'The Summit' is a 30 minute documentary filmed during the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg. Through filming with Summit officials and residents of the Soweto and Alexandra townships, the film seeks to expose the scandalous gap between rhetoric and reality in the global attempt to tackle world poverty through sustainable development. (from £4.00)
- Vandana Shiva
- Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank Director for Environment
- Ronnie Kasrils, South Africa's Water Minister
- Anti-Privatisation activists from Soweto and Alexandra
Filmed, Directed and Edited by Nick Francis and Max Pugh
The following article was was written by Nick Francis and originally publiched in the Big Issue.
This time last year the debate on globalisation receded from public attention. IMF and World Bank meetings were cancelled. Demonstrations postponed. Cries that the anti- globalisation movement was dead. One year on, there is a sense that the 9/11 anniversary and threat of war with Iraq, is set to overshadow the issues whipped up at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
As the hotel rooms in Africa?s wealthiest suburb, where the summit took place, became vacant and the international media moved out, development issues have already begun to slide down the news agenda. For those whose city was turned into a fortress, to host the international delegates at a cost of millions of dollars, the summit will make little real impact.
Standing on a riverbank overlooking corrugated-iron homes, Mary Masindi, a long term resident of the Alexandra township and an activist with the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) points out the open sewers, the decrepit latrines, the kids moving buckets of water to their homes from outside taps. She points out the mounds of decaying rubbish that people?s homes back on to, where rats scurry along next to the polluted river. Kids play in the filth.
At the convention centre, a few miles away, in Africa?s most affluent area, South Africa?s minister for water announces: ?Alexandra benefits from a major renewal programme ? that includes roads, sanitation, the cleaning of the river, schools and clinics.? Asked whether the people of Alexandra living next to open sewers, polluted rivers and the like have anything to look forward to, the minister said, ?I think you?ll find people are becoming optimistic, it is a wonderful case study for re- development.?
He continues to enthuse about Alexandra, while I am recalling the pessimism from a
visit to Mary?s friends house, where the walls are cracking, the toilet leaking, the electricity temperamental and services becoming more expensive. Some are facing eviction for not being able to pay the rent having been relocated to a housing project now under the jurisdiction of a private company.
Much of the debate at the World Summit focused on water privatisation. The talk was of building partnerships with the private sector; public- private partnership (PPP). Yet for Alexandra, PPP means price hikes for services people can ill-afford. This is a country where 50 per cent of the people are unemployed. Yet for the World Bank, privatisation is not seen as a problem but the solution and it is something it has been encouraging for years.
?Water is a scarce resource and therefore needs to be managed responsibly? says Kristalina Georgieva, director for the environment department for the World Bank.
?The question is not whether water facilities should be private or not, the question is that they have to operate with a sense of financial and resource use cost recovery utility. What is not possible is to continue to price water at zero.?
It is this reality which has forced thousands of people across South Africa to join the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), as a response to the growing tide of services falling into private ownership.
Tello Selepe is a key organiser with the APF. He says the South African Government has failed to keep its promises of providing free services for all. ?We are saying no to job losses, electricity cut-offs and evictions. We must make privatisation unworkable on the ground. If the Government is not going to listen to us a revolution is needed. We have sacrificed our life fighting the apartheid regime, hoping things will be better and if things don?t improve there will be revolution.?
The company in control of South Africa?s water, waste and energy services is Suez, a French multi-national which operates in over 130 countries with revenues in excess of Â£24.5 bn. It has has been involved in the country since 1970.
In Feb 2001 the company was awarded a five-year contract to serve 3 million people per day in Johannesburg. One of the company?s key objectives is to ensure the ?financial sustainability of Johannesburg Water? and to expand operations to ?low income areas?. In 1998 the World Bank predicted revenues from water could soon reach around $800bn per year.
The people in South Africa, fearing a hike in water prices, point to the Bolivian experience. In 1999 in Cochambamba, Bolivia?s third largest city, following the privatisation of its water services to a consortium led by London-based International Water, prices rose by 35 per cent. Suddenly few people could afford to pay for water, prompting riots in the streets as thousands became outraged. Soon after the protests the company lost its contract in Bolivia. Those in the anti-privatisation movement in South Africa envisage a similar scenario developing there.
?The issue of water privatisation is based on a lie. It is the denial of access, privatisation is nothing more than the exclusion of people to the resources which are theirs in the first place,? says Vandana Shiva, an environmentalist and author of several books on globalisation issues. ?The conflicts arising from water privatisation in Ghana, Bolivia, India and South Africa show we are at a point of a new politics. It is becoming clear we are being governed by Monsanto governments, Suez governments, Vivendi governments and no governance that is a takeover by corporations of our system can ever be honest, can ever be straight, can ever be democratic.?
Suez, gained notoriety in the UK through its waste management subsidiary SITA which operates throughout the country. In June 2001, the company dramatically increased the workload for refuse collectors in Brighton, to a level the workers thought was impossible to manage. They protested and subsequently were all sacked. A long fight followed until they were re-instated with more acceptable working conditions.
In South Africa, Suez has a 73 per cent stake in a consortium providing water to Johannesburg. While the company maintains prices have not increased since they won the contract two years ago, a spokesperson for Suez says: ?We are not a philanthropic company, we are a private company so we have to make money or we will disappear; we have to make profit for the stake holders. Therefore when we invest in a country we do not do it in a philanthropic way.?
Asked whether people should be worried about being cut off from water, the spokesperson stated: ?The first six cubic metres every month is free and thereafter they are paying for a service we are bringing them.? If people cannot pay, it is the municipality, claim Suez, who are responsible for cutting people off.
?If you visit the townships, you see people live differently to how we do in France or England, with regards to showers and baths. They do not use as much water.?
Tello will continue to oppose water privatisation: ?Under privatisation people here will not be able to afford the water. This pre-paid system was rejected in Cape Town because if you exceed your prepaid water allowance you will be cut off?
Few believe there were any real progressive agreements made at the summit. Critics of big business say corporations like Shell and Rio-Tinto hijacked the conference. Clearly there was no hiding the presence of business. De Beers the diamond company, erected billboards exclaiming ?Water is Forever?. BMW showcased their new car there. Daimler Chrysler was an official sponsor.
The only tangible agreement ? which cannot be enforced ? is the promise of making water accessible to everyone by 2015. By then, the question for those in most need of water, will not be concerning accessibility but affordability.
On the World Summit Tello concludes: ?It was not about the poor it was about the rich. If they wanted to alleviate poverty, why doesn?t Britain and America and the rest of the G8 invest in Africa, not under their conditions but ours??
-On September 7th, in Cape Town, Suez, secured a court order compelling over 70 workers to return to work after strikes at the water plant. The strikes followed a threat by management to dismiss two leading shop stewards at the plant. Workers are also demanding an 11.3% wage increase. Dale Forbes of the Workers Union of South Africa said ?We are opposed to the role Suez plays in South Africa. Suez?s record of delivering services is extremely poor. Suez?s labour relations come from the dark ages. We have already secured one of the plants returning from their (Suez) control back to the municipality and we believe the interests of consumers are best served with the municipality in control of our water rather than a multi-national corporation.? Since the strikes began around 20 people have been arrested including an Italian journalist. The protests continue.