and Dennis Brutus
Commentator Patrick Bond ([email protected]) chats with South African
poet/activist ZNet Commentator Dennis Brutus about the state of the
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
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
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
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
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!