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New Film Projects South African Anti-Globalisation Struggle Onto Washington


Patrick Bond

Those

in the Z community anxious to hear organic voices from the South debating global

socio-economic injustice are probably aware that South African rhetoric is

especially hot these days. For evidence, check out the documentary "Two

Trevors Go To Washington," which gets its US premier at noon on June 1 at

the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

The

stars, Trevor Ngwane and Trevor Manuel, are both elected officials of the South

African government, but their perspectives on the mid-April World

Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) protests are antithetical.

Ngwane

is a humanist, rastafarian, street- fighting socialist from Soweto who can claim

two decades of intensive organising in unions, community groups, the student

movement and the African National Congress.

Likewise,

Manuel is a former activist from Western Cape townships who boasts only a

community- college degree in civil engineering but who became so exceptionally

talented at talking the talk that he was recently named chair of the Board of

Governors of the IMF and World Bank. As SA finance minister since 1996, Manuel

is credited with jawboning African National Congress (ANC) constituents into

acquiescence to a failing structural adjustment programme which was partially

designed by Bank economists.

Independent

filmmaker Ben Cashdan followed the two around for a week, and in the process

recorded a titillating, Pilgeresque unveiling of global-local power relations.

The

documentary may therefore serve as an antidote to SA president Thabo Mbeki’s US

tour de force last week. Mbeki’s appearances at Ebenezer Church in Atlanta,

Howard and Georgetown Universities in Washington, the White House and the Bay

Area received rave reviews, in part because the news from Africa is usually

filled with images of barbarism.

And

indeed Mbeki did two good things: attacked the World Bank, IMF and World Trade

Organisation at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, and finally began a

partial climb-down on the indefensible AIDS-drug policy adopted in the wake of

his previous health minister’s courageous anti- corporate stance on

pharmaceutical pricing last year (watch this space in a month for more).

Mbeki

told several hundred business executives, "Many of us are punished by the

development and trade structures in place, which benefit the wealthy countries

that wrote them and continue to impact negatively on us." Yet in the same

breath he also called for a "broad-based development round at the WTO to

address these issues"–in direct contrast to African WTO delegates and

social movements who have consistently opposed any new round prior to an

assessment and "turnaround" on numerous existing disputes.

Mbeki’s

and Manuel’s "talk-left, act-right" approach is a source of enormous

frustration for local activists. Ngwane, Jubilee 2000 SA and the Campaign

Against Neoliberalism in SA are debating how to implement strategies and tactics

similar to those described so well for US activists in Bob Naiman’s Z- Net

commentary last week.

To

this end, the documentary serves as a great educator and confidence-builder.

Filmed for SA Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative show "Special

Assignment"–and screened nationally here in early May (and at Covent

Garden’s Africa Centre in London on May 22)–the story takes us from Soweto’s

dusty Pimville district, represented by city councillor Ngwane, to what are now

weekly activist workshops on globalisation in decaying central Jo’burg, to

Manuel’s office suite in Cape Town, to myriad sites of confrontation in

Washington.

Any

of the 30,000 folk who supported the Mobilization for Global Justice will

recognise and celebrate the drama of protest preparation and the human-scale

commitments evoked by demonstrators from both South and North. The

radical-participatory democracy in the spokescouncil meetings and the

Convergence Center creativity had Ngwane gasping in delighted disbelief,

"This is where the revolution is being constructed, man!"

In

return, he teaches crowds the uniquely South African activist war-dance, the

toyi-toyi, to his chant: "The World Bank! Haai! Is the Devil! Haai haai!"

But

the film also offers an insider-peek at Bank president James Wolfensohn, acting

IMF managing director Stanley Fischer (who was born in colonial Zambia and

raised in Cape Town) and British finance minister Gordon Brown, who together

pile up the fibs for public consumption but let down their hair amongst friends.

Manuel,

for instance, claims in an interview that one of his key objectives is to wrest

away the veto power the US exercises over the IMF and Bank with its 17.8%

shareholding (an 85% majority is required to override vetoes). Responding in the

next clip, as guests tuck into an expensive lunch, Wolfensohn giggles

conspiratorially: "This is a problem I’ll have to leave to my successor. If

I did raise it, I’m sure I would get a quick successor, harh harh harh!"

Manuel laughs too, as if it’s all just a rhetorical game.

Which

it is for these big boys, unaccustomed–as Global Exchange’s Kevin Danaher (the

hilarious narrator of protest logistics throughout the film) puts it–to having

their snake-like institutions dragged out from under the rock for all to see.

Sometimes

you catch them in honest moments, like Fischer circling his finger while

conceding to Brown in a tet-a-tet that "We had to go around and

around" the 90-block cordoned no-go zone before finding a way past the

protesters early on the main lockdown day, April 16. Brown then steps up to the

podium and lies: "We didn’t hear the protesters and we got in as

normal."

Next

comes the unmistakable growl of the BBC’s Richard Quest, who pops the question

to Fischer: "How worried are you that the word globalisation is becoming a

dirty word? The IMF does seem to be losing the PR battle." Smirking,

Fischer concedes, "I think the word globalisation could become a problem.

But the process it represents… that process is fine."

How

has the film gone down in South Africa? ANC bigwigs are predictably defensive.

"It is very fashionable for people to say that the macroeconomic policy of

the country was dictated by the International Monetary Fund or the World

Bank," complained the party’s general-secretary, Kgalema Motlanthe, a few

days later in a Mail and Guardian newspaper interview.

The

verb "dictate" insinuates unwillingness, and so may be a red herring.

Pretoria and Washington enjoy a revolving door that leads deep into the

Department of Finance, as witnessed not only by Manuel’s role but that of other

bureaucrats who move seamlessly between the World Bank, Pretoria and the

Johannesburg banks.

One

of Wolfensohn’s top deputies, just appointed to head the Bank’s social

development division, is Mamphele Ramphele, once a radical black-consciousness

associate of Steve Biko but more recently president of the University of Cape

Town where she broke the staff union during a massive outsourcing drive.

No

matter that some forget their roots in search of top Bank jobs, struggle history

remains crucial. Going back a few decades, it is easy to understand why so many

South Africans remain furious at the Bank and IMF.

To

illustrate, a National Reparations Conference opened by Archbishop Njongonkulu

Ndungane in early May resolved to demand the World Bank and IMF repay black

South Africans for apartheid loans. From 1951- 67, the Bank lent Pretoria more

than $200 million, about half of which went to support electricity generation in

dirty coal-fired plants. Yet black townships and rural areas were denied

electricity due to apartheid.

As

late as 1966, the Bank granted $20 million in apartheid loans even after Albert

Luthuli and Rev. Martin Luther King called for anti-apartheid financial

sanctions. In 1986, the Bank again busted sanctions by indirectly lending to

Pretoria, via the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, using a special London trust

fund account to accomplish the stunt.

The

IMF continued its apartheid lending into the early 1980s, including $2 billion

in loans after the Soweto uprising began hurting Pretoria’s credit rating. After

the IMF was prohibited from lending by the US Congress in 1983, it continued to

give the apartheid state economic advice: to adopt "neoliberal" (free

market) policies during the late 1980s and early 1990s, including privatization,

extremely high interest rates, export-oriented strategies and the unpopular

Value Added Tax.

After

liberation in 1994, little changed. Quite a con game is needed to disguise the

elite-pacting process. Continued Motlanthe in the interview, "We’re not

accountable to the IMF or World Bank, as we have not borrowed from them."

Someone

forgot to inform the ANC leader of the December 1993 $850 million IMF loan

signed by the interim government, known as the Transitional Executive Council

(TEC), purportedly for "drought relief" (18 months after the drought

ended). That loan bound Pretoria to cutting government deficit spending (from

6.8% to 6% of GDP in 1994) and reducing wages.

Perhaps

Motlanthe doesn’t know because the conditions were kept secret until a Business

Day leak in March 1994. That newspaper’s top financial journalist concluded that

"The Reconstruction and Development Programme [RDP, the ANC's populist

campaign platform] and the TEC statement of policies to the IMF are arguably the

two most important clues on future economic policy… The ANC, in signing the

statement of policies to the IMF, committed itself to promoting wage

restraint." The progressive sections of the RDP were subsequently ditched.

Motlanthe

was also not told, apparently, about a $46 million World Bank loan to promote

exports in 1997. Nor does he know of tens of millions of dollars invested in

South Africa by the Bank’s private sector subsidiary, the International Finance

Corporation. These include stakes in Dominos Pizza, in for-profit healthcare, in

housing securities to make high-income people’s homes more affordable, and in

infrastructure privatization, none of which fight poverty (and all of which add

a US dollar liability to South Africa’s stressed current account).

More

importantly, dozens of Bank missions have given policy advice to post-apartheid

government departments. The missions invariably promote "market-

oriented" strategies which undermine the positions of the poor, women and

children, the elderly, disabled people and the environment.

To

illustrate, the first major policy paper that the Bank contributed to was the

Urban Infrastructure Investment Framework, in late 1994. That document called

for pit latrines, not proper toilets, for households with an income of less than

$110 per month, who account for a quarter of urban residents and nearly two

fifths of rural folk.

The

logic was simple: as water prices rise to market levels, poor people can’t

afford to flush. Denying the poor even a small amount of water–the RDP calls

for a free 50 liters per person per day "lifeline"–can only be done

by pushing people into segregated pit latrine settlements far away from town and

job opportunities.

The

Bank’s 1999 "Country Assistance Strategy" bragged about its

"instrumental" role in post- apartheid water pricing policy. One Bank

economist egged on the government to approve cutoffs of household water

supplies, which increased to unprecedented levels beginning in 1997.

What

does this mean on the ground, in Trevor Ngwane’s Soweto constituency? In

Johannesburg, the city manager budgeted to spend millions of dollars on pit

latrines last year, using municipal privatization proceeds. Ngwane fought the

privatization and pit latrine policy, and for his troubles was suspended from

the ANC (for which until last September he served as regional chairperson).

Ngwane is currently an independent councillor, enjoying extremely strong

grassroots support but facing local government elections in November against a

hostile Johannesburg ANC.

The

problems Ngwane describes are not limited to ongoing socio-economic indignity

and a new kind of apartheid based not on the race line but the water and sewage

line. In addition, public health and environmental hazards are emerging. North

of Pretoria, a similar early 1990s pit latrine plan led to dramatic outbreaks of

cholera and typhoid because of the E.coli bacteria, which enters the water table

through excrement.

For

that reason, Jo’burg’s privatization framework–"Egoli 2002," after

the Tswana translation for City of Gold–was redubbed by Ngwane and trade

unionists as E.coli 2002. Thanks to the Bank, whose top Pretoria staff and

consultants are also advising Jo’burg on privatization, Africa’s richest

municipality is fouling the environment and threatening the public health, and

in the process transferring more caregiving responsibilities and costs to women.

The

same development disaster is underway in rural areas, where Bank advice was

central to the failed land redistribution plan adopted in 1994. Instead of 30%

land redistributed, as the RDP mandated, the ANC government achieved less than

1%, because the minister–subsequently fired–followed the Bank’s free-market

logic even in a context of the worst inequality in the world.

The

identical land distribution problems Zimbabwe currently faces are now being

seeded in South Africa, with the same Bank staff doing the gardening, on

parched, free-market lines.

The

two Trevors went to Washington to make these global-local links, which

Mobilization for Global Justice protesters understood in their gut and can now

view in very personal terms.

Patrick

Bond ([email protected]) is affiliated to the Alternative Information and

Development Centre (http://www.aidc.org.za). For information about the video,

contact Ben Cashdan at [email protected]