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Mass Protest Gave Workers A Voice
ON SATURDAY 31 AUGUST anti-globalisation activists were joined by thousands of workers, the unemployed and landless, who marched from the poor township of Alexandra outside Johannesburg to the Earth Summit being held in the exclusive, rich suburb of Sandton.
WEIZMANN HAMILTON of the Democratic Socialist Movement in South Africa (DSM - the Socialist Party's counterpart) describes the march and the events surrounding it.
"THE INITIAL reaction of the African National Congress (ANC) government was to deny permission to demonstrate to the united social movement (USM) which represented the anti-privatisation forum (which the DSM is affiliated to), the landless people's movement as well as Via Campesina which is an international movement - 'the peasant way' - and a host of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
The government was clearly concerned that they would be embarrassed by a massive turnout and so they decided on two tactics. On the one hand, to organise their own march together with the COSATU (trade union confederation) leadership on the same day, starting from the same township, Alexandra. And on the other hand, initially, to deny permission to the USM demo.
However, a week beforehand - when a number of anti-globalisation activists marched from Witts University to the main police station in Johannesburg, now known as Thabo Mbeki square - stun grenades were hurled at the demonstrators which included people like Naomi Klein (the US writer of No Logo ).
It caused the government a great deal of embarrassment and led to divisions inside the ANC because the authorities were seen to be behaving just like the old apartheid regime. As a result in the middle of the week the government relented the ban on the demo.
There was about 10,000-12,000 people on the march, which given the government's harassment and attempts to sabotage it, represents a huge success.
Part of the government strategy to provide such a long route (between 12-15 kilometres) in the hope that sheer exhaustion, hunger and thirst would result in people dropping off. There were unprecedented levels of security with both the army and police deployed all along the route with stun grenades, machine guns trained on the demonstrators, armoured vehicles and riot police.
There was also clear harassment from the state with the use of police helicopters that constantly circled the march. At the rally outside the Sandton convention centre they deliberately hovered above the stage drowning out the speeches.
The government decided to send from the office of the President, Essop Pahad (he was one of the three central committee members of the South African Communist Party recently booted off by the SACP congress) to receive the memorandum from the demonstration. But through the intervention of our comrades, including the leader of the Socialist Students movement at Witts University, Pahad was not allowed to speak (The TV showed our comrade telling him to get off the stage! - The Sunday Paper front page showed a picture of Pahad with the headline "VOETSEK" which means "get away" - usually spoken when shooing away a dog!)
In contrast, the initial radio reports of the government organised demo, at which Mbeki spoke, described the turnout of 3,000 people as 'a flop'. Opportunistically and hypocritically, Mbeki (whose ANC government is promoting capitalist policies of privatisations and cutbacks which are increasing poverty) denounced the 'global apartheid' between rich and poor."
What struck me was all along the march was the intense hatred which exists for Mbeki in particular.
- PRIOR TO the march there was a pro-Palestinian rights rally at Johannesburg city hall the evening before, attended by 1,000 people. Speakers from the Socialist Students movement from the University of Durban, Westville, in KwaZulu Natal intervened and captivated the audience, with people giving them a standing ovation as they hoisted their banner.
Summit For Nothing
THE CAPITALIST governments and big business interests which met in Johannesburg achieved nothing. In many ways this was even a retreat from summits such as Rio in 1992 or Kyoto in 1997.
On energy they failed to set any targets for increased use of renewable energy and less use of greenhouse gas-producing fuels, after pressure from oil companies and the US government.
On poverty, they agreed to set up a solidarity fund to wipe out poverty - but contributions are voluntary. Meanwhile inequality both within and between nations is growing rapidly.
On health, they agreed that World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on patents should not stop sick people in poor countries getting treatment - particularly relevant for countries hit by Aids.
But another section on trade says that WTO rules must over-ride global environmental treaties! So there is still potential for disagreement and vetoes by big pharmaceutical companies.
The only action which the summit approved were schemes for "partnerships" where big business can make yet more profit out of the misery that capitalism has brought. The Socialist Party will carry on fighting for socialist answers.
In The Socialist 6 September 2002: