‘WE ARE inspired by Seattle and Genoa, and we hope our protest turns into something like Seattle.’ That’s how South Africa’s Anti-Privatisation Forum summed up its aim and hope for the mass protest it planned at the Earth Summit on Saturday. The forum is an umbrella group uniting a wide range of people campaigning for social justice.
They include the landless and the poor of South Africa, the victims of pollution and environmental destruction – among the very people world leaders gathering at the summit in Johannesburg say they aim to help. These people are furious at the summit. They agree, and know from their own lives, how urgent the need is for global action on poverty, disease and the environment.
But they rightly say that the summit is not addressing those issues. It will be, at best, hot air from well heeled government delegates leading to little real action. At worst it represents a giant festival for the very global corporations responsible for the crisis facing the world and its people. Sandton, the district of Johannesburg where the summit is being held, is one of South Africa’s richest districts.
It is a corporate enclave whose glass tower and shopping malls could have been transplanted from similar shrines to big business in any city in the world. Summit delegates will hold their air conditioned talks there behind police lines, wire fences, concrete barriers and the sound of percussion grenades fired at protesters. That repression is to make sure the voices of the poor and dispossessed, the victims of corporate globalisation, are kept out.
If world leaders wanted to see the effects of poverty and environmental destruction they would only have to travel a few miles from the summit to the areas in Johannesburg where most black people are forced to live.
Outside the summit anti-capitalist activists from across the world will be joining protesters from South Africa to voice the alternative, uniting as part of the global movement saying, ‘Another world is possible.’
THE SOUTH African government last week attacked and arrested leaders of the planned protests at the Earth Summit. A special target was the Landless People’s Movement. It denounced the arrests and police attacks on protests as ‘tantamount to the kind of brutalities inflicted on the dispossessed during the dark days of apartheid’.
Dozens of activists were arrested on a march in Johannesburg last Thursday, protesting at the forced removal of squatters to prettify the town for the summit. Also arrested were dozens of former fighters in the struggle to liberate South Africa from apartheid.
This shocking move by the African National Congress government was aimed at members of the Soldiers Forum who were protesting about unfair dismissals and pensions. ‘They speak for many former liberation combatants who have basically been abandoned after devoting their lives to the struggle for freedom,’ reports Peter van Heusden from the South Africa’s Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign.
In the run-up to the summit the South African authorities pushed through a regulation that any gathering of more than three people in Johannesburg has to have a permit.
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