".............do not monopolise your knowledge nor impose arrogantly your techniques, but respect and combine your skills with the knowledge of the researched and grassroots communities, taking them as full partners and co-researchers. Do not trust elitist versions of history and science which respond to dominant interests, but be receptive to counter-narratives and try to recapture them. Do not depend solely on your culture to interpret facts, but recover local values, traits, believe and arts for action by and with the research organisations. Do not impose your own ponderous scientific style for communicating results, but diffuse and share what you have learned together with the people, in a manner that is wholly understandable and even literary and pleasant, for science should not be necessarily a mystery nor a monopoly of experts and intellectuals." Fals Borda
Articles in Category: Footprints Blog
The talking notes below was the basis of the contribution Mark Swilling make to the seminar on Global Challenges, Urban Futures that took place at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam on Thursday 19 June 2014:
Point 1: second urbanization wave and the African urban revolution
Point 2: why the present focus on cities
Point 3: why we remain hopeful about cities, in particular at this historical moment
Point 4: what exactly is the African urban challenge
Point 1: second urbanization wave and the African urban revolution
To understand the challenges faced by African cities one needs to recognise that we are halfway through the 2nd urbanization wave. The first lasted 200 years starting in 1750 and resulted in the urbanization of 400m people mainly in what is now the developed world. The second started in the 1950s and is expected to result in the urbanization of nearly 4 billion people in just 80 years.
48% of urban fabric: By 2010 only 48% of the urban fabric that is expected to exist in 2050 had been assembled. This means, if we want to believe UN population projections, that we can expect the doubling of the number of city dwellers over the 4 decades to 2050.
This will have massive resource implications which no-one has yet calculated – Maarten and I have initiated a project to do just this. What we do know is that we have brought the planet to the brink of an ecological crisis through a combination of industrialization, urbanization and population growth. Do we really think we can replicate this at sonic speed on a finite planet using modes of governance invented in the c.19th?
Of the 1 billion who live in Africa, 400 million currently live in cities. This means there are more people living in cities in Africa than the number of people who live in cities in Europe, or North America for that matter. UN population data estimates that Africa’s urban population will be 1.2 billion by 2050 – another 800 m in 4 decases!
And yet Africa has an installed electrical generation capacity equal to France, and the regional economy is growing at an average of 5-7% pa. Africa has to undertake a massive energisation drive, probably more dramatic than what happened in China. If it invests in a fossil fuel-based infrastructure to deliver conventional 220 volt AC current, then there is no chance global climate targets will ever be reached. The world has an interest in Africans finding radical alternatives, and soon.
Point 2: why the present focus on cities?
What strikes me is how many major private sector reports have been published over the last few years that advocate massive up-scaling of investments in urban infrastructure, including Siemens who recently published a report called Is your city investor ready? As Maarten has argued, the futuristic claims about city-wide transformations made by the GTCs are comparable to the sanitation movement in the late c.19th and the highway movement after WWII. Like their predecessors, the smart city agenda is about constructing futures that could possibly then become self-fulfilling prophesies.
How do we explain this? The global financial crisis is actually a sovereign debt crisis – corporate profits have not been this high since the 1960s. And yet short-termism remains the name of the game while increased restrictions on banks limits their capacity for long-term lending. The result is a massive expansion of the shadow banking system as key facilitators of long-term investments in real economy activities. Even ship builders are turning to shadow banking institutions for long-term funding for the first time. Unsurprisingly, infrastructures in regions where there is still significant economic growth provide investors with secure long-term returns on capital that cannot be found in the traditional Western economies.
This raises a key challenge: during the neoliberal era the state helped the market to escape the hard-won societal constraints that had been established during the era of Keynesian welfarism (1930s-1970s). This brought an end to the inclusionary citizenship of the post-WWII consensus – commodification and cost recovery became the new watchwords. Furthermore, the rampant unaccountable pillaging of the world’s natural resources was also accelerated from the 1980s onwards (reinforced by declining resource prices), mainly to build the cities of the Asian Tigers and then later the rising BRICSs countries, and even more importantly to meet the rapidly expanding needs of the debt-financed consumption and construction boom in the developed world.
Point 3: why we remain hopeful about cities
In a majority urban world, it is unsurprising that we look to cities for creativity and potential: (a) we look for the potential of new social coalitions that could re-socialize – re-embed - the market, and (b) we expect to find in cities the innovation networks that could generate more sustainable ways of building and operating cities in response to the environmental crisis.
Undoubtedly, the focus on cities and on redirecting investment into real economies needs to be welcomed, but what kind of city is envisaged? Who are the actors that could forge alternative agendas? What will the terms of engagement be between the new wave of investments and the target cities in the developed and developing world? Are there modes of investment that are compatible with urbanity, public space, flourishing of human potential and sustainability? Or must the market be allowed to continue to trump all once again as suggested in the phrase Is your city investor ready? Why not: is your city people ready?
This is a moment of extra-ordinary opportunity. If all remains equal, this opportunity will be lost. We must find ways to embed – to re-socialize – the dynamics of financial markets within accountable institutions that prioritize the needs of the city. This implies a new social contract between public and private goods. We must ensure that investments allow the 1000s of sustainability-oriented niche innovations to break out into the mainstream. This will require a new social contract between cities and nature. The one social contract should not happen without the other – indeed, like post-war reconstruction, greening these investments – what some call repairing the future - might just provide the narratives needed to negotiate the re-socialization of the markets. Of course, these are all profoundly political processes.
Point 4: the African urban challenge
Urbanization in Sub-Saharan Africa accelerated dramatically over the past 3 decades. It is in many ways a unique urbanization pattern because it has been a process of rapid urbanization without industrialisation as its driver, and this during the neoliberal era when inclusion was a non-issue.
The result is a winner-take-all culture: for Latin Americans, cities are works of art; in China, the new cities are a barracks; in Europe, cities are (living) museums; and in Africa, cities are casinos – and no-body loves a casino, but it can lead to an accumulation of private goods, without any significant investment in public space and goods.
Unlike European cities, most African cities were constructions of colonial military control and administration. Those in power were regarded as legally entitled to extract and pillage natural resources to the benefit of elites. Amsterdam may have been where the first stock exchange was established, but this was part of a grand city-building project – markets were embedded in a long tradition of European urbanism and governance. Not so in Africa – markets to this day are not tempered by urbanism; formal markets are perceived to be instruments of control, extraction and elite accumulation.
The dominant view within African governments, aid agencies and almost every academic analysis is that Africa’s cities are in crisis because they have not been able to implement what is presumed to be how you govern a city: fully planned, centrally managed networks that everyone is connected to. In practice these kinds of systems meet the needs of 40% of urban dwellers, ranging from 75% of all urban dwellers in South Africa to 20% in Ethiopia.
Of course, this does not mean everyone else does without urban services – these are delivered in all sorts of ways to both the urban poor and middle class, from illegal informal providers, to formalised private commercial operators. But these are regarded as temporary, to be replaced when the formal grids arrive – formal grids that will be speced and operated in a BAU way, usually by foreign consultants who are part of the package of foreign loans. Only one system is legitimised: the formal networks mandated by the state, and that is where the money goes. Left uncontested, massive urban infrastructures will simply reinforce the casino culture and markets will never get embedded within the colourful vibes of African urbanity.
And yet the diversity of delivery systems reflects the complex mix of heterogenous urbanisms that make African cities such unique and dynamic places.
Given the enormous needs, rapid growth and fiscal constraints it is unlikely that this diversity is going to give way anytime soon. So maybe it is time that we accept this, and integrate this notion of a diversity of delivery systems into an over-arching conception of urban governance that is appropriate for the African context. This, in turn, will open up the way to innovations rooted in context rather than the tendency to assume that solutions from elsewhere are better. The result will be what could be called radical incrementalism – this approach could help replace the contrived monstrosities of enclave urbanism with the exquisitely beautiful fractal patterns that seem to have unique historical roots in African design and settlement formations.
Examples are starting to emerge: the introduction of BRTs in certain cities; strengthening of local food economies threatened by supermarketization; decentralized sanitation systems that recycle nutrients, methane and water; community-based social enterprises to manage waste streams; homes built from local materials, etc. But most importantly of all, decentralised DC systems powered by renewable energy could, with international support, become the basis for home grown solutions that simultaneously make it possible for the world to meet global climate targets.
Building new modes of city-level governance based on a commitment to inclusive incrementalism across a diversity of delivery systems will, in my view, help to address the challenge we Africans face. If we get it wrong, we could make life very miserable not just for ourselves, but for everyone and the planet.
Latin America faces same challenge as Africa
Listening to Alicia Barcena, head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC) today in Santiago was a revelation. I have not heard anywhere in Africa such a clear articulation of the profoundly anti-developmental consequences of the expanded role of the mining sector in developing country economies as a result of the commodity boom in recent years. They have calcuated that a $1 m investment in mining only creates 1 job. They are advocating various measures to improve 'resource governance', including resource rent taxation, etc. If I came all the way to listen to this, it was worth the trip. We really need to integrate these Latin American perspectives into the African discourse. Click HERE for the speech, although she did not stick totally to the script, elaborating in particular her strong belief that Latin American countries have become exporters of their natural resources in return for resource rents that have only benefitted a rich elite while the goods for everyday living are largely imported. Resource rents are not funding developmental processes, such as investments in human capital.
I am on my way back from the joint AU/UN ECA Conference of Ministers of Finance and Economy. It was a remarkable experience watching Ministers engage in debates between peers. They were robust, well-informed and highly energized. Thanks to the influence of the World Economic Forum format of 'no speeches' and short inputs facilitated by a skilled moderator, the usual wasteful meaningless pomp and ceremony was hardly present (except when President Goodluck Jonathan's brass band started up as he came in and before his speech).
Anyway, there is clearly a new orthodoxy being orchestrated to back up what is called Agenda 2063. I can identify two really influential centres – UN ECA itself (based in Addis) led by Carlos Lopes that is pushing the ‘industrialisation of Africa’ agenda, and an outfit run by the former Executive Secretary of ECA called the African Centre for Economic Transformation based in Accra. ACET has just published what it calls the African Transformation Report. Many referred to this report and a quick read has confirmed that the themes it addresses where often repeated during the meetings these last few days.
The green economy agenda is a minor discourse, but pushed by influential players. The storyline is quite simple: Africa’s installed energy capacity is equal to France and its population is over 1 billion. If it continues to grow like it is now, it will require an energy boom commensurate with what China has gone through over the past few decades. There are two issues this raises: if Africa uses BAU technologies, this will cost more and be less reliable than renewable energy alternatives which are plentiful and easy to access (especially hydro, but also geo-thermal, wind, solar). All the calcs have been done by the International Renewable Energy Agency which is run by a Ugandan called Amin. The second issue is that Africa energizes itself using BAU technologies, this will ensure that the world never achieves its global warming targets, i.e. the world has an interest in funding Africa’s low carbon technology options. Put together, the business case is clear. What goes against all this is the growing number of oil and gas discoveries across the continent. But none of this is part of the Africa Transformation agenda. For those who like this argument, the African Transformation agenda creates an opportunity for installing massive renewable energy capacities to drive the African industrialisation process. However, there was very little reference to all this in the plenary sessions addressed by Ministers.
Another strong theme was 'it is not a matter of the market versus the state'. Everyone seemed to agree that the state must lead and that institutional capacity needs to be built. The Asian and Brazilian models were often cited as models of how the state can lead, but only if policies are credible and coherent.
The most sensible cautionary notes came from two sources: the South Centre in Geneva whose chief economist argued that Africa is doing well because of the commodity boom. Has it learned the lessons of the last commodity boom in the 1970s, he asked. The lesson is that if you do not re-invest resource rents into non-commodity sectors to sustain growth, the end result will be a crash. He seems to think Africa is doing better than Brazil. The other was Thabo Mbeki who heads up the High-Level Panel on Illicity Financial Flows out of Africa. He presented a report that suggests that $50-$60 billion flows out each year and that 60% of this is because of how transnational corporations manage their internal financial flows to the detriment of Africa. His point was that Africa needs to jack up its institutional capacity to manage its resources and negotiate contracts with corporations.
All very interesting stuff. Africa is such an exciting place to be at the moment.
by Ismail Serageldin
The Third Anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution holds lessons for many interested in democratic change. Ismail Serageldin is Director of the Alexandra Library and former VP for Sustainable Development of the World Bank. This perspective on the revolution from a member of Egypt's small liberal elite has some interesting insights for us in South Africa.
Historic Hours and Tumultuous Times
Reflections on the Third Anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution
Alexandria, 25 January 2014:
Today we celebrate the third anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. A milestone that calls for reflection on those three years of chaotic action, great moments, dashed dreams, big achievements, sacrifice and betrayal, and all the components of a human drama of the highest order. Tumultuous times, historic hours… greatness achieved, then lost, retrieved and lost again in the fog of uncertainty as the elusive dream of building our new republic on an inclusive society and a system of laws seems to be overtaken by an active war on terror.
Yesterday, four bombs killed and maimed many innocent victims in Cairo, and destroyed part of the Museum of Islamic Art. An unbelievable jewel, one of the finest museums in the world, irreplaceable pieces shattered and lost to future generations. Umayyad artifacts, Mamluk lanterns, Fatimid woodwork, medieval manuscripts… some of the finest legacies of our history are destroyed. It is amazing how artifacts of bygone times should touch us so deeply in the midst of the real blood of real people, but they do. People are not defined just by current bonds; they are defined by their culture and historical legacy. Our heritage counts.
The promoters of political Islam having lost the support of large parts of the public, and having failed to undo the removal of their regime, have opted for terrorism. We are no longer talking of violence during massive public demonstrations, we are no longer talking of individuals killed in massive confrontations in the street, we are now witnessing bombs, sometimes targeted at the symbols of state power, sometimes against ordinary people, always intended to terrorize and intimidate. But the people are not intimidated. They demand the repression of the fanatics by the army and the police. The calls for law and order and for an iron hand are widespread, and they are demonstrating a strong streak of determination among the public, but they are also raising the ever-present specter of the autocratic state and its apparatus of repression.
On Friday I decided to use the train to get to my 7h00 breakfast meeting in Cape Town, returning on the 11h30 train to Lynedoch. Then the plan was to ride by bike to my 14h00 meeting in Stellenbosch. Unfortunately, due to cable theft, I arrive an hour late for my Cape Town meeting, and the 11h30 train was cancelled. I go back from Stellenbosch on the bike but had to get a lift in due to time constraints. So I tried, and I dont want to get disheartened.
Forgive me, but I think I would have preferred to take the liberty of addressing you as Nelson - after all, this is what we call those who we think we know well. But alas, I must stick with a name that is a mark of respect. We only shook hands once soon after you were released, but of course you won't remember me because I was there in support of a much larger group called the Soweto People's Delegation (SPD) led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Cyril Ramaphosa. The SPD had begun negotiations with the state in 1989 ostensibly in pursuit of solutions to the problems that had triggered the prolonged Soweto Rent Boycott.
But I guess this sense of intimacy that makes me think I can address you as Nelson stems from the saturation coverage of the last week that has so profoundly reminded me of the history that has shaped the current state of our nation. You were buried on 15 December 2013. But what struck me most was the reminder that you chose 16 December 1961 to announce the launch of the armed struggle - the day that was celebrated by Afrikaners as the Day of the Covenant to commemorate the historic military defeat of the Zulu forces at the Battle of Blood River in 1838. With the tragedy of the Sharpeville Shoortings still fresh in world memory, choosing this symbolic day to launch the armed struggle against white domination must clearly have been a source of inspiration for you and your comrages; but with hindsight it is also a reminder that a great injustice can be reversed even if it means starting very small with nearly no resources. I can only imagine what you would have said if I was there then to predict that 35 years later you would sign a new democratic Constitution for South Africa in Sharpeville on 10 December 1996 (which was, incidentally, also by then International Human Rights Day) with Cyril Ramaphosa looking over your shoulder. Yes, I would have said, '35 years is a long time, but Nelson it is still within your lifetime!' And now, 5 days after the 16th anniversay of this historic moment, you have departed leaving behind a legacy that I sincerely hope we can live up to.
What struck me most is that your departure brings to an end the era of the 'the elders of the struggle'. I was not part of your generation. I was part of what is often referred to as the '80s generation'. Different to your generation and the '76 generation', the '80s generation' experienced the consolidation of mass struggles across all sectors of society that culminated in the two States of Emergency (in 1985 and again in 1986), followed by the hunger strikes of 1989, the unbanning of political organizations and release of political prisoners. While the saturation coverage was mainly about your life, the national process of reconciliation that you led and the first golden years of our democracy, there was on occasion footage of the struggles of the 1980s and 1990s that effectively made South Africa ungovernable by the apartheid regime. In my view, it was this rolling popular rebellion that two States of Emergy could not quell that created the conditions for political negotiations and the subsequent transition to democracy. It was this that reminded me of an article I once wrote in 1987 about the United Democratic Front that captured the complex dynamics of these mass democratic struggles that transformed our workplaces, communities and schools in the lead-up to the signing of the Groote Schuur Minute on 4 May 1990. At your funeral in Qunu the crowd sang a song appealing to you not to forget us, to always be there to remind us of our history and highest possible ideals. Confident that you will heed this call, I thought I would take the liberty of including the full text of this artcle here for you to read as you make your departure. You will note that I have argued that as the decade of the 1980s was drawing to a close, there were definite signs of increasing radicalisation of the grassroots movements in the workplace and communities. As I am sure you also noticed before you departed, today there are many signs of similar trends across the country. You have left us at a difficult time. But hopefully you will remind us to look back at the 1980s lest we forget what can happen when we South Africans get really fed up.
THE UNITED DEMOCRATIC FRONT AND TOWNSHIP REVOLT
By Mark Swilling
Published in: Work in Progress, 9 September 1987
Recent years have witnessed mass opposition to apartheid. Fighting in the townships, labour unrest, classroom revolts, rent strikes, consumer boycotts, worker stayaways and guerilla warfare have become familiar features of South Africa's political landscape since 1976. But with the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983, radical opposition assumed a more organized form.
Resistance became increasingly effective because of the UDF's capacity to provide a national political and ideological centre. However, the township revolt was not caused by strategies formulated and implemented by UDF national leadership. With the exception of key national campaigns (e.g. the black local authorities election boycotts of 1983-84 and the anti-tri-cameral parliament campaigns), the driving force of resistance came from below, as communities responded to their terrible living conditions. As these local struggles spread, the UDF played an important role in putting forward common national demands for the dismantling of apartheid. Black communities were drawn into a national movement which believes the transfer of political power to representatives of the majority is a precondition for the realization of basic economic demands. These include decent shelter, cheap transport, proper health care, adequate education, the right to occupy land and the right to a living wage.
The UDF is formed
In January 1983 Allan Boesak, speaking at the conference of the Anti-South African Indian Council campaign, called for the formation of a front to oppose the government's tri-cameral constitutional proposals. This call was later expanded to include opposition to new influx control laws and local government structures for Africans, based on the 'Koornhof Bills'. The Black Local Authorities Act of 1982 was particularly isolated for attack: it provided for the establishment of autonomous municipal institutions in the African townships. The UDF was launched as a national body at a meeting in Cape Town on 20 August 1983. About 600 organisations eventually affiliated. They included trade unions, youth organizations, student movements, women's groups, religious groups, civic associations, political parties and a range of support and professional organizations. The UDF was conceived of as a front, a federation to which different groups could affiliate and a body which could link different social interests with common short-term objectives. Since early 1984, literally hundreds of community organizations allied to the UDF have sprung up around the country. And although the major trade union federations have not formally affiliated, they have developed strong working relationships with the UDF over the years. Ad hoc and constituency-based committees were established to handle specific campaigns or represent particular groups with special grievances. Well-known ad hoc organization included the consumer boycott committees and burial committees. Examples of groups represented by constituency committees included squatters, communities threatened with forced removals, commuters opposed to their transport conditions, hostel dwellers, traders, detainees, unemployed groups, professionals and the various crisis committees. The complex patchwork of local community organizations which became the organizational foundation of the UDF developed out of local urban struggles that took place before and after the formation of the front. At first these struggles involved minor conflicts between communities and local authorities over issues such as transport, housing, rent and service charges. But the authorities' coercive responses and refusal to make concessions transformed the local urban struggles into campaigns with a national political focus. This transformation was not the simple outcome of local 'reformist' organisations affiliating to the front's national multi-class programme. Rather, these struggles contained an increasingly powerful national challenge to the state's racial and class character which the front expressed instead of directly instigating.
Working-class or petty-bourgeois leaders?
The mixed social and class composition of UDF leadership belies attempts to explain its ideological position in simplistic class categories. Some have claimed the UDF has a 'petty-bourgeois leadership'. This implies the UDF is dominated by people of petty-bourgeois class origin and so cannot be expected to adopt a proletarian ideology. It is questionable whether ideological affiliation is reducible to class origins, but even so, this argument misrepresents the class origins of UDF leadership. Although the UDF is a multi-class front, a high proportion of its leadership comes from poor working-class origins. The current Eastern Cape regional executive is a good example. Its president, Edgar Ngoyi, is a building painter by profession. After being politically active in the ANC in the 1950s he was sentenced to 17 years on Robben Island. Vice-president Henry Fazzie was a full-time trade unionist in the 1940s and 1950s. In the early 1960s he was sentenced to 20 years on the Island. Stone Sizani, publicity secretary, is a skilled worker in a chemical factory and previously worked as an organiser for the African Food and Canning Workers Union. Michael Dube, recording secretary, is a factory worker at Nova Board. Only Derek Swartz, general secretary, and the late Mathew Goniwe, regional organizer, were not workers. Swartz is a teacher and Goniwe was a headmaster in Cradock. The Western Cape regional executive has a slightly different profile. The president, who used to be a petrol pump attendant, was imprisoned for his political activities and after his release has remained unemployed. The vice-president started his adult life as a mine worker in the Transvaal. He then worked in Cape Town as a migrant labourer and became an organizer for the South African Congress of Trade Unions during the 1950s. He was later imprisoned and has been unemployed since his release. The second vice-president was a clothing worker but is now unemployed because of police harassment. The remaining nine members of the executive are teachers, lecturers and students - four of whom have working class origins, the rest coming from middle-class backgrounds.
Using a sample of 62 UDF leaders from six regional executives, 33 are currently in economic positions that can be defined as working class, while the rest are teachers/lecturers (16), doctors/nurses/social workers (4), lawyers (5), priests (2), technicians (2) and students (2). Significantly, there is not one businessperson in this sample. This profile reflects a working-class and intellectual/professional leadership.
A Complex ideology
Ideologically, the UDF is equally complex. The major affiliates subscribe to the national democratic programme of the Freedom Charter. This involves dismantling white minority rule and establishing a non-racial unitary democratic state based on the rule of law, constitutional equality, freedom of association and other democratic liberties. The Charter proposes dismantling the white capitalist power-structures through a combination of nationalization, land redistribution and social welfare. The UDF insists the Freedom Charter is anti-capitalist: if implemented it will dislodge the basic foundations of South African capitalism. But this, they acknowledge, does not make it a socialist programme. Presenting the Freedom Charter as anti-capitalist reflects the UDF's concern to represent the front's ideology in a way that mirrors its multi-class character.
UDF publications and speakers maintain that the extent to which the South African revolution achieves a socialist order largely depends on the working class establishing its hegemony within the front, gearing the struggle towards socialist goals. Some UDF leaders - particularly those close to the trade union movement - openly describe the anti-apartheid struggle in terms of a class struggle. Socialists in the UDF have emphasized the links between oppression in the communities and exploitation in production. Speaking at the 1987 National Union of Mineworkers congress, UDF acting publicity secretary Murphy Morobe argued that 'we know how it is for people to go to work in the morning and find their shack demolished when they come back home. To such people it is completely artificial to build a Chinese wall between trade unions and community organizations...Therefore who would deny the patently symbiotic relationship between the rent boycott and struggle for high wages?'
The rhetoric of religious leaders in the UDF is more conservative. They refer to divinely ordained human rights and liberal conceptions of individual liberty. However, for socialists within the UDF, this marriage of proletarian and liberal/religious political ideologies reflects the reality of racial oppression and class exploitation which have made it necessary for all oppressed classes to unite against the common enemy of white rule.
Organization and the Development of Structures
The UDF's organizational power is reducible to the capacities of its affiliates. But its regional and national structures have a political and ideological influence on political relations in local communities and on national and international perceptions of South Africa. The UDF is a front, not a centrally co-ordinated political party. This makes it impossible to explain the wide range of mass protests since 1983 by initiatives originating from within the front. Nevertheless, it is possible to periodise the general orientation of the UDF and its affiliates into four phases.
Phase one: reactive politics
The first phase of UDF activities began when it was formed to organize nationwide opposition to the new constitution and 'Koornhof Bills'. The idea behind this campaign was to use the inadequacy of these forms of political representation to demand substantive political rights. The subsequent successful boycotts of the tri-cameral parliament and black local authority elections dealt a severe blow to the state's reformist initiatives. The success of the boycott tactic established the UDF as a viable extra-parliamentary alternative. The UDF slogan expressing this objective was 'Apartheid Divides, UDF Unites', indicating that the front was responding to state initiatives on a terrain determined by the state. So its politics can be described as reactive. At this stage, the UDF's objective was not to pose alternatives to apartheid or establish organizational structures designed to sustain a long-term struggle. Rather, the front aimed to counter the divisive tactics of state reforms by calling for the maximum unity of the oppressed, urging them to reject apartheid by refusing to vote. The concern to build this consensus was reflected in the UDF's decision not to adopt the Freedom Charter as a formal statement of principles. It still wanted to draw in ‘non-charterist’ groups like black consciousness and major trade union organizations. The reactive phase of UDF politics ended with the Million Signature Campaign involving a petition against apartheid. The campaign objective was to challenge the apartheid state's legitimacy at an ideological level. The campaign also provided township activists with a vehicle for solid door-to-door organizing for the first time. In a number of Eastern Cape towns, the organizational infrastructure for strong grassroots community organizations was laid during this period. But in some Transvaal areas activists refused to collect signatures. They believed the campaign was a futile form of protest politics. In the event, the campaign failed to get a million signatures.
Phase two: community struggles
The second phase of UDF politics began after the tri-cameral elections of August 1984. Then struggles initiated by local community organizations began to centre around more basic issues of township life. Transport and rent boycotts, squatter revolts, housing movements, labour strikes, school protests and township stayaways followed. The depth and geographic extent of these actions resulted in an urban uprising which culminated in the declaration of a State of Emergency in July 1985. This shift from national anti-constitutional campaigns to local community struggles was not due to changes in national UDF policy. The shift was the product of local community organizations and activists mobilizing around daily urban issues. Some of these organizations had been active since 1979 while others were only formed during 1984 and 1985. They were able to exploit the contradiction between state attempts to improve urban living conditions and the fiscal bankruptcy and political illegitimacy of black local government. These local organizations rode a wave of anger and protest that transformed political relations in the communities. The change was so fast that UDF local, regional and national leaders could not build organizational structures to keep pace with the levels of mobilization and politicization. The deepening recession and illegitimacy of state reforms were the underlying causes of this urban uprising. The recession - which began in early 1982 - undermined real wage levels. It also limited the state's capacity to subsidise transport and bread prices, finance housing construction, urban services and educational and health facility upgrading. The illegitimacy of state reforms and in particular new black local authorities' failure to attract support from the African communities, meant economic grievances were quickly politicized. The resulting struggles included both economic and political demands. There were four decisive moments during this period. Firstly, the Vaal uprising, which began in September 1984. It was sparked by a rent increase announced by the Lekoa Town Council. The uprising led to at least 31 deaths and the beginning of a rent boycott in the region which continues into 1987. Secondly, the nation-wide schools boycott. This began in Cradock in late 1983 when student protested against the dismissal of Matthew Goniwe, a local headmaster and UDF leader who was subsequently assassinated by a death squad in 1985. The boycott spread to Pretoria in early 1984 and to the rest of the country by the end of the year. Student demands included recognition of elected student representative councils, an end to sexual harassment of female students and corporal punishment, release of detained students, and upgrading of educational facilities. Thirdly, the mass November 1984 worker stayaway in the Transvaal marked the beginning of strong working relationships between community organizations, student movements and trade unions. The stayaway, supported by 800 000 workers and 400 000 students, was called to protest against army occupation of the townships and to support students' educational demands. This was followed by the equally successful but organizationally more complex stayaways in Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage during March 1985. These were called in support of the demand for a reduction in the petrol price and in protest against security force action. These mass actions mobilized unprecedented numbers of people, and displayed new features which signalled a turning point in the recent history of black protest. They mobilized all sectors of the township population including youth and older residents; they involved co-ordinated action between trade unions and political organizations; they were called in support demands that challenged the coercive, urban and educational policies of the apartheid state; and they gave rise to ungovernable areas as state authority collapsed in many townships in the wake of the resignation of black local authority councillors. An internal discussion document circulated by the UDF's Transvaal education forum in May 1985, recognized that 'we have been unable to respond effectively to the spontaneous waves of militancy around the country'. The UDF's 1985 theme, 'From Protest to Challenge. Mobilization to Organization, was part of the leadership's attempt to find ways to transform mass mobilization into coherent mass organization. UDF documents and speakers began emphasizing the need to create strong organizational structures at local, regional and national levels, built on more traditional party-type lines. Accountability, direct representation, ideological cohesion, national rather than localised campaigns, and disciplined legal rather than illegal forms of struggle were all stressed. The state's coercive response to rising levels of mobilization during the last few months of 1984 and early 1985 prevented the UDF leadership from consolidating the front's structures. After the army occupied townships in late 1984, community struggles became increasingly militarist. Groups of crudely armed youths – sometimes supported by small groups of trained and armed MK cadres - or engaged the security forces in running street battles and hundreds of lives were lost. The militant voluntarism of the youth eclipsed the organizational concerns of grassroots activists, making it even more difficult to establish long-term structures.
Phase three: ungovernability
The first few months of 1985 amounted to urban civil warfare. The state was forced to admit it had lost control of many townships and declared a state of emergency in July 1985. This marked the beginning of the third phase of UDF politics. In many areas organs of civil government had collapsed or been rendered inoperable by mass and/or violent opposition. The responsibility for re-establishing civil government in the townships fell largely on the shoulders of over-extended police and relatively inexperienced military personnel. In the end, the state of emergency failed to restore civil government. The permanent presence of security forces in the townships fuelled rather than quelled resistance and some areas became effectively ungovernable. Militant youth, organized into quasi-military action squads by elements outside UDF affiliates, were able to use crude guerrilla tactics to harass the security forces. But clearly, in the light of the later 1986-87 emergency, the state had not yet committed itself to a complete assault against opposition groups. Activists were caught between the youth's militarism and security force terror tactics. Whereas youths were criticizing UDF activists for being too moderate in refusing to abandon non-violence, security forces were hunting them down and detaining them.
Phase four: organs of people's power
This unenviable position forced grassroots activists to set up new durable decentralized organizational structures. These had to be strong enough to withstand the effects of repression while also bringing the youth under control. The result was the establishment of what many activists referred to as 'alternative organs of people's power'. The process of creating these structures began in earnest towards the end of 1985, marking the beginning of the fourth - and probably most important - phase of UDF politics. Structures of 'people's power' involve sophisticated forms of organization based on street and area committees. Each street elects a street committee, which in turn elects representatives to an area committee. These structures have developed most effectively in the Eastern Cape and parts of the Transvaal. But they have also spread to some small Western Cape and Natal townships. Street and area committees helped activists bring militant youth under control by dividing youth squads into smaller more disciplined units attached to a street or area committee. Tight local-level organization lessened the damaging effect which detention, disappearance or death of leaders might otherwise have had. Obviously they are not invulnerable. There is evidence that many Eastern Cape street committees collapsed towards the end of 1986 as security forces began detaining their entire membership.
One dimension of the attempt to establish organs of 'people's power' was the Eastern Cape's consumer boycott movement. Consumer boycotts began as early as March 1985 and proved most successful when called in support of local community grievances. Demands included rent reductions, improved housing, instalment of proper services, deracialisation of trading facilities, withdrawal of troops and the establishment of non-racial municipalities. At one time 15 Eastern Cape towns were affected by boycotts. High levels of unity and solidarity over long periods (in some cases six months) helped consolidate and strengthen community organizations. The success of the Eastern Cape boycotts helped spread the tactic to other regions. But initiatives in other regions came from UDF regional leaders who tried to call consumer boycotts without the necessary organizational infrastructure. They also posed general political rather than specific local demands. Additional problems included profiteering by township businesses and the difficulties involved in organizing the huge Natal and Transvaal townships. Local activists organized the most successful consumer boycotts around basic community grievances. But the regional and national UDF leadership tended to present the objectives as the unification of all sectors of the community around a common set of short and long-term demands; and the need to put sufficient pressure on white middle class shopkeepers to support these demands and in so doing detach their support from the white power bloc. Accordingly, local chambers of commerce, reflecting the anxiety of near-bankrupt retailers, were the first to capitulate. In some cases they actually negotiated the withdrawal of troops from townships and undertook to desegregate central business district facilities. Consumer boycotts worked best where organization was most developed. In small towns like Port Alfred and Cradock a remarkable community consensus existed, with virtually total participation, few reports of intimidation, and united leadership exercising a high degree of control and discipline. In Cradock, for example, youthful activists refrained from trying to kill discredited community councillors at the request of the leadership. In Port Elizabeth, boycott organizers managed to ensure township businesspeople did not raise their prices during the boycotts. Regional differences in the boycott reflected the varying quality of UDF organization and influence during 1985. It was relatively weak in Natal. The often bloody antipathy between the UDF and Inkatha seriously weakened UDF organization in African townships. But where trade unions initiated consumer boycotts in Natal, the campaigns were relatively successful. In the Transvaal, Pretoria and the East Rand consumer boycotts were better organized than in Soweto. But the UDF seemed most entrenched through its various affiliates in the Eastern Cape communities. The consumer boycotts were sustained where street and area committees developed most strongly. The roots of the movement for national liberation which the UDF represents went too deep in certain communities to be eradicated by force. And with this entrenchment in many working-class communities, the UDF is likely to generate an increasingly radical conception of a liberated society. The concept of 'people's power', for example, is more than a mobilizing slogan. The new forms of organization developed during the township revolt are rudimentary organs of self-government. The collapse of state authority and the legitimacy of the UDF-affiliated community groups enabled these organizations to take responsibility for administering a number of township services. They have also on occasion negotiated with state representatives, demanding and winning improvements in the terms and conditions of township living.
The rent boycotts
Evidence that political consciousness in the townships had become increasingly combative emerged during 1986 when the rent boycott spread to 54 townships countrywide. This involved about 300 000 households and cost the state at least R40-million per month. The rent boycotts were a response to both economic and political grievances. Economic grievances involved the level and quality of urban subsistence: declining real wages as inflation increased the costs of basic foodstuffs and transport by 20%; overcrowding with a national average of 12 people per household; massive housing shortages (conservative estimates detail a shortage of 600 000 housing units excluding the 'independent' Bantustans); rising rent and service charges (sometimes by 100%); and a growing unemployment rate that has moved beyond the 40% mark. Political grievances were linked to state failure to give blacks substantive political rights in general, and the persistent inadequacy and illegitimacy of the black local authorities in particular. An August 1986 UDF information pamphlet pointed out that rent was not being paid because 'people are simply unable to afford it'. It also linked the boycott to political demands: 'The (rent) boycott is...part of an attempt to make apartheid unworkable. The black local authorities are structures designed to make apartheid work - to make people participate in their own domination by a white minority government. The rent boycott weakens these structures and demonstrates to the government that there can be no taxation without representation and that the people will accept nothing less than majority rule'. In most cases a rent boycott began in response to a sudden change in the relationship between the communities and the state: the shooting of 30 people in Mamelodi; the declaration of the 1986 state of emergency in Port Elizabeth; forced removal of people in Uitenhage; and a local official's failure to keep his promise to meet the community in Parys. Most importantly rent boycotts have united largely working-class communities around a strategy with the potential to sustain itself for a considerable length of time. Unlike consumer boycotts, which aimed at pressurizing the state via middle-class white commercial interests, rent boycotts challenge the state directly. They undermined the fiscal foundations of township administration and have received the full support of both trade union and community organizations. A result of this unity was that trade unions prevented employers from accepting a state security council recommendation that rents be deducted from pay packets through stop orders. The current state of emergency is unlikely to 'normalise' local government and 'restore law and order' in the townships as long as the rent boycott persists. Nor is it likely the rent boycott will end before the state of emergency has been lifted.
Community struggle and national liberation
As conflict between oppressed communities and the state escalated outside the workplace, local UDF affiliates have become progressively more entrenched in poor working-class communities. During 1986 this led to a radicalization of its ideology and democratization of its structures as working-class elements asserted their right to control their organizations both in and outside the workplaces. This is why the state, after the 1986 State of Emergency was declared in June, decided to launch a full frontal assault to head-off this radicalizing movement.
Two organizational forms have come to complement one another within the broad parameters of the UDF. Firstly, there are processes associated with developing local community organizations. Secondly, these local community movements are part of a national liberation movement with an objective of dismantling the present white minority regime. Just as the formation of COSATU can be seen as the fusion of political and collective bargaining unionism, so the UDF can be understood in terms of the distinct but complementary functions of local community and national liberation movements. But when legal space to organize is regained, the UDF will have to evaluate its structure. The front-type structure has proved workable in most authoritarian societies. But two outstanding features of South Africa's democratic movement are the strength of the trade unions and the resilience of local-level community organizations. A structure founded more directly on the democratic structures of community and workplace organizations may become appropriate in the future. There will also be the question of developing an organizational infrastructure able to cope with the rapid radicalization and politicization of the masses that inevitably occurs during periods of rebellion. A critical problem faced by political activists since the uprising began in 1984 was how to hold back political mobilization while organizations were built to guide and direct the oppositional movements. Repression and inadequate organizational resources prevented them from resolving this problem. Communities and particularly the youth moved too quickly to take on the full might of the state without the protection, despite the street committee system, of strong national organization.
Inspiring future generations
The UDF has been shaped by pressures and processes largely beyond its control as the dynamics of black resistance have shifted from reactive politics to the establishment of organs of democracy in communities, schools and factories. Despite its severely weakened national organizational structures due to successive repressive assaults, UDF affiliates and leaders remain crucial representatives of South Africa's black majority. The UDF is not a pressure group, nor a political party. It is essentially what its architects always intended it to be: a front representing a broad spectrum of oppressed class interests. Beneath this formal level of public appearances is a complex network of local organizations. Their campaigns and struggles have generated an increasingly radical conception of the road that should be followed to achieve a liberated society. No matter how far South Africa's rulers go to crush the UDF and its affiliates, the ideas, aspirations and struggles which have made it what it is will continue to inspire present and future generations to struggle for political and economic justice.
Resources, Cities and Leadership
Tonight I fly home from Nairobi after a week spent attending events in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. In Dar es Salaam it was the Local Climate Solutions Conference organised by ICLEI attended by about 350 people mainly from African cities from across the continent. I was asked to do a keynote address to a special session for Mayors and Councillors. In Nairobi I was part of an engagement with African policy managers (mainly from Environmental Ministries of African Governments) organised by UNEP and the International Resource Panel. During the same week African Governments met in Addis to deliberate their position on the Sustainable Development Goals, finally agreeing more or less to extend the Millenium Development Goals rather than approving the idea of replacing them with SDGs. What struck me, though, is the significant change in the calibre and quality of political leadership at local level and of national government officials on the continent. As my friend Kevin Urama put it, 'our Ministers are no longer the morons that we used to have'. This change for the better over the past decade or so is obviously cause for great hope and optimism. It probably reflects the rising quality of University education on the continent, the improved salaries for people who work for government and the expanding middle class that includes a small group of capable people who are more interested in public service than financial accumulation. Many people I met gave me a sense that they (and presumably their networks) have a real hunger for creative, alternative perspectives and knowledge-sets about more sustainable alternatives than traditional modernization strategies imply.
Click HERE for both talks.
Its 9 August, Women's Day - and in South Africa, a public holiday. So here I sit outside on a glorious sunny winter's day chilled by a gentle breeze coming off the distant snow-capped mountains. Against the orchestra of birds in the background, building continues behind me as builders who speak many languages do their jobs methodologically, piece-by-piece, as the new homes emerge like sculptures from the raw materials that get trucked every day onto the sites. As I sit and read the assignments by my students on their visions for building sustainable cities, I am awed by all that surrounds me. The ancient mountains that have seen it all, the birds that have returned as the gardens have grown over the years, and the new lives being created within out village as they fix in clay, wood, steel and sandbags the coordinates of their future lives. And its what happens in-between as the community and gardens grow that holds it all together. What a living prayer it is to be part of all lthis.
A rare ficus, growing only up here in the Soutpansberg, forges its way through the rock – new life. We renew, through our own connection with the noisy stillness of the wild, and it’s so clear that this gift is one that is beyond words. As Mark and I walk for hours in unseasonaly hot weather, clambouring down the gorge that is stillen swollen with water from flash floods earlier this year; sharing space with endangered species; rock art from 20000 years ago; finding the space within that holds close all life – it seems that a route to the connectivity of all is through this myriad of experiences that lead to beyond.
It takes so much effort to make the break and so much time to prepare for it all, but once done then all else appears to be so insignificant. Retreating into a wilderness is a theme that seems to pervade so many cultures and has persisted across the millenia. So this is what we have done for the month starting 15 June. Never done this before. We are at the Leshiba Wilderness on top of the Soutpansberg Mountains, just south of the Limpopo River. A truly extra-ordinary space built up over the years by the Rosmarin family. Part of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, Leshiba brings so much together - endless walks through the bush with the animals, mountain views that elevate the soul, scents that only the bush can provide, floating away in an ever-deepening stillness and crystal clear night skies unpolluted by electric light where we can see scorpio, centaur, saturn and the southern cross. And best of all - a time to read, to think, to read and just to breathe. So much creativity lies buried below our freneticism. Times like these liberate so much potential. To heal the future, so many more will need to find a wildnerness.
Ronnie Kasrils has second thoughts
Published in the Guardian on 24 June 2013, this is one of the most significant criticisms of economic choices made by the ANC leadership since 1994 by a high ranking ANC leader. Confirms what many have argued for a number of years.
"South Africa's young people today are known as the Born Free generation. They enjoy the dignity of being born into a democratic society with the right to vote and choose who will govern. But modern South Africa is not a perfect society. Full equality – social and economic – does not exist, and control of the country's wealth remains in the hands of a few, so new challenges and frustrations arise. Veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle like myself are frequently asked whether, in the light of such disappointment, the sacrifice was worth it. While my answer is yes, I must confess to grave misgivings: I believe we should be doing far better.
There have been impressive achievements since the attainment of freedom in 1994: in building houses, crèches, schools, roads and infrastructure; the provision of water and electricity to millions; free education and healthcare; increases in pensions and social grants; financial and banking stability; and slow but steady economic growth (until the 2008 crisis at any rate). These gains, however, have been offset by a breakdown in service delivery, resulting in violent protests by poor and marginalised communities; gross inadequacies and inequities in the education and health sectors; a ferocious rise in unemployment; endemic police brutality and torture; unseemly power struggles within the ruling party that have grown far worse since the ousting of Mbeki in 2008; an alarming tendency to secrecy and authoritarianism in government; the meddling with the judiciary; and threats to the media and freedom of expression. Even Nelson Mandela's privacy and dignity are violated for the sake of a cheap photo opportunity by the ANC's top echelon.
Most shameful and shocking of all, the events of Bloody Thursday – 16 August 2012 – when police massacred 34 striking miners at Marikana mine, owned by the London-based Lonmin company. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 prompted me to join the ANC. I found Marikana even more distressing: a democratic South Africa was meant to bring an end to such barbarity. And yet the president and his ministers, locked into a culture of cover-up. Incredibly, the South African Communist party, my party of over 50 years, did not condemn the police either.
South Africa's liberation struggle reached a high point but not its zenith when we overcame apartheid rule. Back then, our hopes were high for our country given its modern industrial economy, strategic mineral resources (not only gold and diamonds), and a working class and organised trade union movement with a rich tradition of struggle. But that optimism overlooked the tenacity of the international capitalist system. From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC's soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we "sold our people down the river".
What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil, as were concessions to keep negotiations on track and take delivery of the promised land for our people. Doubt had come to reign supreme: we believed, wrongly, there was no other option; that we had to be cautious, since by 1991 our once powerful ally, the Soviet union, bankrupted by the arms race, had collapsed. Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles. Whatever the threats to isolate a radicalising South Africa, the world could not have done without our vast reserves of minerals. To lose our nerve was not necessary or inevitable. The ANC leadership needed to remain determined, united and free of corruption – and, above all, to hold on to its revolutionary will. Instead, we chickened out. The ANC leadership needed to remain true to its commitment of serving the people. This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment, corrupt practices and selling political influence.
To break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war, seemed then an option too good to be ignored. However, at that time, the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favourable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted. It is by no means certain that the old order, apart from isolated rightist extremists, had the will or capability to resort to the bloody repression envisaged by Mandela's leadership. If we had held our nerve, we could have pressed forward without making the concessions we did.
It was a dire error on my part to focus on my own responsibilities and leave the economic issues to the ANC's experts. However, at the time, most of us never quite knew what was happening with the top-level economic discussions. As s Sampie Terreblanche has revealed in his critique, Lost in Transformation, by late 1993 big business strategies – hatched in 1991 at the mining mogul Harry Oppenheimer's Johannesburg residence – were crystallising in secret late-night discussions at the Development Bank of South Africa. Present were South Africa's mineral and energy leaders, the bosses of US and British companies with a presence in South Africa – and young ANC economists schooled in western economics. They were reporting to Mandela, and were either outwitted or frightened into submission by hints of the dire consequences for South Africa should an ANC government prevail with what were considered ruinous economic policies.
All means to eradicate poverty, which was Mandela's and the ANC's sworn promise to the "poorest of the poor", were lost in the process. Nationalisation of the mines and heights of the economy as envisaged by the Freedom charter was abandoned. The ANC accepted responsibility for a vast apartheid-era debt, which should have been cancelled. A wealth tax on the super-rich to fund developmental projects was set aside, and domestic and international corporations, enriched by apartheid, were excused from any financial reparations. Extremely tight budgetary obligations were instituted that would tie the hands of any future governments; obligations to implement a free-trade policy and abolish all forms of tariff protection in keeping with neo-liberal free trade fundamentals were accepted. Big corporations were allowed to shift their main listings abroad. In Terreblanche's opinion, these ANC concessions constituted "treacherous decisions that [will] haunt South Africa for generations to come".
An ANC-Communist party leadership eager to assume political office (myself no less than others) readily accepted this devil's pact, only to be damned in the process. It has bequeathed an economy so tied in to the neoliberal global formula and market fundamentalism that there is very little room to alleviate the plight of most of our people.
Little wonder that their patience is running out; that their anguished protests increase as they wrestle with deteriorating conditions of life; that those in power have no solutions. The scraps are left go to the emergent black elite; corruption has taken root as the greedy and ambitious fight like dogs over a bone.
In South Africa in 2008 the poorest 50% received only 7.8% of total income. While 83% of white South Africans were among the top 20% of income receivers in 2008, only 11% of our black population were. These statistics conceal unmitigated human suffering. Little wonder that the country has seen such an enormous rise in civil protest.
A descent into darkness must be curtailed. I do not believe the ANC alliance is beyond hope. There are countless good people in the ranks. But a revitalisation and renewal from top to bottom is urgently required. The ANC's soul needs to be restored; its traditional values and culture of service reinstated. The pact with the devil needs to be broken.
At present the impoverished majority do not see any hope other than the ruling party, although the ANC's ability to hold those allegiances is deteriorating. The effective parliamentary opposition reflects big business interests of various stripes, and while a strong parliamentary opposition is vital to keep the ANC on its toes, most voters want socialist policies, not measures inclined to serve big business interests, more privatisation and neoliberal economics.
This does not mean it is only up to the ANC, SACP and Cosatu to rescue the country from crises. There are countless patriots and comrades in existing and emerging organised formations who are vital to the process. Then there are the legal avenues and institutions such as the public protector's office and human rights commission that – including the ultimate appeal to the constitutional court – can test, expose and challenge injustice and the infringement of rights. The strategies and tactics of the grassroots – trade unions, civic and community organisations, women's and youth groups – signpost the way ahead with their non-violent and dignified but militant action.
The space and freedom to express one's views, won through decades of struggle, are available and need to be developed. We look to the Born Frees as the future torchbearers."
• This is an edited extract from the new introduction to his autobiography, Armed and Dangerous
Consorting with a new generation of urbanists
Quito, Ecuador. It is 4.30 am I am at Quito’s sparkling well organised airport waiting for my flight to Cape Town via Lima, then Buenos Aires, then Johannesburg, then Cape Town. Difficult to imagine I can survive this, and can only hope that all the flights are on time. I have been here for a week participating in an International Fellows programme hosted by the International Social Science Council on the theme ‘sustainable urbanization’. I was one of three invited to help co-facilitate the discussions and provide expert inputs. The other two were Andrea Lampis from Bogota, and Adriana Allen from DPU at UCL in London. 20 Fellows were selected to participate after a public call for applications was issued in 2012. The target was early career academics, post-docs and professional researchers completing their Phds. 19 attended the Quito workshop which lasted for six days. The majority were early career academics or full-time post-docs from all parts of the world.
The hosted institution was the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, a private regional University serving the Andean nations. We were accommodated in a luxurious University residence, and the meeting rooms were in the same building. Besides the well run high quality facilities (and quite good food, at least by standards), the best feature of all was the exceptionally beautiful art on the all the walls, including in each of the residential rooms. One beautiful room included an array of stained glass windows expressing the profiles of the women who played leading revolutionary roles. All the paintings and sculptures in the room were all of women with similar histories. An extra-ordinary testament. Mostly by Ecuadorian painters, a sense of liberation was the overriding theme of all the art – liberation of indigenous people, of women, of the oppressed. A giant painting by famous Ecuadorian artist Jorge Perugachy loomed over the main meeting room depicting a powerful female deity who seemed to be leading and anointing the liberation of all the world’s exploited and oppressed peoples. (Apparently Perugachy always features a female deity at the centre of his paintings.) A fitting setting for a workshop on the complex dynamics of cities midway through the second urbanization wave.
The final outcome was an agreement to publish an edited collection of the work presented and discussed with the tantalizing title Untamed Urbanisms. Adriana Allen, Andrea Lampis and I will act as the Co-Editors. The four main section themes (although not the final headings) are as follows:
• Greening the Urban Age: Perspectives and Trajectories
• Governance and Planning for the Sustainable City
• Poverty, Vulnerability and Inequality
• Liberating Alternatives
It was agreed to include a fifth section on Research Journeys that will summarize submissions to a blog on the methodologies and methods deployed by the chapter contributors.
I find this project exciting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the book will bring together the writing of a new generation of urbanists. While they wrestle with similar themes to the previous generations of urbanists, there are new themes and challenging perspectives that go beyond mere critique. Secondly, the intellectual strength of this new generation is a reflection of the growing institutional capacity that has been built up over the past decades of Universities in developing countries. Even in Africa which is where structural adjustment in the 1980s and 1990s had the most negative affects, Universities are strengthening and a new generation of intellectuals are happy to be employed in Africa. Thirdly, it is unusual to find a generosity of spirit and openness to learning in a large group of academics - this is what I found during our discussions in Quito. It was a breath of fresh air.
(I will work with Adriana on getting the book together when I get to London in July for our mini-sabatical.)
The participants included the following:
Manase Chiweshe (Zimbabwe): Gendered dimensions of old age care in a time of crisis: Experiences of elderly women at Bako Redonhodzo Old People’s Home in Harare, Zimbabwe
Mauricio Dominguez (Mexico): Domestic Water Accessibility and Adaptation toClimate Change Impacts in Peripheral Urban Settlements of Mérida Metropolitan Area, Yucatán, México
Ferne Edwards (Australia): Small, Slow and Shared: Emerging Social Innovations in Urban Australian Foodscapes
John Harris (USA): Expanding Sanitation Access in Accra’s Public Toilets
Taibat Lawanson (Nigeria): Neighbourhood differentials and environmental health interface in Lagos metropolis, Nigeria
Moises Lino e Silva (Brazil): Formally informal: Daily life and the shock of order in a Brazilian favela
Chipo Mubaya (Zimbabwe): Climate Change, Urban Population Growth and City Governance in Dar es Salaam Settlements, Tanzania
Jenia Mukherjee (India): Mega-urbanization of Eastern Kolkata: Vision and Reality
Franklin Obeng-Odoom (Ghana): The Mystery of Capital or the Mystification of Capital?
Luke Parry (UK): Rural–urban migration brings conservation threats and opportunities to Amazonian watersheds
Dominik Reusser: Classifying railway stations for sustainable transitions – balancing node and place functions
Natalie Rosales: Towards the modeling of sustainability into urban planning: Using indicators to build sustainable cities
Mintesnot Woldeamanuel (Ethiopia): Analyzing Mode-Switching Behavior in Response to Transit-Oriented Developments
Alok Tiwari (India): How can we improve the quality of life in Indian Metros?
Irene Sotiropoulou (Greece): Economic activity without official currency in Greece: the * hypothesis
Landy Sanchez (Mexico): The demography of adaptation to climate change
A friend from the UK wrote the following email, criticisizing in part my recent thinking about the future using long-wave theory. His good points raise interesting questions about the adequacy of doomsday prophesies and their opposite, the lyrical and influential babbling of the techno-optimists. Below is his very insightful original email (with names removed), and my response:
Greetings, where the spring continues to fight a long and weary battle in the face of a depressingly vital winter!
So, now to my question – or perhaps rather next episode in an ongoing dialogue. I have now read Jeremy Rifkin’s 3rd Industrial Revolution. Rousing stuff and adding further weight to a story that I have already been telling for a while now – building on other thinkers such as Carlota Perez and Robin Murray – though adding new details and providing an intriguing additional dimension in terms of his political contacts (what a class A name-dropper!) and the profile he claims for these ideas among top policy-makers in the EU.
............I continue to read strong refutation of such arguments from a number of other thinkers that I have found to be fairly reliable and trustworthy informants in the past – folk like Richard Heinberg, John Michael Greer, Mark Cunningham, Alf Hornborg and others. The counter argument has various strands: the renewable energy ‘revolution’ is a myth because it is overly dependent on fossil fuels at every stage in the building, installation, maintenance, replacement process; the EREOI of most technologies is simply insufficient to sustain an industrial civilisation; the sheer volume of metals and minerals required for the necessary replacement of the infrastructure is not in the system; all energy is being diverted to the vain attempt to keep the current system going and there is simply not enough to achieve this and transform the infrastructure in parallel; there is nothing in the history of resource/energy decoupling to suggest that breakthroughs on the scale required are likely/possible.
In short, in my reading we have two poles of a spectrum of ‘green transition’ thought, one of which - Perez, Rifkin (I suspect you as well) - are excited about the technological possibilities that are opening up and that promise to deliver a new Golden Age in the history of capitalism; and techno-pessimists who argue that we are inescapably on the threshold of a Long Descent in terms of energy availability and societal complexity.
So busy are both ends of this spectrum spelling out their visions of the future that rarely if ever do I see them engage with each other in a conversation that throws light on the merits of the two cases. Can you point me in the direction of any such conversations? Also interested to learn what are your perspectives on this issue.
In The Economist edition dated April 6th 2013 there is an interesting Briefing on 'A world of cheap money'. The third graph in this article is entitled Boom Deferred: gross fixed capital formation as % of GDP. What this shows is that since 2006 companies are disinvesting in the real economy and stashing their cash away in pieces of paper that are worth less and less. In fact, most of these companies are paying governments to look after their money because the interest rates on bonds are lower than inflation. Incredible. At the start of the article is this remarkable indictment of Quantitative Easing: "Big companies have taken the opportunity [of the lowest interest rates in recent economic history] to borrow in the bond markets, locking in cheap financing for years to come. But the cheap money has not led to the growth-igniting investment spree the monetary policy was designed to encourage." Why is this? As I have argued elsewhere, it is all about short-termism plus uncertainty which austerity policies cannot bring to an end. What are the real economy investments that could unlock this cash? Long-term commitments to repair the future: massive socio-technical infrastructures that will deliver a more sustainable future, especially urban infrastructures. That is my answer, not what The Economist would say. Of course.
I guess it was appropriate to start my day at UN HQ in New York where we were due to discuss the future of humanity and planet with a breakfast at the Brooklyn Diner on 212 West 57th Street. Constructed as a 1950s replica (and run by an energetic group of Latinos), its aesthetic intents have everything to do with nostalgia for a past golden age and nothing to do with what I will be discussing on the 23rd Floor of United Nations Plaza (indeed, the waiter never even knew where UN Plaza was, never mind how long it would take me to get there by taxi!). I have been invited to be a member of an 'Expert Group on Science and Sustainable Development Goals' convened by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, International Social Science Council and International Council for Science, meeting 20-21 March, 2013.
This event was in response to the main outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, where it was agreed by Member States to launch a process to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). A 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly was tasked with preparing proposals on the SDGs. The Rio+20 outcome document provides that the OWG should develop modalities to ensure the full involvement of relevant stakeholders, including the scientific community. Rio+20 also established a high level political forum, which, among other things, is tasked with strengthening “the science-policy interface through review of documentation, bringing together dispersed information and assessments, including in the form of a global sustainable development report, building on existing assessments”.
The Rio+20 outcome document recognizes the need to strengthen the science-policy interface in order to facilitate informed policy-making. In this regard, it was seen as crucial that the best available research informs the development of goals, targets and indicators at global, regional and national levels. Accordingly, the overall purpose of the expert group meeting was to provide an entry-point for natural and social science communities to inform the work of the Open Working Group on SDGs.
The challenge, however, is that in parallel to the emergence of the SDGs there is a debate about what happens to the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015. In 2010 a MDG Summit initiated a process to formulate a post-2015 agenda. One result was the global report The Future We Want. Merging the MDGs and the SDGs is much easier said than done. The reason is that for developing countries the MDGs are sacrosanct - they mark out the minimum conditions of development that must be met, and they are the foundation for global aid programmes targetted at developing countries. Environmental sustainability is just an add-on in MDG 7, not the core of the programme. They are, therefore, only really about how developing countries access resources from the developed countries to finance development - they are not about why or how developed countries need to change in order to create the possibility for a more equitable shared future for all countries.
By contrast, the notion of sustainable development has evolved into an inclusive vision for the whole of humanity and the living planet: since the first international conference in Stockholm in 1972, then Rio in 1992, Johannesburg in 2002 and then back in Rio in 2012, sustainability science has slowly evolved into a massive well funded global community of practice that has established a consensus that it will not be possible to achieve the MDGs if the Earth's life support systems and non-renewable resources continue to be exploitatively degraded at the current rate and form. Although the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment commissioned by the UN Secretary General in 2000 and published in 2005 was the first to explicitly state that the MDGs will not be attained if ecosystems continue to degrade, climate science, the life sciences and resource economics have combined to generate a much broader picture of a shared global crisis that will be bad news for everyone, not just the developing world. This qualitative shift in global consciousness reflects both the results of science and the lived experience of billions of people, especially those whose livelihoods are collapsing as temperatures rise, soils collapse, rivers dry up, floods increase, droughts spread, fisheries collapse, forests recede and pollution levels mount.
The strategic challenge now is whether it will, indeed, by possible to collapse the post-2015 MDG agenda into a much wider and globally more transformative SDG agenda that does not compromise the 'right to development' which is the ethical principle at the centre of the MDG. From a sustainability perspective, it is obvious that this makes sense. However, there are three primary threats that could subvert this trajectory. The first threat will come from developing countries. If developing countries come to the conclusion that collapsing the MDGs into a wider SDG agenda will compromise the global commitment to (and, of course, funding of) development to eradicate extreme poverty, they will resist and insist on keeping the MDG and SDG processes separate. The second will come from the United States (possibly with certain allies) who will more than likely reject any attempt to link the sustainable development of developing countries to processes that will threaten the lifestyles, markets and energy intensity of the developed world. This will be seen by the USA as a way of transforming what they hate most about global climate negotiations ('because the USA is the biggest polluter, it must pay the most') into a much more ambitious all-encompassing global deal that could threaten its economic recovery (which is going to be heavily dependent for the foreseeable future on the re-establishment of a manufacturing base fueled by a steep rise in consumption of - currently cheap - natural gas). Thirdly, fast industrialising 'BRICS plus' countries will resist anything threatens in any way their much vaunted 'right to develop'.
The UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs has been mandated with the unenviable task of driving these two parallel but linked highly complex processes, including the setting up of the High-Level Panel of country leaders on the SDGs, writing of a Global Report on Sustainable Development, convening of a Summit in September 2013 to discuss the post-2015 development agenda and relating to the science community (which is re-organising itself for this purpose by establishing a new global science platform called Future Earth backed by a consortium of science funders).
The keynote presentation at the Expert Group Meeting in New York was delivered by David Griggs, Director of the Monash Sustainability Institute in Victoria, Australia. This was based on an article by him and some others in the room entitled Sustainable Development Goals for People and Planet that was conveniently due for publication the following day in Nature (Nature Vol 495, p.305). The wider intellectual context for this paper, however, was set by another paper co-authored by Jeffrey Sachs, Guide Schmidt-Traub, Marcus Ohman and Johan Rockstrom (the latter two were also co-authors of the Nature paper). Entitled Sustainable Development and Planetary Boundaries, this paper by Sachs et al was prepared for discussion by the High-Level Panel on the SDGs that was meeting at the same time in Bali (for this and the other interesting background papers see http://unsdsn.org/resources/).
The Sachs et al paper starts off by asserting that if the planet was not finite, then it would be no problem for the rest of the world to catch up to the developed world by investing in technology, infrastructure and human capital. This, the paper argues, is what India, China and Brazil are doing now, and what Japan and South Korea have already done in the past. Ignoring for the moment the paper's uncritical acceptance of this (contested) depiction of the conventional modernization trajectory, what is strongly argued is that this trajectory is unviable because it will breach the 'planetary boundaries' (non-renewables, living biosphere and natural capacities to absorb wastes). They envisage three global scenarios:
* kick away the ladder: tell the developing world they dont have a 'right to develop' because this will result in a breach of the planetary boundaries;
* contract and converge: rich countries must contract and developing countries must develop up to a convergent point;
* business-as-usual: the rich world refuses to change and uses its military strength to defend access to resources, resulting in an increasingly unstable conflictual world of competing power blocs.
They see the first two options as impossible and predict a BAU future. The first will be rejected by developing countries and the second by developed countries. As an alternative to BAU which they see has resulting in rising resource wars and greater poverty, they propose what they call the 'Sustainable Development Trajectory' (SDT). They argue that this will have to entail six major "transformations", namely:
* the energy transformation
* the food security transformation
* the urban sustainability transformation
* the population transformation
* the biodiversity management transformation, and
* the private and public governance transformation
The paper by Griggs merges the MDGs with a set of SDGs in quite a skilful way, but the result is nothing new or particularly radical. One of the main problems is that a resource flow and decoupling perspective is ignored. The result is no connection at all the realities of the global economy and the dynamics of the global economic crisis. Nevertheless, this is an agenda that is being driven by some powerful players who will, undoubtedly come up against some equally powerful players who do not share an interest in a unified set of global goals with associated binding commitments.
I think it was the Architectural Philosopher Christopher Alexander who said that what matters are not the physical structures of a community, but what happens in between. That life happens in between what exists cannot be more true than life in the Lynedoch EcoVillage. As the country erupts in rage over the rape and brutal gutting of a working class girl in Bredasdorp and the murder of a supermodel allegedly by her super-rich boyfriend Oscar Pistorius, I overhear the things in between in Lynedoch. This morning over breakfast I could hear the children in the crèche singing the national anthem in ways only children can sing it – that high pitched full throated repetition of words whose history and meaning escapes them. Later I overhear outside a conversation between two mothers – one is a white Afrikaner and her son is the first white kid to attend the Lynedoch Primary School. Yes it was tricky at first, but it has all calmed down now. After all, it would have been difficult at any other school. Then in the early evening, there is a knock on the door – Lelo has brought his baby brother who only recently learnt a few words over to play: ‘He’s been asking to come over to your place to play, so I brought him.’ Lelo leaves, ‘Babbi’ stays for an hour and plays with the toys Eve keeps for the village children when they come to play. That evening Wilber drops round – he is so excited, he has been offered an internship with a film company. I know that this small fragile break would not have been possible without years of support provided by this village – the life skills, role models and bits and pieces of financial support helped him go to film skills, and provided the network link he needs for what will be his life break. Add all this together, multiply it by the possibilities, and a future opens up that can work. But it is only possible when the bridges are built, and these bridges cannot be built if everyone continues to live apart. How much we underestimate the extra-ordinary benefits of connectedness, of cooperation, of just everyday human decency. How much we just take it for granted in the Lynedoch EcoVillage, and so we should.
As systems thinking has ascended to a dominant position across many different fields of knowledge, numerous popular writers have emerged who have attempted to 'unite all knowledge' to develop 'theories of everything' - these tend to be totalising world views that can absorb and place anything within their closed system of reference points. Most common in the New Age movement, but also in some popular writing within the environmental movement and the less reflexive branches of sustainability science, these writers seem to think they have 'solved' all the ultimate problems of knowing by providing a way of thinking about every aspect of material and non-material reality. The greatest problem with this general approach is that there is no room for messiness, no unresolved edges that can act as hooks for exploratory dialogues and the true believers seem to only hear what gets filtered through the categories of their 'models'. Like Classical Marxists or religious fundamentalists, you are only appreciated if you are seen to think the same way. God forbig you use the wrong language, then you are out. Instead, what we need to realise is that the more we think we understand, the closer we get to the mystery of our existence and the meaning of life. Below is a short piece my colleague John Van Breda wrote in response to a question about his views about Ken Wilbur in light of his own research on transdisciplinary research methods. It seems to capture in a succinct but profound way the essential problem with what he so appropriately calls the 'Babushka Doll' view of the world.
By John Van Breda:
"Just for the record, I became quite interested in David Bohm's (famous quantum physicist / philosopher) version of integral theory, but somehow quite quickly lost 'interest' in this when coming across Wilber's work and, particularly, the effects it seems to have on his disciples. So, I can sum my uneasiness with Wilberianism as follows:
(a) Wiberian integralism presents a kind of a 'Babushka doll' view of the world, where everything fits in absolutely neatly and perfectly into each other. All spheres of reality can be explained in terms of each other, using the very same ideas, concepts, words, logics, symbols etc. There are only similarities with simply no room for (fundamental) ruptures, discontinuities, breakages, incommesurabilities, which we know is 'integral' (excuse the pun!) to our social world as well as the natural world (depending on which version of evolutionary theory you support);
(b) the theoretical and intellectual consequences / effects that Wilber's theory produces 'on' people. Most (and excuse my generalisation here) Wilberian people I've come across so far appear to have developed an almost complete 'numbness' or 'blindness' for anything empirical that cannot be fitted into little (coloured) boxes (i.e. thought categories), once they have been put ‘in’ there, that means the job is done … they have been 'explained' ... and this, in turn, means they can never be ‘opened’ again for further scrutiny / investigation / critical reflection / inquiry etc. The implication hereof is that all these multi-coloured boxes are effectively turned into ‘black boxes’ as we will never really know (or not allowed to know) what is really is on ‘inside’ them. I can only assume that this strategy is out of fear of what has been incarcerated 'inside' these boxes / categories might very well just 'jump out' again, and resist / contradict the very logics of how and why they were locked ‘in’ there, in the first place, and consequently running the risk of bringing down the whole damn integral theory like a house of cards. (Was it Einstein or Heisenberg that said that it takes just one 'small' fact to contradict a theory? - similar to the 'black swan' conundrum). In short, it would seem that the nett-effect of Wilberianism is that it produces some of the worst intellectual and empirical strait-jacket / laziness / blind-foldedness I've come across to date!
Anyway, so much for my two cents worth of knee-jerk critique of Wilberianism, which by no means is intended to close-off debate. On the contrary. I must also confess that I have not read his works in totality, because, as mentioned above, I lost interest rather quickly. I'm also sure that you will be able to present a much more sophisticated version of Wilber's theory than this simplistic rendition of mine.
Also, just for the record, my own thinking and interest in matters theoretical and metaphysical has shifted more in the direction of Peter Sloterdijk's "Spheres” (Vol. 1 now available in English: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/bubbles) and Bruno Latour's "Modes of Existence" (see: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/468). Although they also work with a relational / interconnected view of the world, there is indeed a fundamental difference between their thoughts and Wilber’s: in order to construct their ideas of ‘spheres’ or ‘modes’ of existence they do not a priori posit / assume the ‘connections’ which make the coupling of human-nonhuman relations possible … this (i.e. finding out the nature of these connections) always needs to be done via some ‘radical empiricism’ (to borrow a term from William James) … which seems to be a clever strategy of guarding against turning their ‘spheres’ and ‘modes’ of existence into black boxes.
French Government sponsors research on cities and environment
A two day conference of about 40 mainly French speaking researchers met in Paris on 13-14 December 2012 to discuss and debate the Villet et Environnement: De Nouveaux Defis? City and Environment: New Challenges. The event was organised by the Programme Interdisciplinaire de Recherche Ville et Environnement (that goes by the acronym PIRVE) with sponsorship from the CNRS (France’s premier research agency), the Ministere De L’Egalite Des Territoires Et Du Logement and the Ministere De L’Ecologie, Du Development Durable Et De L’Energie (in essence the Ministry for Local Government and the Ministry for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy). So interesting to me that two Ministries are involved in sponsoring this kind of research. Officials who were there also understood the material, and engaged.
Mark Swilling delivered a keynote address on Urban Metabolism, Infrastructure and Decoupling – a talk based on the City-Level Decoupling Report compiled for the International Resource Panel, but with elaborations influenced by the Urban Age conference that took place the previous week in London (especially giving a lot more emphasis to the role that large tech companies are planning on playing in reconfiguring city infrastructures around the world).
The PIRVE defines its aim as fostering “a better understanding of the co-evolution processes between urban societies and their natural and built environment. It seeks to highlight the processes that bring into play the complex interactions at different scales (spatial: local, regional, global and temporal: short, medium, long term), between the various dimensions (human, social, political and cultural, material, ecological…) of the functioning and evolution of urban systems.” Interestingly, the programme documentation states that to achieve this aim “[t]he programme encourages scientific risk-taking, supporting interdisciplinary projects positioned at the interface of human and social sciences and other major disciplinary fields… .” Interesting because this implies that “interdisciplinary projects” are risky, which of course they certainly can be.
The invitation to Mark Swilling came from Prof Sabine Barles from the University of Paris, one of the key PIRVE coordinators. Barles has produced the best empirical research on a city’s metabolism, using Paris as her case study. Her and her team pioneered the methods that many others are starting to use as urban metabolism becomes an increasingly popular research methodology in different parts of the world.
The programme was divided fairly equally between four themes: Urban Ambiances (which was mainly about architectural, cultural and design themes); Vulnerability and resilience of urban systems; Natures and Cities (which was mainly about the ways of understanding the relationship between urban systems and eco-systems, and related collective actions in defense of nature within the city); and Territorial Metabolism.
One of the more impressive speakers was Paul Robbins, University of Wisconsin. He analysed the phenomenon of green lawns across American suburbia, paying special reference to how much toxic chemicals are used to maintain these false urban eco-systems, the role played by laws to enforce green lawns, and the dominant role played by one major chemical company (Scotts). The other impressive presentation was by Luis Lassaletta who presented the work of Sabine Barles’ research group that was recently published in the journal Regional Environmental Change 12(2). This remarkable work documents the territorial impact of resource flows of the evolution of Paris’ urban metabolism over a period of 200 years (including 200 years of the history of Nitrogen use in Paris). Truly remarkable work.
Nice to interact across the language barrier – the evolution of separate French speaking and English speaking thought patterns on key issues is clearly a problem, but refreshing when the interaction takes place.
Eve thoughts on applied genius
Eve wrote this letter last week to all her colleagues at the SI after returning from a 7 day pilgrimage of over 140 Kms:
Dear all -
On my pilgrimage last week, where I walked with Louise for 7 days from lighthouse to lighthouse - Cape Hangklip (near Pringle Bay) to Cape Point - I took with me a book called The Science of Leonardo, by Fritjof Capra. An exceptional study of the life and genius of Leonardo da Vinci, Capra integrates beautifully the creativity of his art, science and design. Capra reminds us too that the word 'genius' comes from the Latin, and was understood as a 'guardian spirit'... and the exceptional achievements of artists and scientists were attributed to their attendant spirits. Not to their own individualistic egos.Leonardo apprentices in Florence, the famous Italian town known for nurturing beauty and art as a way of becoming one of the most protected towns of all time - in fact, 500 years later, when a German field marshal in World War 2 was ordered to blow up the town, he refused on the grounds that too much beauty would be erased from the earth - so the decision of the city leadership and bankers to invest in art and beauty really did weave a protective spell over this extraordinary place.So, part of my return sees my deepened commitment to integrative education - at all levels - and, in particular, paying mindful attention to creativity in every way possible.
One of the masters students I am supervising (Claire Kuiper) is doing her thesis on integrative education, in the set up of our bachelors degree, and will be co-ordinating group discussions on integrative education... some of you may like to participate? We will focusing too on our crèche and babies in this regard.
For the masters students, we will be doing a 2 week Sustainable Development module for the first time in a decade - which will include sessions in art, movement, drama and music.
From the side of the children and youth, I have expressed clear commitment to setting up some form of 'art studio' - however, I am very clear that our attempt is not just to do 'cute' art lessons -- but to deeply and richly create space for creativity.... to this end, I have attached a chapter from Capra's book on Leonardo which far better describes the vibe, buzz, sense of possibilities, discipline, hard work, long term approach to building up master artists... (Leonardo was an apprentice from the time he was 12 til around 20!)...
And, it might be interesting to convene some ongoing conversation on this - so that we build a common language in Lynedoch as to what we are really dreaming? I am pretty clear that our philosophical approach, our world views, will be key and formative to how this morphs. The very last thing I'd like to see happen is a conventional, fragmented, over-taught, over-thought approach which would, in the end, be 'nice' but not transformational.
We are about transformation. And perhaps ways where we release our own genius too....for Leonardo this meant creating in art, science and design - with an intrinsic and profound connection with nature. I wonder what does it might mean to us?
LSE Cities hosts 7th annual Urban Age conference in London
Maybe it is, after all, the centre of the Universe. After all, it has so often in the past been at the centre of the remaking of our Universe: from the industrial revolution, to both world wars; from Darwin's science to the invention of the cellphone; from epicentre of the neoliberal revolution, to now - as it basks so luxuriously in the resounding success of its Olympic Games glory - it prepares to leverage its dominance of global financial circuits and melting pot of talents from every continent to become the home base of choice for the Jedi Knights of the world's most powerful information technology corporations. The carefully choreographed Urban Age conference on the Electric City (6-7 December 2012) hosted by the LSE Cities Programme in the Shoreditch Electric Light Station on Coronet Street in the recently jazzed up London East End was a truly grand affair that celebrated, debated and played with the enticing possibilities of a new London lit up by trillions of LEDs all reflecting in every blink another chunk of data gathered from the countless clicks we all make every day. Although, as the name implies, the venue used to be where waste was burned to generate electricity over a century ago, it is now the home of a circus training company. How appropriate for a Deutsche Bank-funded conference of urbanists who must be able to combine insights into the rigidities of technical infrastructures with the accidental comedies and contortions that are the gritty stuff that makes 'cityness' so utterly compelling for those who relish the uncontrollable creativities, intimacies and passions of the ever-churning, unsleeping and relentlessly pulsating city.
The Urban Age conference on the Electric City was hosted by the LSE Cities Programme and the Alfred Herrhausen Society which defines itself as the 'The International Forum of Deutsche Bank'. 'Supported by Mayor of London' was prominently displayed alongside the brands of the host institutions - an endorsement that consistently wafted its way through the dialogues, as if the circus conductor that is usually around in that building had morphed into a benign apparition to keep an eye on things. At the centre was Ricky Burdett - the charismatic, expansive, energising, big hearted Director of LSE Cities who has stitched together over many years an extra-ordinary power network of some of the most respected academic urbanists, many key policy makers and significant corporate players. He certainly knows how to mount an impressive show. I have never attended a 'conference' - if one can call it that (more like a giant tech-enabled long coffee shop discussion) - like this. With a support staff of 40 drawn from the host organisations and sub-contractors, this event brought together 300 participants for 2 days (with speakers flown business class and accommodated at the plush St Pancras Renaissance Hotel) in a remarkable conversation without breaking up into those awful parallel sessions that so often kill the dynamic of events that are supposed to transcend disciplinary boundaries.
A major coup for LSE on the opening morning was the vigorous appearance of PM David Cameron with his tousle-haired Mayor Boris Johnson in tow. Although a few stories circulated as to how this happened, the one with the most credibility seems to be the following: 'David and Boris' had planned to make an announcement the previous day about a 50 million pound grant to build a new building to host an open learning space to further stimulate 'tech city' on the Old Street roundabout that has become the heart of East London's tech renaissance. Realising that the Electric City Conference was starting the next day just a stone's throw away with the world's 'urban age' glitterati all conveniently assembled to watch the spectable, they delayed the announcement for a day to take advantage of the setting - to his credit, 'David' apologised for 'hijacking' the conference to make the announcement. 'Boris', of course, had everyone in stitches as he is want to do, not least because he unabashedly sees himself as the veritable Luke Skywalker of the new Jedi Knights of London's global project to lead the next technological revolution (which, in his grandiose mind, it already does!).
The list of speakers was most impressive:
* the sceptical academics like Prof John Urry from Lancaster University, Prof Maarten Hajer from The Netherlands (now a civil servant headiing up The Netherlands Environment Agency), Prof Richard Sennett from LSE and NYU, Prof Saskia Sassen from Columbia University, Prof Alejandro Zaera-Polo who is Dean of Architecture at Princeton University, Prof Edgar Pieterse from UCT and, of course, the great Anthony Giddens (who, in my view, delivered a surprisingly weak rendition of the 'climate-change-equals-limits' line which, of course, suits the techno-fix guys whose hand is strengthened as the levels of fear about the future go up);
* the enthusiastic policy-oriented researchers like Bruce Katz from Brookings, Julio Davila at the DPU University College London (UCL), Philip Rhode from LSE, Frauke Behrendt from University Brighton, Dimitri Zhengelis from LSE and Carlo Ratti from MIT;
* then there were the corporates punting their closed system turn key technology solutions for cities that aim to replace the messiness of our current unsatisfying (sometimes) democratic governance systems with the sanitized clairvoyance of algorythmic governance that bewitched the room with its blinking techno razzle dazzle - these included Wim Elfrink who is Cisco's Chief Globalisation Officer and Executive Vice-President for the Industry Solutions Group (whose performance was the least impressive), Roland Busch who is CEO for Infrastructure and Cities in Siemens AG, Rainer Becker who is Chief Operating Officer of car2go at Daimler AG, Patrick Cerwall who is Head of Strategic Marketing and Intelligence at Ericsson (who admittedly was much more modest, resisting the temptation to overstate what is possible and sticking to what Ericsson does best - providing the infrastructure that others can use);
* there was also a healthy sprinkling of politicians and policy managers who reiterated the usual range of governance and policy challenges they face, but few seemed willing to challenge the techno-fix agenda head on (most likely because there are costs associated with telling the emperor that he has no clothes): there was Andy Altman who is Chief Executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation (who did emphasize the importance of debating the techno-fix agenda), Rohan Silva who is Senior Policy Advisor to the PM, Joan Clos - ED of UN Habitat, Carl Cedershiold - former Mayor of Stockholm, Isabel Dedring - Deputy Mayor of London, Antoni Vives - Deputy Mayor of Barcelona (who did raise a very critical voice, including about the future of capitalism!), and Anthony Williams - former CEO and Executive Director of City Council of Washington DC.
But before going on to discuss the main debate, mention must be made of the meeting room. LSE appointed a design firm to design the entire setting - lighting, seating arrangements, central table, real time filming and webcasting, etc. Every detail was carefully thought through, with the electronic coordination working absolutely perfectly. At the centre of the room was the oval shaped table with seating for about 8 plus a chair at the head of the table - desk micro-phones for all, interspersed with bottles of water. The sleak black oval top was mounted on a tasteful perspex stand lit up from the inside in the same yellow shade as the branding of the conference theme - Electric City. The 300 chairs were organised in shallow semi-circles along the two lengths of the hall, facing inwards to the oval table. The walls of the hall were unplastered red brick, which remarkably created a kind of soft warm natural earthy feel in a hall without windows that otherwise could have felt like yet another white cube for disconnecting people from their natural surroundings (which is where architects seem to think we like to sit to learn about new things and be creative). But the most stunning feature of the hall was three huge screens on three of the four walls - apparently they had to be flown in from Germany because none were available locally that were appropriate for the very high definition screenings. Three cameras captured the speakers on the screens at all times. The result was a truly remarkable sense of intimacy. Normally this fishbowl approach does not work - yes, people listen to the dialogue at the table, but they feel outside of the engagement. But having the face of the speaker blown up and in your face so that you could see every wrinkle and inflection, made you feel you were as much at the table as the 8 people sitting there. Unsurprisingly, when it came to question time, it all worked brilliantly: the cameras captured the questioner no matter where s/he was in the room on the giant screens, as if s/he was also at the table. There was a podium that keynote speakers and some others used, but it never distracted at all from the overall effect, because you still watched them on the screen because their ppt and image were both on the screen (most of the time). Hence my description that although this was a permanent plenary of 300 people, it felt like an intimate coffee shop discussion. Speakers had ten minutes, which meant core ideas were expressed in rapid succession, and a LOT of ground covered without breaking into parallel sessions. Times were rigorously enforced. A remarkable experience of how it can be done. And oh so far away from usual format of straight rows, raised stage, long speeches, discipline-specific parallel sessions, and boring reports back. I am sure we can make this work with a cheaper infrastructure for similar events - but 3 screens and cameras will be indisensable.
My 10 minute presentation was basically a summary of the Report compiled for the Cities Working Group of the International Resource Panel. Although I was told that material flow analysis would be covered by others talking before me, this was not the case. From feedback by quite a few people after my talk, what I was talking about was new to them, but also very appealing. After introducing the concept of resource flows through cities, I simply argued that because urban infrastructures conduct flows through cities, it follows that these flows can only be changed by reconfiguring the urban infrastructures. But these are 'locked in' systems that are difficult to change. Hence the importance of intermediaries to facilitate change. I ended by saying that the big tech companies - Cisco, Siemens, Alstrom, Phillips, Veolia and IBM have started to understand this, and their business models are clearly geared to expanding market share by securing control of city infrastructures, i.e. their accumulation strategies are now about securing control of the urban spaces within which these infrastructures are embedded. The consequences of this for democratic governance and innovation may well be profoundly retrogressive - with Masdar and Songdo as the iconic projects of this modus operandi that, in turn, remind us of what the ecological dystopias for the low carbon elites could look like in future. Fuse the sanitized, cold and soul-less aesthetic of the gated community, the pre-programmed thrills of the video game, the dummed down routines of the call centre and silent woosh of a luxury electric sedan, and what you get is a Masdar or Songdo.
Towards the end of the last day, Andy Altman summed up the key debate of the conference by saying there are two positions: the one is the top down 'big tech' solutions punted by the hi-tech corporations, and the bottom up deployment of information technologies to enhance self-organizing communities of practice that kind of remake cities from below as they find ever-smarter ways of combing, recombining and collaborating to solve the real social, ecological, economic and cultural problems of increasingly complex cities. If Masdar and Songdo are the icons of the hi-tech top-down centrally coordinated option, the role played by electronically mediated social networks during the Arab Spring and Occupy Movements provides the iconic images for the bottom-up decentralised autopoetic cellphone-plus-cloud alternative.
The most interesting session was on Friday morning when a bunch of techno-sceptics were let loose to tackle the challenges of bottom-up alternatives, with Adam Greenfield (an independent New York designer and former Design Director at Nokia) leading the way. His analysis of the definitions of the smart city punted by the big tech companies was revealing and chilling - one of those rare moments when a researcher just has to use the direct quotes from PR material to make his point, i.e. the absurdity just speaks for itself. But he probably made the best remark of the conference when he said: 'In our business, the general rule is that the smarter the technology, the dummer the user'. So profound. The implication is clear: the dummer the technology, the smarter the user. Richard Sennet opened this session with a theoretical argument which for me captured so succinctly what I have intuitively comprehended over the past several months, but lacked the conceptual language needed to join the dots. So profound, and worth summarising and quoting from his written essay in the conference newspaper entitled 'The stupefying smart city".
For Sennett, what makes the city a space of freedom is the fact that agglomerations of people and activities results in dynamic patterns of social engagement that are "unpredictable", "indeterminate", "unforeseen" and therefore "complex" and "open". He argues that "the process of change in an open system does not try to resolve all conflicts". Messiness, incompleteness, provisional partial solutions and edges are the norm, not the exception. To cope, urbanites need to develop the capabilities for adjusting to these contexts, and they do. As Sennet puts it so beautifully, this is the complexity that gives rise to the "cognitive stimulation through trial and error" that drives innovation. This is why he can conclude that "[i]nformal social processes are the genius of the city - the source of innovation economically and the foundation of an arousing social life." It is this notion of the city as the open space for cognitive stimulation, arousal and innovation that Sennet believes is now threatened by what he calls the "closed-system urbanism" promoted by Norman Foster and others who are providing the architectural discourses needed by the big tech companies to mount their hegemonic bids for control of the city in order to market and sell their solutions. For Sennett, the smart city is not at all smart, instead it runs the risk of "stupifying" the citizens, thus removing the well springs of the things we value most - innovation, creativity, learning and the intimacies of a rich cultural life. Without edges, messiness and incompleteness, the conditions for "cognitive stimulation" fall away because there is "no personal encounter with resistance", "no knowledge of the city has to be fought for". Instead, the architecture of the smart city "comprehensively lays out the activities of the city, in which technology monitors and regulates the function from a central command centre. This is to conceive of the city in 'Fordist' terms - that is, each activity has an appropriate place and time. Urbanites become consumers of choices laid out for them by prior calculations of where to shop or to get a doctor the most efficiently." He goes on to argue: "Foster's idea of the city ... assumes a clairvoyant sense of what should grow where. Put crudely, the city is over-zoned: the algorithms of the CPU [Central Processing Unit] do not envision their own violation."
I am so taken with this idea - 'clairvoyant algorithmic governance'. Just as the massive accumulation of data about our every click in Google's server farms empowers Google to start predicting with ever greater accuracy what we will click on tomorrow, or next week or even next year, so the capacity for algorithmic governance becomes an ever more practical possibility. Conjoin this kind of communication power with the spatial powers of the architect, and the result is ''closed-system urbanism" that will depend on the dumming down of the citizens - something that might, of course, need to be enforced when people start resisting the routines anticipated by the algorithms. Is repression the logical ultimate outcome? Sennett ends off with a powerful description of freedom in the city: "If they have a choice, people want a more open, indeterminate city in which to make their way: that is how they can come to take ownership over their own lives." He strongly believes that information and communication technologies could be deployed to support this "and can do so, if we think of our new technological tools as enabling the open systems of the city." Sennett is not a c.21st luddite.
It is tempting to construct a neat dualism between the big tech companies and their architectural lackeys on the one had and a more liberatory Arab Spring/Occupy Movement alternative: creates that much loved definition of who the good guys and who the bad guys are. But this wont work. The big tech companies will not go away. And in any case, they put in place the core infrastructures that make everything else possible. So the real hard question is how they can change their business models in ways that are compatible with the kind of open non-linear complex urbanisms that Richard Sennet and John Urry has in mind. This might require some facilitated dialogues over a sustained period of time to build up a shared understanding of the challenges that will need substantial contributions from sociologists, social anthropologists, political scientists, ecological economists, behavioural economists, designers, and modelers, to name just some of what will be required to crack this.
So, back home now. Back to headlines about Zuma as a 'kept politician', to the land where the highways are lined with informal settlements and, of course, the stunning beauty that could attract so many of the world's most creative people if we could get our acts together. And yet, what we do have is everything that Richard Sennet reckons makes us human - conditions that turbo charge the kind of 'cognitive stimulation' that could spawn a new generation of city-builders from below inspired by the vision of a just urban transition. Will we learn from where the world is trying to go? And what is it about our own conditions that helps us to participate?
I am here to attend the annual conference and AGM of the African Technology Policy Studies network (19-22 November 2012). Headquartered in Nairobi, led by Prof Kevin Urama, and managed by an all-African Secretariat, this must be the most significant network of African researchers that operates outside the formalities of one or other international multi-lateral institution. What a pleasure to be part of an all-African event where white faces are a rare site. After our recent travels in Europe and Australia where we only attended (nearly) all-white events, this comes as a breath of fresh air. Not even the imploding emptiness of the giant mushroom we were sitting in could snuff out the tremendous energy and significance of this remarkable gathering.
Rippling through it all was the extra-ordinary dynamism of Kevin Urama: born in Nigeria, educated in Cambridge and now living in Nairobi, he is intensely engaged in every aspect - the power networking, coalition building, organisational details, vision-building, the great dinners he hosts, keeping the funders happy and cementing relationships with the AU. He always moves with speed in his crisp perfectly fitted dark lightweight suits, wastes little time when he has to deliver a report or mediate from the podium, and seems to sense every ripple and conflict, every shift in the intellectual weather pattern, as he crafts a strategic direction that marries international partnerships with an African network without losing that critical edge and academic rigour he values so much. Always warm, an engaging smile and without a hint of personal or financial indulgence (never drinks, always eats very little and only the healthiest food, never flirts), he relies on a core group of advisors and a young African stuff who struggle to keep up with him. Oh how Africa so badly needs thousands more Kevin Uramas!
Although sustainability is the discourse that pervades everything ATPS does, the real focus is on the role of science, technology and innovation in shaping Africa's future development trajectories. This agenda is attractive to funders, marks out a semi-autonomous role for intellectuals, goes beyond the tired old mantras of 'good governance' and attracts a network of people who can do with all the help they can to forge a space for science and innovation in societies that spin around the immediate gratifications of kleptomaniacal elites. When I pause to contemplate for a moment what the ATPS project in its context represents, what comes to mind is the biblical story of David and Goliath - can this flimsy slingshot of researchable truth really take on the conceptual behemoths that seem to legitimise failed development strategies and compromised governance? We have no choice, we can only try.
The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Osita Ogbu, Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka. His talk was entitled The Fragility of the Recent Africa's Growth and the Opportunity for Creating Jobs through a New Technology and Industrial Policy. Basic argument is that the current boom is based on the sale of primary resources to support the industrialisation of other countries, and will not last. What is needed, therefore, are for AFrican governments to develop industrial policies. Although there were industrial policies in the 1960s in Africa, there was a long period when AFrican governments are advised to scrap them. However, there is a new appreciation for the significance of industrial policy. This is an opportunity. Africa needs an industrialisation programme that can be catalysed by industrial policy. These policies should position the state as a key player in capacity building, stimulating innovation and mobilisation of capital. The appropriate set of incentives and regulations are needed to make this all happen. Various global conditions favour this, especially the rising costs of production in China. Unfortunately, despite referring to Rio + 20, he never mentioned sustainable development once, nor did he refer to the theme of the conference which is about a transition to low carbon development. The result is the unintended consequence of once again holding up for Africa a model of industrialisation developed elsewhere (Asian Tigers) for a very different context at a very different time (cold war, relocation of industries to low wage zones, etc). I am pretty sure this is not his intent, but this was the upshot.
Fortunately, Prof Mytelka from UNU-MERIT (Maastricht) did talk directly about energy transtions, innovations and development. Her starting point is that an energy transition is not happening anywhere - I'm not sure about that. Unfortunately, her case study was biofuels from jatropha in Mali presented in a way that was not at all convincing. This kind of talk discredits the sustainability discourse in an audience like this one.
However, after lunch we had a session that included a pro-GM talk without a counter-point because the speaker from India who was going to provide this fell ill and could not attend. The result was a session that caused a lot of unhappiness in the audience expressed during question time but repeatedly over the following days. A Professor from South Africa's Fort Hare University who attended an ATPS event for the first time said that this session left him with a very negative view of what is going on at this conference.
Prof Chris Leaver from Oxford delivered an unapologetic and unqualified PR presentation for GM as the solution to food insecurity. What offended me was not his argument per se, but his failure to point out that his views are contested - especially in light heightening conflict over the publication by Seralini et al on the negative health impacts of GM maize, including many references in these debates reported in the popular press to the role of fear in suppressing dissident views on GM. He did not refer to the articles in peer-reviewed journals that confirm negative health effects: at least he could have referred to de Vendomois et al in the International Journal of Biological Sciences (2009) or the article published this year in Food and Chemical Toxicology by Seralini on the cancer-inducing effects of Monsanto's NK603 maize. More seriously, he did not refer at all to the political consequences of handing over control of the world's seed supply to a few giant global multinationals like Monsanto etc. And yet, he ended by calling for multi-stakeholder participation and debate. Truth-seeking and consensus through debate is only possible if academics follow the rules of scientific engagement, namely consideration of all viewpoints and testability of underlying assumptions. It is questionable whether Prof Leaver has adhered to these rules in the way he presented his views at this conference. To make matters worse he ended up by suggesting that Africans that are opposed to GM are thinking wrongly because of what they are told by Northern NGOs - this is tantamount to suggesting that Africans cannot think for ourselves, cannot weigh up the evidence ourselves and cannot therefore decide for ourselves what is in our best interests. I think it would have been acceptable if he would have just said that he is talking as a protagonist and not as an academic - then the academic rules to respect the principle of decent doubt can be suspended.
On the second day I participated in a parallel session that addressed the question of low carbon transitions - this for a continent that is already low carbon (except for SA), but poor. We agreed, the African discourse is not about a transition to low carbon development, but how to remain low carbon (except for SA) while eradicating poverty. Other parallel sessions addressed governance of science, technology and innovation; youth and development; food security; and research.
By far the most interesting day was the fourth day. The day was facilitated by Prof Vincent Anigbogu and the focus was on appropriate modes of leadership and organization required to build the so-called National Chapters of the ATPS - there are about 30 altogether. Anigbogu spent around 20 years in the USA as Professor of Chemistry. However, a few years ago he decided to give this all up and return to Nigeria where he was born to launch a leadership movement aimed at completely redefining what leadership in Africa means. Inspired by readings on leadership and organizational change, he decided that Africa will only resolve its problems if a completely new conception of leadership and institution building is put in place. Offering much of his time for free, he has developed a course that introduces participants to many of the key concepts of contemporary effective leadership: vision building, goal setting, team building, self-discipline, ethical conduct, institution building, mobilising others and above all else for Anigbogu, passion. Although he used a leadership video, some power points and facilitated discussion, the most remarkable moment was when he read out extracts from a short essay by a Zambian professional who finds himself sitting next to an IMF official on a flight to Boston. The IMF official does not mince his words when criticizing the lazy irresponsible ways of Africa's professionals. Extremely provocative, this essay laid out in uncompromising ways what was wrong with Africa's intellectual class. By blaming them and not the toiling masses who work long hours for very little to survive, this essay punched deep and hard, leaving most reeling and breathless. As one old Prof commented at the end waving his arm across the room: "Some of you might not think so, but this is the truth; these are the facts that you cannot deny." I was completely stunned. I looked at Anigbogu and thought to myself: 'no-one else can pull this off' - he has all that is needed to give him the moral authority to speak truth to power: he is not only an 'African Elder', but he has had a successful academic career in the USA, he has avoided the many small corruptions needed to survive on the continent, he has extra-ordinary passion and an ability to articulate himself in poetic terms, and this is not his 'business' - he does this for free, as a 'contribution' to rebuilding Africa. Remarkable.
I think what struck me is how few in the room had ever been exposed to any of these basic conceptions of leadership and organizational development. These were the techniques that helped stitch together the South African transition to democracy - so for me, this was old hat. But suddenly I realised how much I take all this for granted, and as a result I have failed to appreciate the consequences of not being exposed to this world. How can one understand the problems in Africa's institutions without the language provided by leadership studies and the organizational development movement? How can one think of alternatives if one does not have the language of agency that leadership theory provides, and the language of institution building that organizational development theory provides? Facilitating organizational change has become a huge industry in South Africa, with entire consulting companies that do little else and thousands of venues that earn an income from the events they host. I came away from this event convinced that unless African countries experience what South Africa has experienced with respect to leadership and organizational change, there is very little hope for the future. This is a huge opportunity, and clearly the ATPS can play a key role as major change agent.
This is such an interesting moment: here I am at a conference venue in Honeydew outside of Johannesburg with 65 activists, unionists (including leading people from COSATU), community workers and radical intellectuals all talking about the failures of South Africa’s post-1994 capitalist system and the potential for a ‘wage-led sustainable growth path’. While we talk and debate, all across the country poor people are protesting – from mineworkers to farm workers, transport workers and angry urban youths. And every now and then the word ‘Marikana’ is mentioned – a word that is now short-hand for a turning point in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. Why? Yes, it was a particularly horrific moment of state violence against workers that seems to have been justified by government. But, more importantly, it seems to capture the moment when formerly loyal supports of the ANC-COSATU alliance publicly and forcefully declared their disillusionment with the alliance. By joining a new union led by a former NUM member who was excommunicated from NUM, mineworkers made clear what they were rejecting. Ramaphosa’s membership of the Lonmin Board is also symbolic of a new class politics – as one activist put it, ‘in Marikana Cyril is not a comrade, he’s a coloniser’.
There is a new atmosphere about, but also something familiar: feels to me a bit like the era that led to the formation of the UDF in 1983. A kind of mushrooming of grassroots anger, a patterning of protest action around an shared agenda of grievances, a new leadership that is fired up by the passions of new found power while they feel excluded, pervasive despair in the face of easy use of violence and the cheapness of life, a generalised critique of a particular South African capitalism that retains much of its racial character and a sense that ‘if we don’t make it happen, no-one will’.
Talks mix together detailed analyses of the living and working conditions of mineworkers and farm workers, the gender dynamics of the workplace, the power dynamics of post-apartheid BEE politics, the implications of climate change and resource depletion for workers and small farmers, reconnections to the land and soil, how workers have earned less and less since 1994 while shareholders have earned more and more, how Reserve Bank figures show that productivity has increased by 3% per annum since 1994 while wages have increased by 2% thus giving the lie to mainstream claims about the unaffordability of wage increases, and South Africa within the context of the global economic crisis. Although a centre-piece was COSATU’s presentation on the Living Wage Campaign, the highlight was undoubtedly Gavin Hartford's presentation on the causes of the Marikana strike and subsequent massacre - a story about fundamental restructuring of the workforce as migrants urbanise, and as labour aristocracies take power in the union movement.
This is a significant gathering, but a shared language to articulate real alternatives has yet to emerge. Identifying the problems is easy, but much harder to identify and develop real alternatives that will have to be executed by appropriately configured institutions and movements.
I am in Brisbane now, at Griffiths University, attending a conference entitled The Necessary Transition hosted by Asia-Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise. Just listened to a very interesting paper by David Peetz entitled 'Corporate Ownership and Global Sustainability'. It examined the role of finance capital in promoting sustainability and climate change in particular. They addressed the assumption that because finance capital supports neo-liberal ideology and because there is a strong correlation between neo-liberal ideology and climate denialism, it follows that finance capital is unlikely to be a force for change with respect to climate change and sustainability in general. This, however, was not in fact the case. Instead, there is a 'power struggle' between investors with a short-term 'capital gains' focus, and investors with a long-term focus [read: investors who are more interested in dividends over the long term?].
They examined the world's largest investment funds (i.e. entities that own significant amounts of shares of the world's 250 largest corporations). They correlated the size of these funds (measures in terms of shareholding of the world's 250 largest companies) with their commitment to climate change/sustainability as reflected in their participation in various sustainability-oriented initiatives such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, UN Global Compact, etc. They found that just over a third of the largest investors had signed up to at least one of the major initiatives. However, they detected a clear division between investors primarily interested in returns over the short-term and investors primarily interested in returns over the long-term. The former was less inclined to worry about climate change/sustainability, while the latter was more inclined to worry about climate change/sustainability.
This conclusion is very interesting to me because I have been arguing that the build-up of uninvested funds in many OECD countries and South Africa is a reflection of the fact that (capital-gains seeking) finance capital remains hegemonic despite the financial crash of 2007/2008 and that this is reflected in the fact that policy frameworks have not been introduced that incentivize investments by productive capital in the 'real economy' (i.e. in pursuit of dividends). This paper suggests that it is not appropriate to make a simplistic distinction between 'finance capital' and 'productive capital', but to factor in a more refined distinction between different segments of finance capital - some still only focussed on capital gains over the short term, while others have a longer-term interest in dividend flows. Makes sense, because after all the financialisation of the global economy has left us in a position where these massive global funds effectively dominant investment flows. How they respond to the global crisis and, in particular, to possible future policy frameworks that incentivize productive investments in the real economy will obviously have a major influence on future economic trajectories. These choices, however, are profoundly political. At the moment, austerity (and possibly also non-action re: climate change) seems to reflect the interests of short-termists. Will those who favour a growth agenda recognise what will be required to unlock productive investments pursuing dividends over the long term? Although this paper is primarily interested in investments in climate change responses/sustainability, the analysis can have a wide economic significance.
Listening to the discussion, I am reminded of a dinner with Executives from Shell to discuss sustainable development that took place a few months ago in Cape Town. After making good progress in the argument, one of them turned to me and said: "Ok, so what would you do that will make it all happen?" I was taken by surprise and so did not immediately say what I should have said and so lost the moment. But what I should have said is the following: (1) cut the $1 trillion subsidy of the fossil fuel industry, (2) require all financial institutions to have a minimum investment portfolio in renewable energy, (3) introduce a carbon tax of at least $100 per ton, and (4) introduce a Tobin tax on financial transactions.