In a teach-in yesterday in Kaufmann Auditorium in Goldwin Smith, South African social justice activists Mzonke Mayekiso and Sarah Mtembo addressed the various impacts of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank policies on post-apartheid South Africa.
The program was part of a speaking tour called “Voices from the Global South.”
The sponsor of the tour, a national group called 50 Years Is Enough, arranged for the activists to speak at college campuses along the east coast in preparation for this weekend’s upcoming anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
50 Years Is Enough “tries to bring in grassroots organizers from various places around the world that are affected by IMF/World Bank policies in order to put the issues of the demonstrations into context,” said CUSLAR Coordinator Dana Brown ’02.
The speakers’ central message was that South Africa’s current government, under the influence of the IMF and World Bank, has been implementing “neoliberal” policies, particularly privatization, that have resulted in economic hardship for “masses” of South Africans.
The first speaker Mayekiso, who is the president of the National Association of Residents and Civics Organizations (NARCO) in Johannesburg, emphasized that black South Africans have experienced the bulk of the economic disadvantage.
While the eight years since apartheid ended have witnessed “a steady improvement” in race relations in South Africa, Mayekiso said, the turnaround “did not address the fundamental economic inequality between whites and blacks.”
During this time, many affluent white people have migrated to the suburbs. At the same time, rural blacks have migrated to urban centers in search of employment, only to find job opportunities lacking as commercial industries
follow whites to the suburban peripheries.
As a result, Mayekiso explained, the cities, especially Alexandra, have become overpopulated, deprived of business, and dominated by poor, unemployed blacks. The government has failed to provide “necessary public services” to these urban areas.
“There is a shortage of basic goods, such as electricity, water supply, housing, education, health care,” Mayekiso said.
He attributed the problem to the government’s neoliberal tendency toward privatization, a policy which the IMF and World Bank actively encourage in developing countries.
“They say that privatization of our social services increases efficiency, but it can’t address the problems, and it keeps black communities poor,” Mayekiso said.
When “public assets” are privatized, he added, they are no longer in the hands of a democratically elected government, but are controlled by “international companies that are not accountable to local communities.”
According to Mayekiso, the net result of these practices is “uneven development” in South Africa.
Mayekiso’s organization is “trying to fight for a framework that can better represent the poor.”
Part of doing that involves communicating with people all over the world, including in the U.S.
“Our struggle affects you. The taxes you pay go to policies that oppress us,” he said.
The second speaker, Mtembu, is the treasurer of NARCO and a founder of the Alexandra Action Committee (AAC), an urban activist organization.
She told of her experiences in the struggle for justice in South Africa.
“I have been in the struggle from 1986 until today,” Mtembo said. “I organized with youth.” She also opened her home to the community movement, she said.
Between 40 and 50 people attended the event. Brown was pleased with the event overall, and impressed at the attendance and level of audience participation.
“People seemed very interested. They read all of the information and asked lots of questions,” Brown said.
“It was a decent crowd for a Thursday afternoon, and it was pretty diverse, too; people came for lots of different reasons,” she said.
One student attendee was particularly affected by what she had learned.
“I think it is truly unfortunate that the elected government of South Africa, which was supposed to represent the oppressed black majority, has started to turn its back on the people,” Malkia Hutchinson ’05 said.
“I think too many Americans underestimate the continuing struggle in South Africa,” she added.
Several Cornell and Ithaca organizations came together to sponsor the program. These included the Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR), the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP), the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA), and the United Progressives (UP).
Archived article by Erica Gilbert-Levin