A Call to Action and Struggle!
In September 2002 hundreds of governments, mass-based organisations and non-governmental organisations will gather in Johannesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) has been charged with ensuring the successful running of this process and in turn have established a Civil Society Indaba. The Indaba brings together all sectors of progressive civil society in South Africa. The Indaba will lead to the South African process of mobilizing for the summit.
The Indaba calls on all community-based organisations, trade unions, civic associations, women’s organisations, faith groups, organisations of landless people, hawkers and small farmers, first nation indigenous groups, rural masses, disabled or physically challenged people, youth, students and progressive intellectuals to mobilise for the voices of South Africa’s poor to be heard in Johannesburg 2002.
WSSD is a United Nations’ conference which seeks to address the challenges of integrating human development and environmental sustainability. As SANGOCO we note with alarm that after years of struggle against apartheid, the dream of a world free of poverty, a world in which human rights and dignity are enjoyed by all the oppressed and exploited, is far from being realised. Seven years after the advent of democracy, we see increasing disparities between the rich and the poor; we see a worsening of unemployment, poverty, hunger, ill-health and illiteracy; we see an increase in violence against women; we see an HIV\AIDS pandemic that feeds on a weak social fabric, and in turn weakens that fabric; and we see the continuing deterioration of the eco-system on which we depend for our well being.
South African organisations of the working class, the poor and marginalised are not alone in facing this challenge. All over the world, working people face the same challenges. SANGOCO calls on South Africa’s working people to unite with their sisters and brothers around the world in rising to this call to action and struggle.
The Promise of Rio 1992
In 1992 a similar gathering of heads of governments, mass-based organisations and NGOs took place in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. In a Declaration on the Environment and Development, the world’s leaders made a number of wide-ranging promises. They declared that:
Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
Eradicating poverty and reducing disparities in living standards in different parts of the world are essential to achieve sustainable development and meet the basic needs of the majority.
Nations shall co-operate to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the earth’s ecosystem. Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.
The full participation of women is essential to achieve sustainable development.
The creativity, ideals and courage of youth and the knowledge of indigenous people are needed for realising the dream of sustainable development.
Peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.
An action plan to move the world towards these ideals, known as Agenda 21, was adopted as the platform and guide of the quest for sustainable development.
10 Years of Broken Promises
The heads of governments that met in Rio 1992 have failed to live up to their promises.
Instead of human beings being at the centre of development, we have seen a world dominated by the search for more profits, by corporate greed, and by unmerciful and unforgiving markets. For the majority of the peoples, lives and livelihoods have become less and less sustainable.
Instead of poverty eradication, poverty is on the rise worldwide. This is true in both rich, developing and poor countries. The resurgence of diseases of poverty like TB, and the HIV\AIDS pandemic, are sucking more and more people into the spiral of poverty. Against this background, it is criminal that billions of dollars are spent on cosmetics and the diseases of affluence.
Instead of reducing disparities in living standards, we see an ever-widening gap in incomes and living standards. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The burden of debt ensures that the North continues to enrich itself at the expense of the South and enables the North to control the economics of the South.
Instead of restoring the integrity of the earth’s ecosystem, we stand on the brink of an environmental catastrophe. Global warming in on the rise, weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable, and we have famine in the midst of plenty. Poor communities are paying the price of an unrestrained abuse of nature and the environment by the rich and powerful.
Instead of the inclusion of citizens in making vital decisions about development choices, and about the environment, the elites of the world have increasingly taken it upon themselves to decide the fate of humanity. The economic policies of many countries are decided outside the country’s borders and parliaments, and decisions about the future of the biosphere are now left to the boardrooms of the major corporations.
Instead of the full participation of women in sustainable development, women increasingly make up the majority of the world’s poor. Physical and sexual violence against women has become a pandemic, and the dream of full participation recedes with every setting sun.
Instead of honoring and celebrating the idealism, courage and creativity of youth, we have the marginalisation of the young, and the impoverishment of their bodies and spirits through rising youth unemployment.
Instead of respect and appreciation for the knowledge of indigenous people, we have a wholesale expropriation of their knowledge and dispossession of their lands.
Instead of peace and the end to wars, we now stand on the brink of another arms race. New enemies have been conjured up to fuel the machinery of war. Corporate elites incite and tempt governments to rearm, even at the expense of development and the environment.
Instead of co-operation between peoples and governments, we have predatory trade, bondage through debt, new forms of slavery, a rise in racism, new colonialism and wars.
Ten years after Rio, we stand further and further away from the promise of sustainable development.
The Future Belongs to Ordinary People
Already, in Rio 1992, NGOs and other mass organisations noted with alarm that the world’s political leaders were ignoring "many of the most fundamental causes of the accelerating ecological and social devastation of our planet". Ten years of social, economic and environmental devastation have shown that the challenge of sustainable development is how to reverse the forces of international debt, structural adjustment, market deregulation, ‘free’ trade, impoverishment of billions of people, and monopolisation of knowledge.
Over the decade many communities have risen to the challenge. From the Zapatistas in 1994 who stood up against the dictatorship of the free market to Seattle and Porto Allegre, ordinary people have taken up the challenge of sustainable development. In the communities, schools, churches, villages, neighbourhoods, factories and the mines of South Africa ordinary people are taking up struggles over land, houses, access to water, cheap and clean energy, affordable transport, jobs, and gender equality.
Communities and their organisations are struggling against the stranglehold of debt over our lives. They are struggling for the right of all to have a basic income, and to thereby regain their dignity. They are staking their rightful claim to the future. Against the background of the failure of the world’s corporate elites to rise to the challenge of sustainable development, ordinary people are showing that the future belongs to them. In this they are united with their brothers and sisters all over the world.
Johannesburg 2002: A Call to Action!
The South African NGO Coalition calls on all organisations of the working class, the poor and the marginalised to act and struggle for a world free of poverty, inequality and environmental degradation.
The call to Johannesburg 2002 is a call to vision for action, and to act with vision.
It’s a call to women and men to act and struggle against gender oppression, violence, and the impoverishment of women!
It’s a call to the worker to act and struggle against falling living standards, against unsafe and unfulfilling work!
It’s a call to all indigenous first nation people to act and struggle against cultural intolerance and against genocide!
It’s a call to the rural people to act and struggle against landlessness, poverty, lack of social services and marginalisation!
It’s a call to the religious community to act and struggle against spiritual and moral disintegration!
It’s a call to the youth to act and to struggle against the marginalisation of the young, and against unemployment!
It’s a call to all in formal and informal institutions of learning to act and to struggle against illiteracy, lack of education and the control of knowledge by a few!
It’s a call to the people in townships and squatter camps to act and struggle against homelessness, poverty, lack of services.
It’s a call for all of us to act and to struggle against crushing debt, poverty and inequality.
It’s a call to all of us to act and struggle against the degradation of our environment and the threat to its survival
It’s a call to all of us to unite and bring these actions and struggle together. For a world in which democracy will mean people’s control over their own lives!