into commodities, and then selling them off to the highest bidder. From there, it’s a quick step to insist upon a 100% cost recovery model from ‘customers’, regardless of how poor these individuals may be. No money, no water.”

Now of course I agree that the post apartheid transition has deepened the commodification of basic services like water, however the actual shape of neoliberal policy framework for basic services, and local cost recovery programs, seems, to me, more complicated than you suggest here. The fact that the state has developed a whole range of indigent management policies, as well as implemented the 6kl lifeline policy, means one can’t really speak of a ‘100% cost recovery model’. This doesn’t make state policies any less neoliberal. In fact many of these ‘concessions’ are in fact responses to struggle and the creativity of the politics of everyday, and attempt to offset resistance while working to integrate peoples life strategies into commodified circuits of social (re)production. Also, it’s not absolutely correct to centre the critique of neoliberalism with the critique of GEAR. While GEAR certainly circumscribed the fiscal contexts municipal officials needed to negotiate in delivery services like water and electricity, it had in fact promised a substantial increase in government spending on service delivery. More detailed policies like the 1997 municipal investment infrastructure framework seem far more important when outlining the genealogy of neoliberal restructuring of service delivery. But even here, it is important to see that these policies are outcomes of longer processes of state experimentation with market centric delivery frameworks. An important moment in this narrative, for instance, would be pre1994 negotiated housing policy which saw government and banks setting up servcon. Anyway, my point is that the left critique is often too easy and often treats neoliberalism as closed ideological products rather than seeing it as an ongoing process of socio-spatial trasformation, that in South Africa begins during the late apartheid reform era that is intensified during the transition period.

2. dionysusstoned - June 22, 2007

should have read ‘closed ideological project’ rather than product

3. Andreas - June 23, 2007

All very good criticisms and additional points, thanks!

4. Rob - July 21, 2007

Nice post. I recently blogged about how you can extend the Open Source ethos to not only software but also politics and even food and drink! Theres a tenuous link between how do no-brand, no-logo cola, chicken curry, and beer affect globalisation: http://tinyurl.com/388xlz

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