KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 3 / July-August-September 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
ON THE PHILIPPINES
AN ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER
(FOCUSING MAINLY ON PHILIPPINE NEWS AND ISSUES)
FOCUS ON THE GLOBAL SOUTH
ISSUE # 25 SEPTEMBER 13, 2002
THE WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT HAS JUST BEEN CONCLUDED IN JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA. AS WAS FEARED, THE PROMISES MADE AT THE 1992 EARTH SUMMIT IN RIO DE JANEIRO WERE NOT ADHERED TO NOR STRENGTHENED. INSTEAD, WHAT CAME OUT WAS THE WATERING DOWN OF VICTORIES MADE TEN YEARS AGO.
The World Summit on Sustaining Global Apartheid
by Mary Louise Malig
APARTHEID IS NOT DEAD, it is very much alive and of all ironies, it was reinforced in the country where it was most bitterly fought. Apartheid at a global level has in fact, just been successfully institutionalised with the conclusion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.
This time though apartheid is no longer a policy of racial segregation, it is a system of discriminating on the basis of economic and military power. But the objective remains the same, to keep the oppressed in their place, the poor mired in their poverty, to keep the status quo.
Even before the Summit began, things looked ominous with officials setting up event sites ridiculously far from one another. The Sandton Convention Center where the official meetings and negotiations were to be held sat in the richest district of Johannesburg, whereas the NASREC center or the site of the civil society organised parallel events was 30 kilometers away. It takes a good one hour by bus ride to get to the parallel events from Sandton. The two other official sites, the Ubuntu Village where the country, business and civil society exhibits were, was 15 kilometers away from Sandton while the Waterdome was literally a world away, taking at least two hours on a good day by bus.
True, there were Summit shuttles in all the places that would take the delegates at every half hour or hour, depending on the time, but the sheer distance made you lose hours on the bus. It also discouraged government delegates and ministers from meeting their civil society counterparts.
The great distance between the sites though, made people suspect if this was in fact done strategically to separate and exclude many from the process.
This suspicion was reinforced by the way peaceful protesters were arrested a few days before the official opening of the Summit. Over seventy members from the National Land Committee and the Landless Peoples Movement were arrested on August 21 and 22 by the South African Police, following a peaceful march on August 21.
The unwarranted arrests were indicative of things to come.
DOES FREE TRADE AFFECT ME?
While the landless, the poor and activists were obviously unwelcome, a group of transnationals were not only welcome, they were being given red carpet treatment.
All over Johannesburg, huge billboards littered the landscape, competing with the commercial ads that sold insurance or half priced airline tickets to Cape Town. The billboards were Summit advertisements with the official logo stamped on the corner. They were literally everywhere, from the decrepit buildings of downtown Johannesburg to the glossy skyscrapers of Sandton. One had a picture of a smiling farmer with the question above his head, "Does Free Trade Affect Me?" The others had similar dramas, of smiling people from the third world with sappy lines on sustainability. What they had in common aside from the tacky UN stamp were the corporations' logos. BMW, Hewlett Packard, Daimler Chrysler, all the big boys, they were all there, with slogans proclaiming their sustainability and how they had sponsored the Summit. Eskom bought the chairs, HP brought the technology, and BMW brought the cars.
The presence was overwhelming. Upon entering the premises of the Sandton Convention Center, a massive structure of a half-globe greeted you with mini tents beside it. It was the BMW Earth Lounge where people can go in and get free wine and fruits while looking at the sustainable and supposedly affordable hydrogen cars of the German company. It is very interesting to note that while everyone's exhibits, countries, NGO's and all, were all cramped 15 kilometers away, BMW had the Sandton Convention Center all to itself.
But then again, the special treatment should hardly be surprising, this UN summit had the largest business presence ever. The count by the "Summit Star" totalled to over 700 business executives, 200 companies and approximately 100 CEO's. And why would corporations not come out in full force, when the UN's priorities have shifted from poverty eradication and environmental preservation to achieving sustainable development via partnerships with these big boys, or as Kofi Annan calls it, The Global Compact.
Corporations then came in to divide the world amongst themselves and privatise everything that matters, water, energy, healthcare, agriculture and biodiversity. If the way globalization has been run in the past few decades is any indication, corporations taking over can only spell disaster for the poor, the landless, the South.
Some corporations cannot even be held accountable for past sins like Bhopal in India and Marcopper in the Philippines, where in both cases entire communities still suffer from these companies' irresponsibility several years after the incident.
A few days into the Summit was all people needed to have their worst fears confirmed, that they were not invited nor wanted there. Yes, civil society delegates and representatives from progressives had official Summit ID's that would ideally open all doors, but this was apparently not enough. At almost all official deliberations and meetings at the Sandton Convention Center, halls were closed with signs declaring that they were supposedly full.
Groups then focused on converging at Nasrec or at the Landless People's Camp to discuss ways to let ministers hear the legitimate grievances of the people who they should be working for. Grievances of landlessness, poverty and even access to safe water, all of which, should be heard at the official meetings.
The meetings at Nasrec and elsewhere though were tense as droves of police and military persons were in attendance as well. In one hall that held about 150 people, there were more than fifty heavily armed police at the back of the hall. One march outside a university was actually dispersed with stun grenades, such was the extent of the show of military force by the South African government.
UNITED, WE WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED
Suppression though, as Greek mythology has shown, will only make the flame burn hotter and on the bright day of August 31, the social movements, the landless and internationalists joined together to burn the hand clamping down on them. Twenty thousand marched the ten kilometer stretch from one of the poorest towns, Alexandra, to the posh district of Sandton, carrying a Social Movements United banner along with all the other banners of all the groups that joined in: the Landless People's Movement, the Anti-Privatization Forum and many others. It was awe-inspiring, people marching under the Johannesburg sun, singing, holding hands and calling people in their houses to come out and join. It was a site of unity in diversity with the South Africans teaching their international comrades and colleagues how to toyi-toyi, or marching while dancing and chanting "Land, Food, Jobs", "Land for the Landless" and "Viva Viva Palestina and Argentina".
The enthusiasm was at a high despite the intimidation of at least 8,000 police officers plus tanks, helicopters, barricades and riot police with plastic shields and shotguns.
The end of the march though proved to be frightening for the sheltered ministers. None of the ministers, not even Thabo Mbeki came out to meet the people. The speeches were at the Sandton Center where ministers and government delegates peered from the glossy buildings.
It was a victory as the mere joining of forces of the greatly varied groups showed the unity that could be achieved despite differences in many aspects. And it was because of this great diversity that the police were not able to employ their usual tactics of dispersing and bombing local marches. It was also a victory in that people excluded and oppressed came together in a show of force to say to the world that the Summit has done nothing but sustain global apartheid. As the people have chanted, "United, we will never be defeated".