NGO's at WCAR target globalization

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Sep 10 09:59:55 MDT 2001

September 6, 2001

NGOs at WCAR Target Globalization

By Frances M. Beal <fmbeal at>

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - Many of the delegates attending the
NGO forum of the World Conference Against Racism here in
South Africa have been met with a big surprise. Most had
been informed of the big controversy over including the
treatment of the Palestinians by the state of Israel or the
demand for black reparations on the agenda. Most had
expected these to be the main arenas of contention and to
dominate the dialogue.

What they did not expect was an NGO forum that would unfold
as a continuation of an ever more articulate and ever more
vocal anti-globalization movement. This grassroots upsurge
was first expressed in Seattle two years ago at the meeting
of the World Trade Organization (WTO); it was further
articulated at the World Bank demonstrations in Washington,
DC and reached its culmination at the G-7 meetings in Genoa.

Durban, South Africa must now be added to that list of mass
gatherings to challenge the transnational financial and
political institutions that have snared the world's peoples
into its unipolar, globalization net. But Durban represents
at least two major differences.

Young whites and Europeans dominated the Seattle, Washington
and Genoa protests. The NGO Forum, on the other hand, has
attracted a global cross-generational activist core that is
composed predominately of people of color from the Americas,
from Africa and from Asia.

And while the U.S. and European protests concentrated on the
economic institutions, Durban's unique contribution has been
to place the fight against racism, xenophobia and other
related intolerances at the center of its anti-globalization

The NGO forum, of course, is not a gathering that was called
in reaction to a get-together of the imperial elite and its
financial and political institutions. The WCAR is a meeting
that has been several years in the making, but its flavor
and orientation has been definitively seasoned with the
worldwide anti-globalization protests that preceded it.

The theme linking the WCAR to the anti-globalization
movement was first signaled by Merisha Andrews, President of
SANGOCO, the South African group responsible for organizing
the forum. "We will talk about the Palestinians," she
proclaimed in her opening address to the conference
delegates. "We will talk about the blockade of Cuba!" To a
widely cheering crowd, she stated that all the questions of
the struggle against racism and discrimination will not be
resolved unless they are placed in "the context of economic
and social justice." Amid thunderous applause she concluded
that the youth and the NGOs must insist that we "not except
any strategy, or program, or policy that does not touch on
the profound causes of all the inequalities: economic and
social injustices."

That theme was reinforced in the opening remarks of South
African President Thabo Mbeki, who insisted that legacy of
slavery must be recognized: "I would like to believe," he
proclaimed, "that a common outcome we all seek is a
measurable commitment within countries and among all nations
that practical steps will be taken and resources allocated,
actually to eradicate the legacy of slavery, colonialism and
racism that condemns billions across the globe to poverty
and despair." He also made specific reference to the
"process of globalization" which "rewards some handsomely,"
but made reference to "unbearable suffering in the midst of
plenty" that can threaten social peace.

Many South African NGOs, however, felt that Mbeki's remarks
were merely for show since his economic policies -
particularly the policy of privatization - is capitulation
to IMF and World Bank directives, which have deepened the
racial divide in post apartheid South Africa between the
white rich and the Black poor, although it has elevated a
new Black elite at the fringe of the ruling centers of
economic and political power.

That criticism was expressed in the daily street actions
that have accompanied the NGO forum. Protest marches and
work stay-aways have been organized by COSATU (Confederation
of South African Trade Unions) to protest the government's
antiworker policies. NGOs have sponsored street protests and
rallies in support of the Palestinian people, and for
reparations. Militant mass marches have also unfolded
protesting the status of those who remain landless six years
after the defeat of apartheid. Tens of thousands of South
Africans have been joined by NGO delegates in an impressive
show of civil society strength. "We did not participate in
the liberation struggle in order to elevate a black elite"
one banner proclaimed." "No to Privatization" said another.

Nevertheless, some NGO delegates, particularly among the
North American groups, feel uncomfortable with the linkage
of racial justice demands and the critique of imperial
globalization. The mainstream civil rights organizations
like the Black Leadership Forum, for example, remain
strictly wedded to a narrow racial perspective of demanding
equal racial opportunity within the framework of the current
economic and political exigencies of the U.S. global empire.

Humberto Brown, International Secretary of the Black Radical
Congress, is an example of U.S.-based racial justice
activists that challenge this narrow view. He asserts that
race alone cannot guarantee solidarity. "You cannot be a
black liberationist and be a sexist," he says. "Nor can you
be homophobic or think your language is the only language."
Most importantly, he continues, "You can't be a black
liberationist and support corporatism." Speaking in the
Africa and African descendents caucus, Brown received
enthusiastic applause when he referred to globalization and
said the caucus should demand that the World Conference
Against Racism "come out with a document that condemns the
modern form of exploitation."

On the other hand, the government gathering that began this
week falls far short of the broad vision projected by most
of the NGO delegates and these standards for the struggle
against racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerances.
The U.S. and other former colonial powers chose not to pick
up the racial justice gauntlet and engage in the debate.,
but it is one that cannot be put off forever. Thus, many of
the NGOs see this gathering as only the opening salvo in a
face off between those who promote exploitative
globalization schemes, which perpetuate racial and
xenophobic discrimination and those with a vision of a
democratic world of economic and social justice with racial
equity at its core.


Frances M. Beal is National Secretary of the Black Radical
Congress and a political columnist for the San Francisco Bay
View newspaper. The views and opinions expressed in this
article are her own.

Copyright (c) 2001 Frances M. Beal. All Rights Reserved.

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