Africa’s Progressive Movements

Patrick Bond

and Dennis Brutus


Commentator Patrick Bond ([email protected]) chats with South African

poet/activist ZNet Commentator Dennis Brutus  about the state of the

African Left


Good to see you back in Johannesburg, comrade Dennis, even briefly, in the midst

of your travels. But the news today (December 27) is mixed, because it seems

that some Washington sharpies have persuaded Nelson Mandela to lead a World

Bank/IMF/Unicef conference on child poverty in London in February. You broke

stones on Robben Island with Mandela during the mid-1960s. What’s he up to, do

you think?


This latest gimmick seems to be Washington’s response to the sharp attack

leveled at the Bank, especially their new managing director for human

development, Mamphela Ramphele, at the Prague annual meetings three months ago.

The Bank and IMF stand accused of contributing to 19,000 avoidable deaths of

young kids every day. At one NGO-Bank discussion in Prague, a representative of

the British trade union Unison really went after Mamphela, who as you know was

Steven Biko’s partner before moving to Cape Town University. There, as president

during the 1990s, she smashed the main trade union and cut lowest-tier workers’

wages by half.


add to that, our finance minister Trevor Manuel’s role as chair of the Prague

meeting, which we protesters forced him to shut a day early. So it looks some

South African former anti-apartheid leaders are now playing the role of useful

idiots for global apartheid. Maybe our allies in Britain can mobilise so that

the tarnishing of Mandela’s prestige by the IMF and World Bank doesn’t go

unanswered. A similar thing happened just over a month ago, by the way, when

another South African, education minister Kader Asmal, hauled Mandela out to

defend his two big Lesotho dams at the London launch of the final report of the

World Commission on Dams, which Asmal has been chairing over the past two years.


was most embarrassing. Across the earth, megadams financed by the World Bank

have been catastrophic, so much so that this Commission report has to admit the

vast extent of the damage. And yet there was Nelson Mandela being used to put a

gloss on Africa’s biggest dam–the sanctions-busting Lesotho Highlands Water

Project–which community groups in Soweto and Alexandra townships, as well as

displaced Basotho people and environmentalists, all agree is a corrupt fiasco.

Last month, the progressive movements from both countries together called for a

moratorium on the Lesotho dam, which of course was ignored by Pretoria and

Washington. So you see the damage Mandela is now doing to social progress. It’s

tragic, really.


Well, although the African National Congress won the South African municipal

elections very comfortably early this month, their leaders failed to inspire

even half the population to come out to vote, and the ANC share went down from

two-thirds in the national election last year, to just three-fifths. And they

did quite badly amongst working-class "coloured" (mixed-race) and

Indian people, even losing the city of Cape Town to the old apartheid party.

What do you make of that?


This is just one expression of dissatisfaction. There are many others. The point

is, that disgruntled mass-based organisations and allied intellectuals in this

country are more attuned than ever before to the need for an anti-neoliberal

programme than ever before. But not just here. Two weeks ago, in Dakar, Senegal,

there was a most encouraging multi-lingual gathering of radical social, church,

women’s and labour groups and movements from across the continent. Samir Amin,

the great Dakar-based marxist economist, opened the gathering.


hear that the delegates joined 5,000 Senegalese for an anti-austerity march

during the conference. It was supposed to culminate at the IMF/Bank office in

downtown Dakar, but the new Senegalese government of Abdoulaye Wade was too

frightened to allow that. Still, this was a great marker of the growing energy

and tight organisation that exist in some African cities.


the conference proceedings suggest a very tough reckoning of where African

social-justice movements are now, and where they need to go. This was the first

time that very strong contingents from Anglofone and Francofone countries came

together, along with several from Lusofone (portuguese-speaking) countries. The

Northern allies who came to observe reportedly learned a great deal and were

most impressed.


In terms of programmatic and political thinking, what do you feel Dakar



From the conference material I’ve seen, and from what we’ve learned from South

African participants’ report-backs, there was a qualitative advance on analysis,

consolidation of structures, clearer definition of goals and strategies, and

alliance- building with other southern and northern comrades. The environmental

debt that the North owes the South is now also a very important issue,

recognised by all the participants.


Outputs included the Dakar Declaration and Manifesto, and an excellent statement

advancing the African People’s Consensus–the principles that stand in

opposition to the Washington Consensus of the World Bank–which I suspect will

soon be up on the various websites of conference sponsors (e.g., http://aidc.org.za).

There was also a meeting of the Jubilee South network, which gathered all the

main southern hemisphere campaigns.


The short-term debt-related demands coming from the Jubilee South network were

extremely progressive, focusing on the notion of illegitimacy. This has become

the basis for critiquing all outstanding debt. The way Jubilee South puts it is

clear: "No conditionalities, no structural adjustment programmes for new

loans; immediate cancellation of illegitimate debts; and South governments

should have a public investigation and audit of the debt, suspend payments until

investigations have been made, and non-payment of illegitimate debts."


of the concrete strategies advanced include national people’s tribunals on debt

and structural adjustment programmes across the South, following the extremely

successful Brazilian model. By 2002, an international people’s tribunal will be

convened. I was particularly encouraged about two specific issues I’ve been

following: our demands as a movement are maturing from mere debt cancellation to

insisting upon reparations, and the role of the World Bank Bonds Boycott as a

handle for local activists, to shrink the power of Washington from the bottom

up. The boycott strategy gives readers of ZNet some good activist opportunities

at home, between coming to all these wonderful protests at meetings.


the way, big protests are likely to be at the Davos World Economic Forum in

January, Buenos Aires and Quebec City for the Free Trade Agreement of the

Americas both in April, May Day in all kinds of places, a World Day of Action

against Debt just before the Genoa G-8 Summit in June.


of course there’s the annual meeting of the World Bank and IMF in October.

That’s back in Washington next year, and unlike last April when there were fewer

than 1,000 official delegates at the A16/17 spring meetings, the cops are not

going to be able to close off 90 city blocks and get their delegates in next

time. Because the meeting is scheduled to be at the Sheraton Hotel at Rock Creek

Parkway, we’re going to outnumber their 20,000 delegates and have a real party

in the park.


Back to Africa, how about relations between states and civil societies? Is there

any concrete possibility that governments in Africa will finally listen to the

progressive forces?


In Dakar, there was much greater emphasis than there has been so far on relating

to governments, but that includes challenging corrupt regimes, of which we have

dozens on this continent. So, on the one hand, the African Jubilee groups and

other social movements are going to forcefully agitate for their governments to

ally with civil society on the demand for debt repudiation and cancellation, and

even to form a debtor’s cartel and build a reparations movement. And on the

other hand, regarding the corrupt regimes, we will not only see Africans being

more courageous in denouncing crooked rulers, but also demanding that Western

financiers also take responsibility for their complicity.


Nigerian comrades, for example, are having success putting the heat on London,

Swiss and US banks for bankrolling Sani Abacha and hiding his stolen funds. My

friend Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, who replaced Archbishop Desmond Tutu a

few years ago, has challenged the World Bank, and Swiss and German banks and

governments. Backed by Jubilee South Africa, he’s saying they must repay

payments made by South African society on loans to Pretoria during the apartheid

era which upheld white power.


Do you have any reservations about Dakar? For example, I saw a vicious email

attack circulated by Ann Pettifor of Jubilee UK who questioned what otherwise

seemed a very unifying process.


As usual, minor tensions developed when some renegades from Jubilee 2000 UK

wanted to exert undue influence. I gather it stems from them losing control, and

from their rather less ambitious campaigning objectives. Yet overall, the more

radical Jubilee South positions were fully endorsed within the South-North



I wish there had been more forward planning, in the light of some key points of

global movement building. We’re not only showing up at the enemy’s meetings, you

see, we’re now putting our own gatherings together, like Dakar, and we must

drive towards more inclusivity and programmatic work. The crucial session will

be a vast meeting in Porto Allegre, Brazil, next month, where the Workers Party,

Movement of the Landless and a huge collection of the best progressive forces in

Latin America are bringing in activists and strategists from all over the world.


be another huge event in Durban, South Africa next August, by the way: the UN

Conference on Racism. That conference will be an opportunity for Pretoria and

the UN bigwigs to showcase South Africa as a model for solving racial problems.

I believe that this would be a false image. We will instead be using the

occasion to present a more honest picture of the failures of this government.

Many of the gross inequities of the apartheid system–homelessness, lack of

water, inadequate health services, the Bantu educational system, all originally

based on racial distinctions–have actually gotten worse since 1994. The reason

for that is, essentially, dictation by proponents of neoliberalism, especially

the World Bank. Pretoria has pretty slavishly adopted the Washington Consensus

ideology. And there’s little or nothing to show for it.


Ok, the best progressive forces in this country share that line of argument. But

after Durban on racism next August, there’s yet another huge event coming up,

the UN’s World Summit on Social Development here in Jo’burg in 2002. This was

announced a couple of weeks ago, just after Jo’burg successfully hosted the

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty conference. I hear from people in

the Ralph Nader circuits that they were fairly pleased with the outcome, because

they exerted enough pressure to overcome reactionary positions by not only the

United States but by the host, South Africa, which is, for instance, using DDT

to treat malarial zones.


Yes, that World Summit is probably the point at which the work done in Dakar,

Porto Allegre and various other sites on alternatives to neoliberalism will come

to fruition. ZNet readers should put Jo’burg on their agenda.


will they have finally changed the name of Johannesburg by then? The

nineteenth-century land surveyor, Johannes Rissik, doesn’t deserve it. I guess

it’ll be called Igoli, Zulu for City of Gold?


Renaming Jo’eys was another of the ANC promises in the municipal elections

earlier this month. Don’t hold your breath, though, Dennis. White big business

interests say that it’s a global brand name, now, and the neoliberals running

the city will probably persuade the politicians to let it die.


Yes, like Seattle is a brand name to our comrades!


Seattle to Soweto, that sounds right. See you there in 2002!

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