‘It’s all top-down’ — activists hammer BRICS on human rights and environment

Naledi Sikhakhane (Daily Maverick) 23 August 2023

Activists and scholars say the BRICS bloc is not working-class friendly and will further the status quo instead of providing a viable alternative.

Speakers at civil society’s BRICS-from-below dialogues, which preceded a protest march against wars, human rights violations, inequality and climate change, highlighted problematic methods of governance that suppress working-class people.

From India violating human rights in Kashmir and Russia invading Ukraine, to China funding fossil fuel projects across Africa, the BRICS bloc leaves activists with much to be desired. They suggest that the bloc upholds the current world order instead of creating a new citizen-friendly world order.

Makhadzi Tshivuwa is an heir to the land where the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ) is being developed. She says the developers spoke to people who don’t own the land and the rightful owners only found out in the media that they would be displaced.

“They are going to destroy our heritage site, our indigenous plants and flora like the baobab and marula trees. They want to remove our graves; in African culture, we do not do that, we do not move resting people. We will not have a say in this [development], while it will destroy our lives,” Tshivuwa said. She was one of many activists at the BRICS-from-below event, which was held at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Tuesday.

UJ’s Centres for Social Change and for Sociological Research and Practice hosted the event, which asked: “Can the BRICS change the world? Western-dominated, pro-corporate multilateralism is unable to resolve the poly-crisis”.

The BRICS-from-below coordinator, author Trevor Ngwane, said, “BRICS wants leverage. Instead of saying, ‘We are capitalists fighting to be bigger capitalists’, they want to get strong, they start pretending that if they get strong, life will get better for the working class. We know that there will be a question: Does this mean you favour America?

“During the Struggle, there was a party that used to say, ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’, so we must not be swayed and convinced to choose between these two; we must find our own way as socialists towards socialism.

“The problem with BRICS projects is that it’s all top-down. It’s something organised by governments.

“Even when we say we want to protest, they say you can’t protest, even tomorrow, they will put us in a small park very far away.”

Zaki Mamdoo, a coordinator of the StopEACOP coalition (Stop East African African Crude Oil Pipeline), highlighted the struggle of Ugandans who had been displaced by French oil giant Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation building a massive crude oil pipeline through communities.

On Wednesday morning, the coalition, in collaboration with civil society organisations, community-based organisations and climate and environmental activists, will protest against the Chinese state and Chinese companies’ involvement in numerous extractive and damaging projects across Africa.

Mamdoo said that “despite China’s claims of friendship with Africa, China’s actions often tell a different story — one of the destructive, exploitative and resource-driven endeavours that lay bare the reality of Chinese ‘development’ on the continent.

“The time has come to demand better from this rising global power, urging them to change their approach and prioritise the wellbeing and prosperity of African nations and their citizens, especially frontline communities devastated by the fossil fuel industry.

“This requires that China reassesses its involvement in numerous harmful projects across the continent and adopts a partnership model rooted in the principles of equity, justice, transparency and collective benefit for communities, workers and citizens.”

Speakers at the dialogue included Sunny Morgan, the co-convener of Debt for Climate, a global climate debt cancellation campaign; Nonhlanhla Radebe, project manager of Gender CC Southern Africa and national coordinator for PACJA SA, (Pan African Climate Justice Alliance); and Salman Khan of the South African Kashmir Action Group. Radebe has visited affected communities in Uganda, where she says gross human rights violations are taking place to create the crude oil pipeline.

“People are getting only 250 euros for their land; they are being displaced and intimidated because the government has a vested interest in this project. We visited a family of eight that now lives in a single room with no airflow … and when they raise concerns they are intimidated by local authorities. This is a gross injustice. “When we bring it back home, we have a problem with the just energy transition [like what’s happening to] communities such as the one living near the Komati power station in Mpumalanga.

“Let us not be co-opted into other people’s narratives, let’s say what is happening on the ground,” Radebe said. Organisations from Meadowlands, Tembisa and Uganda, and family members of miners killed in the Marikana massacre will join a demonstration in Sandton’s Innisfree Park from 10am on Wednesday.


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