SAR, Vol 13 No 3, May 1998
FYI: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES:
SOUTH AFRICA CONFRONTS GLOBALIZATION
A Conference to Build Civil Society Alliances
Edenvale, 12 - 15 March 1998
Brief Conference Report
Introduction: Background to the Conference
The "South Africa Confronts Globalization" Conference has been a unique and extremely important development.
Twenty-nine organizations representing workers, women, students, youth, urban and rural communities, disabled people, the churches, health, environmental, culture and media interests, came together to plan this conference. Many more NGOs and individuals also participated. More than 150 people attended the conference, coming from eight of South Africa's nine provinces.
The aims of the conference were to:
a) contribute towards a growing understanding and critique of economic issues,
b) consider a variety of alternatives and
c) stimulate the building of alliances across organizations of civil society around key issues and campaigns.
Participants came to the conference to share ideas and learn from each other's experiences and knowledge. In recognition that the participants were not given organizational mandates on established positions, the Conference Planning Committee agreed that the conference should arrive at a declaration of "principled positions" which participants will take back to their organizations and communities to broaden discussion, debate and support for activities and campaigns.
Conference facilitation was largely coordinated by the Campaign Against Neoliberalism in South Africa (CANSA), an alliance of individuals formed to protest the October 1996 visit of the International Monetary Fund's managing director. Conference funders included Heinrich Boll Stiftung, Africa Groups of Sweden and Interfund; many organizations contributed sponsorship of delegates from their own resources; the Rural Development Sector Network, South African Municipal Workers Union and Ecumenical Service for Socio-economic Transformation provided extra funding; the Women's National Coalition National, Progressive Primary Health Care Network, Joint Enrichment Project and Paper, Printing and Allied Workers Union provided crucial logistical support; and volunteers made other significant contributions.
Main Conference observations: Why is globalization vital to South Africa?
"Globalization" - untrammelled free-market trade, investment and finance at the international scale - has been presented to us by elites from the industrialized countries, the international financial institutions, transnational corporations and their allies (including assimilated elites of South Africa and other developing countries) as a new development to which "there is no alternative."
The supposed inevitability of the process masks the highly political nature of global developments. It disguises the particular economic approach, namely "neo-liberalism" (the free-market philosophy of structural adjustment). And it mystifies the underlying aim of pro-globalization forces: to establish a newly-liberalized world order in which the aspirations of progressive governments, workers and communities (particularly women, the elderly, youth, children and disabled people) are subordinated to the needs of profit and greed.
The Conference analyzed and criticized the host of conservative economic policies that are weakening progressive governments' ability to address social ills, and are wreaking havoc on workers and communities internationally, and that in South Africa are embodied both in the "Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR)" macroeconomic strategy, and in various specific policies (especially housing, municipal infrastructure, land, and education).
The Conference considered the recent budget and rejected it on grounds that:
a) no progress has been made in addressing the huge apartheid-era debt burden (which takes 20% of state spending);
b) vast, unjustifiable amounts still are spent on defense and on policing (which addresses the effects not the causes of crime); and
c) not enough has been done to restructure social spending and to reduce hidden forms of benefits to the rich in the budget.
The Conference concluded that what is really at stake is the problem of unbalanced political power between contending social forces. Business and financial interests - amplified through the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organization, US government, European Union and the like, with collaboration from Third World elites - exert an overwhelming influence. Their preferred economic policies are, we are witnessing, ineffective on their own terms and are socially unjust. Worse, they have convinced a large section of our society that there is no alternative to orthodox economic policies and globalization.
The Conference confirmed our rejection of these policies and the attempt to impose helplessness on our society. A variety of alternatives have been presented since 1993 by organizations such as the MacroEconomic Research Group (Making Democracy Work), the Mass Democratic Movement (the Reconstruction and Development Programme), Cosatu (Social Equity and Job Creation), the Community Constituency of Nedlac (Return to the RDP) and the like. Conference confirms that "there must be an alternative"!
The negative impact of globalization on South Africa has been manifested, through the fiscal squeeze and through market-oriented policies that have stifled economic growth and redistribution, in job losses, crisis in education, closure of hospitals, widening loopholes in the social security net, water cut-offs, the worsening housing shortage, and persistent malnutrition and poverty, in a context of deepening inequality in what is already the second most unequal country in the world.
The Conference agreed on the need to confront these social ills, but also to address the root cause, which Conference concluded lies in large part in economic policies designed in Washington and implemented in Pretoria through the often unthinking actions of - and lack of consultation by - our own government.
The Conference recognized a variety of international initiatives and the growing global confidence of trade unions, community organizations and NGOs in tackling these issues, and expressed the need to strengthen links with these civil society organizations and initiatives.
Conference's strategic directions: The way forward
Decisions were taken by the Conference plenary as follows:
1) A Conference Report will immediately be generated (CANSA will carry out this mandate); and
2) A Globalization Campaigns Committee (facilitated by CANSA and reinforced by leaders of major participating organizations) will take forward and help coordinate several initiatives:
(a) The Campaign Committee will facilitate protest by a variety of organizations against the [then] upcoming visit by US President Bill Clinton on the following grounds:
* his proposed Africa Trade Bill will recolonize our continent through structural adjustment conditionality;
* his government's refusal to cancel the African and Third World debt subjugates innocent people to perpetual misery; and
* his neo-liberal policies and his country's influence at the World Bank, IMF and WTO are explicitly against our interests;
(b) The Committee will support the activities and campaigns for public sector delivery of water for all led by the South African Municipal Workers Union and community civics. It will carry out the recommendations made by the Conference's commission against privatization, including:
* support for our constitutional right to water;
* opposition to World Bank infrastructure and water policies that contradict this right and to the privatization of water; as well as
* opposition to the proposed expansion of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (and World Bank funding for the project);
(c) the [then] upcoming Poverty Hearings - which are jointly coordinated by the SA NGO Coalition - will be supported with information from the Conference showing the links between globalization, GEAR and poverty;
(d) there will be support for the demand for "Cancellation of the Apartheid Debt," initiated by the Alternative Information and Development Centre, the SA NGO Coalition and others;
(e) the Committee will support activities around labour rights, trade and investment that are coordinated by trade unions, the International Labour Research and Information Group and other conference participants;
(f) the Committee will assist in several specific efforts that challenge the World Bank (especially the activities of its South Africa office), Third World debt payments, the forthcoming Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and South Africa-based multinational corporations;
(g) the Committee will strengthen links with civil society worldwide, and will assist in the emerging South Africa-Haiti information exchange; and
(h) the Committee will coordinate our organizations' short-term responses to immediate crises and other issues that have emerged from the Conference.
The Globalization Campaigns Committee includes people from the trade union movement, the women's movement, the health sector, the progressive religious sector, the student movement, research and academic institutions, and the international solidarity movement.
Campaign Against Neoliberalism in South Africa, 60 Isipingo Street, Bellevue East 2198, Johannesburg, South Africa. Contact: George Dor/David Letsie (2711)648-7000 or (2711)331-5958, fax (2711)331-5957, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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