New Film Projects South African Anti-Globalisation Struggle Onto Washington
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.
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.
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.
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.
filmmaker Ben Cashdan followed the two around for a week, and in the process
recorded a titillating, Pilgeresque unveiling of global-local power relations.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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!"
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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@example.com) is affiliated to the Alternative Information and Development Centre (http://www.aidc.org.za). For information about the video, contact Ben Cashdan at firstname.lastname@example.org