The Earth Summit is taking place in a small suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa called Sandton. Sandton rivals Western capitals in its affluence. It is a small city of steel and glass office buildings, upscale tourist shops and a gigantic mall. Word on the ground is that Sandton is fast becoming the business capital of Johannesburg, as wealthy white executives are increasingly loath to enter the crime-ridden Central Business District in downtown Johannesburg.
Few of the official delegates to the Earth Summit will get a glimpse of the poverty which stretches across South Africa. They will not see the impoverished townships, the thousands of shacks which stretch for miles in the countryside, the children playing in polluted water, the homeless begging in the streets.
To address this, thousands of people marched from Alexandria township to the conference site in Sandton over the weekend. Chief among their concerns is the so-called New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or NEPAD for short.
South African President Thabo Mbeki is NEPAD’s main author and champion. NEPAD was introduced to the world on October 23, 2001. It is designed to attract both foreign aid and foreign investment, and calls for the privatization of water, electricity, telecommunications and transportation, largely in the form of “Public-Private Partnerships.”
Mbeki circulated the plan among heads of state at meetings of the G-8, multinational corporations at the World Economic Forum, and at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle and Doha, Qatar. But Mbeki did not circulate it among African civil society. As soon as the text was made public, protests erupted across the country.
- Mohau Pheko, International Gender and Trade Network, South Africa.