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The heads of state from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are meeting in Johannesburg’s corruption-ridden financial district of Sandton for a two-day annual summit. Pretending to challenge Western imperial hegemony over poor nations of the South, this bloc has itself proved to be no different.
If anything, two of the BRICS powers – China and India – are investing billions of dollars in coal-fired thermal-power generation in Africa while winning global applause for increasing their solar and wind power at home. This contradiction and policy inconsistency is one of many which makes the BRICS a farce.
China is funding coal projects in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, yet is a global powerhouse in renewable energy. It put on hold more than 100 coal plants in 2017 with a combined installed capacity of 100 gigawatts. In 2016 China’s energy regulator also halted coal fired projects amounting to over 300 gigawatts, mainly due to overcapacity but also health and local pollution concerns.
Yet last month Zimbabwe concluded a $1.4 billion agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank) for the construction of a 600 megawatt coal-fired power plant.
Now here is the problem. Several Chinese state energy companies are losing business due to government slowing of carbon emissions and China is turning them to Africa. Due to its unrivalled current level of pollution, China has first-hand knowledge on the effects of coal on the environment and human health. Researchers from Berkeley Earth, a California-based climate research organization, calculated that about 1.6 million people in China die every year from health issues caused by the country’s notoriously polluted air.
So why is China financing an industry that creates death and destruction when clean energy technology is rising fast in China itself? Dumping old technology makes business sense to China, just as it always did to the West.
Refusing to be outdone, the Indian Government is being praised globally for taking steps to halt carbon emissions, but it too extended a $310 million loan to Zimbabwe to finance a rehabilitation programme for Hwange Thermal Power station that would entail upgrading the plant and extending its lifespan by a further 15-20 years.
According to New Delhi’s ambassador to Harare, Rungsung Masakui, “The Indian Government is keen to assist and co-operate with the people of Zimbabwe in projects that uplift your people.”
Coal is killing people in India, yet will uplift Zimbabweans? We should instead consider such loans as odious, as there was no consultation with citizens of either country.
Apart from investing in dirty fossil energy projects, BRICS nations are also united in looting Africa’s resources via dodgy relations with corrupt African regimes. In neighboring Mozambique, the Brazilian company Vale has been displacing hundreds of farmer-pastoralist villagers from ancestral homes to pave way for coal mining. Although villagers are unanimous in condemning this modern-day colonialism, their protests have been met with fire and fury by the Rio-based firm, which apparently has corporate impunity. The Mozambican government seem powerless to restrain Vale.
In Zimbabwe, Vladimir Putin has muscled his way into the lucrative platinum and diamond sectors. After the military coup in November, Putin sent his powerful Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to meet Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa where they agreed to move ahead with a dodgy $3 billion platinum project in Darwendale. Lavrov later revealed to the media that Russia was also interested in Zimbabwe’s diamond sector, adding the two countries will increase military cooperation.
But health, access to clean water, food security, jobs and infrastructure development are the main priorities of the Zimbabwean people – not more power to our country’s de facto junta. Beijing’s diversion of diamonds via its military, both back to China through the Anjin company and to the Zimbabwean army, was so notorious already that even former President Robert Mugabe – deposed in a coup last November – admitted that of $15 billion worth of the alluvial stones taken from the Marange fields, less than $2 billion had been accounted for.
As the BRICS leaders arrived in Johannesburg this week, a brics-from-below group also met for a Teach In and two protests, to throw proverbial bricks at the conference of polluters and looters. More than 100 activists held both a picket against the BRICS New Development Bank on Wednesday, and a ‘Break the BRICS’ march to the Sandton Convention Centre on Thursday, to demand that BRICS leaders leave.
The main hosting body was the United Front-Johannesburg, whose co-chair Trevor Ngwane ensured a variety of progressive forces made the visit uncomfortable, by raising issues that middle-of-the-road journalists and ‘civil society’ groups dared not address. Other activists were from the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Soweto Action Committee, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Earthlife Africa, groundWork, the South African Kashmir Action Group, and solidarity groups with Congo and Rwanda, as well as India’s National Alliance of People’s Movements, the Russian network Openleft.ru and .
Linking issues and constituents, they raised the people’s demands, which include ending exploitation, unemployment, climate change, pollution, violence against women, repression, surveillance, non-delivery of services, austerity, budget cuts, human rights abuses, rampant corruption, racism, xenophobia, extreme inequality, looting resources, subimperialism, neoliberalism, dictatorships and homophobia.
With South Africa hosting scores of BRICS-related events this year, as the official host, there is an enormous stress on generating a new hegemony. We feel this in Zimbabwe, where the heavy hand of South Africa has made achieving democracy much more difficult since the 1990s. Thankfully, there are Johannesburg allies who have begun a bottom-up process, with people from all BRICS nations and from the hinterlands of the BRICS countries, together fighting the climate change, plundering and so many other social evils.
Farai Maguwu is a long-standing defender of human and environmental rights, and founder of the Centre for Natural Resource Governance in Harare.
BREAK THE BRICS COALITION
MEMORANDUM HANDED TO THE BRICS HEADS OF STATE SUMMIT
SANDTON CONVENTION CENTRE, JOHANNESBURG
26 JULY 2018
Who are we?
We are the Break the Brics Coalition, consisting of labour, community, youth/student, solidarity and environmental organisations. We want to raise our voices against, and get the attention of, the heads of state of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa meeting for the July 25-27 summit of the Brics, its 10th. We are also addressing other heads of state who are attending as guests of Brics. We speak for our specific constituencies who have mandated us to do so, but we believe we speak for millions of people who live in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other parts of the world.
A summit for what?
We are opposed to the political and economic agenda of this summit. It is there to discuss economic policies aimed at making profits for big businesses based in the Brics countries. The summit will not talk about the poverty and suffering that we live in as the working class and poor people who live in the Brics countries and other parts of the world. It will not talk about how big business based in Brics countries plunders and loots our natural resources and exploits our labour. It will not talk about the international crisis we face as the working class everywhere as a result of the promotion of cheap labour policies by the state and capital of the Brics countries. This is not our summit as the working class and the poor but it is your summit, you the rich and powerful. It is not a summit to challenge Western imperialism but a summit to find accommodation and a better deal within the imperialist system. It is not a summit to end the legacy of colonisation but a summit to recolonise Africa and the Third World in new ways.
You have not asked us what we want and what our concerns and priorities are, but you are meeting to discuss and make policies and deals that will affect us. We say: Nothing about us without us! Indeed, when we speak, protest and make our voices and grievances heard in South Africa, China, Russia, India and Brazil, your police are quick to stop us, attack us, jail us, and even kill us. You keep quiet when this happens in other countries. You say you speak for us but at home you silence our voices. You don’t have a mandate to speak for us. You don’t represent us, you represent your own jackets filled with money stolen from us.
What do we want?
We are marching today to raise our concerns and express our anger about the following list of issues addressed to each Brics head of state including their guests:
1) Jinping of China: Stop your cheap labour policies, stop the suppression of strikes, stop dumping your surplus goods on the world, stop censoring your people and imposing totalitarian surveillance systems like ‘social credit’ and internet controls, stop supporting undemocratic states in Africa and other continents.
2) Modi of India: Stop your illegal occupation of Kashmir, stop the Vedanta company from stealing the copper in Zambia, stop promoting your proto-fascist Hindu nationalism.
3) Temer: Release Lula da Silva from prison, stop Vale mining company from displacing Mozambicans from their homes and Odebrecht from corrupting every government it encounters, stop your extreme austerity and anti-working class policies.
4) Putin of Russia: Stop repressing democrats, stop the murder of journalists, stop the reversal of the social gains of the working class under the Soviet Union, such as the rise of the retirement age from 55 to 63 this month.
5) Ramaphosa of South Africa: Go to jail for the murder of workers in Marikana, stop with your anti-strike laws, stop the starvation minimum wage, stop VAT increase, stop corruption, stop colonial education system, urgently implement the long-delayed National Health Insurance, stop corruption and state capture.
6) Guests of Brics. Kagame of Rwanda: stop assassinations of exiles and your repressive policies. Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe: stop oppressing the people of Matabeleland and rigging the elections. Kabila of DRC: stop ruling without a mandate and helping the plunder of the country’s natural resources. Erdogan of Turkey: Stop the murderous anti-democratic policies of your government.
7) To all heads of state and capitalists attending this summit: Stop environmentally destructive economic policies, stop pollution and carbon emissions, stop nuclear, stop signing deals that weaken the fight against climate change.