[WSMDiscuss] The north's Covid-vaccine, climate-inaction, carbon-tax and conditionality attacks on Mauritius
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Mon Oct 31 05:41:24 CET 2022
*Patrick Bond: “Northern countries are going to attack Mauritius and you
don’t see it coming”*
By Axcel Chenney
30 Oct 2022 19:00 0
*Our guest this week is a veritable encyclopaedia. This Distinguished
Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of
Johannesburg has written more than 25 books published in London, the US,
Brazil and, of course, South Africa. These criticise capitalism, expose
unsustainable mining and oil exploitation in Africa, and denounce the
hypocrisy of ‘false solutions’ to the climate crisis. An expert in
economics, climate, social injustices and energy, Patrick Bond has the
astonishing ability to argue his criticism of neo-liberalism and his
vision of a fairer world with facts and figures. It is not for nothing
that this Irishman, who grew up in the United States and has lived in
South Africa since 1990, was chosen by Nelson Mandela - whose economic
policies Bond is highly critical of - to write his very first White
Paper. Patrick Bond does not wear a suit and tie. He ‘receives’ us in
Riambel in a shorts, where he is one of the guests at a conference on
ecology organised by Rezistans ek Alternativ.*
*/What is a man with a CV like yours doing at such a small conference?/*
We could debate what you call “small”. This school of ecology of Cares
and Rezistans ek Alternativ is recognised in the world as a place of
questioning. Here, organic intellect is just as important as academic
expertise. The theory of social change is always linked to the
production of knowledge and struggles. Movements, whether social,
environmental, labour, feminist or youth, when they come up against
their enemies, as is often the case here, produce knowledge. Meeting
these Mauritian citizens, listening to their experiences, seeing
Mauritius and the world from their perspective is refreshing for me. The
struggles are important. They made me realise that these movements have
a lot more room to exert pressure and get results, than we thought.
The best example is the free drugs to accompany the 7 million HIV
positive people in South Africa and even in Mauritius. It was a fight
against so-called intellectual property that was won 20 years ago, even
though Thabo Mbeki, the president at the time, was an AIDS denialist. It
is the successful story of a struggle of movements that create knowledge
and want real reforms at root level. The World Trade Organisation then
considered that drugs against pandemics could not be the intellectual
property of Big Pharma. Well, we thought we had won, until recently with
the Covid vaccines. We have had some very bad leadership, for example
from Narendra Modi and Cyril Ramaphosa.
*/Yet it was South Africa and India that lobbied for these vaccines to
be taken off intellectual property protection?/*
It was they, Modi, Ramaphosa, Mauritius and a hundred other countries
that agreed to a tiny deal last June. Reputations are saved, but not
lives. Tiny production rights were handed over, but the vaccines remain
the intellectual property of Big Pharma. Tragically, this deal was made
by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the head of the WTO. She used to be Nigeria’s
finance minister and number two at the World Bank. So we know her side.
Yet 20 years ago, we won because there were big global movements. Today,
even that movement-building capacity has been attacked by the
restriction of demonstrations. With Covid, we had to retreat.
But this is changing with the lifting of the protest restriction.
Movements are getting back on track. The global bourgeoisie is nervous,
worried and multiplying contradictions.
In Durban in July 2021, we had these chaotic, disorganised
demonstrations that were not constructive. There were 350 deaths and R50
billion worth of damage. But it shows that inequality - South Africa is
the most unequal society in the world with a Gini coefficient of 0.63;
Johannesburg is the most unequal city in the world - these are powder
kegs that can ignite at any moment. In Sri Lanka, we saw how quickly the
angry majority could even take over the President’s house and swimming pool.
*/Can this happen anywhere in the world?/*
Yes. Follow the debt and you will see where the next protests will break
out. From April 2020 until the beginning of this year, we had very low
interest rates, quantitative easing, banknote printing and big fiscal
deficits. This desperate funding in the Covid era is over and is being
replaced by austerity. The majority of African countries are now facing
strangulation by their lenders. South Africa’s external debt is $173
billion today. Argentina is another example where extreme pressure from
international finance and rising interest rates are pushing the people
into rebellion. Even the IMF is starting to get worried.
*/Would you have issued a warning to the Mauritian bourgeoisie and the
Mauritius is not an exception to the global trend. The abject conditions
that lead to uprising are present.
*/Like never before?/*
Yes. 2011 was the starting point with the Arab Spring. You will see that
the movements are linked to commodity prices. It’s as simple as that.
The 2009 peaks of 2011, then the lull of 2015; in 2021, it starts again.
We have ups and downs and it’s always linked to the ability of African
governments to share some extra revenue.
In South Africa, the government gave 350 rand/month to 10 million people
to dampen down the intention of an uprising. In July 2021, when there
were uprisings again, the government restored that 350 rand. But at that
rate, you can contain the anger, a week, a month, a year...
At the same time, services are deteriorating. The middle class in
Johannesburg, including the area where I live next to the university, is
suffering from the crash of the water system. Electricity is out
nationwide for about five hours a day. We are at load shedding level 4.
At the same time, the big companies that are accelerating climate change
- particularly those that produce electricity - are getting big
subsidies from the state and these companies are selling cheap
electricity to smelters and mines. This impoverishes the country with
pollution and the depletion of our resources.
*/The government will say that it is creating wealth that will be shared
with the population. At least, that is the answer we would have had from
the Mauritian government in such a case./*
No. What they are saying is that the mines are creating revenue, feeding
the national treasury with taxes, financing infrastructure and bringing
in foreign direct investment in foreign currency. Wealth, on the other
hand, contracts and shrinks. You don’t grow back your platinum, your
gold, your iron ore. Africa’s minerals and fossil fuel reserves are
*/But the mines have to be exploited, don’t they?/*
At the expense of future generations, as we are doing now? No. Are those
who exploit the mines responsible? If we were in Norway, and you were
the government, you would probably be more sensitive to your people. You
would have transferred the income from your resources by investing in
good free universities.
But if you are in Africa, particularly South Africa where you are
suffering from the Minerals-Energy Complex, where there was apartheid,
this crime against humanity while the mining companies were terribly
profitable and still are; and you have this kind of leadership of
presidents who are friends with Glencore, the company that has looted
Africa the most; mining is not in the public interest.
Ironically, these White Monopoly Capitalists like Glencore or De Beers -
now they are called Western Multinational Corporations - have moved to
London. To recognise South African democracy, they had to flee. They
feared Mandela because of the Freedom Charter.
Unfortunately, Mandela, for whom I worked - I wrote his first Government
Policy in 1994 - was pressured and made concessions. The mining tax was
52% in 1992; today it is 27%.
And where does the money go? It comes here to Mauritius. We saw
Ramaphosa, now South African president, use Mauritius’ tax advantages to
make a deal and invest in a gas project in Mozambique (editor’s note:
the Shanduka affair revealed by the Paradise Papers). This same
Ramaphosa is tainted by a scandal where he is accused of hiding USD 4
million in foreign currency under his mattress! Can you believe it?
*/A bit like Ramgoolam. Do you know it?/*
(He laughs). Exactly! It’s the perfect parallel. I’ve heard about it.
It’s to tell you that the illicit flow of money between corporations and
governments is a reality as we saw the Marikana massacre (34 miners
killed by South African police). The demonstrators were just asking for
$1000 for the hardest job in the world. Who was one of the directors of
Lonmin, the mining company in question? Cyril Ramaphosa. Instead of
paying the miners that $1000, he was investing over R1 billion in
Bermuda for the so-called marketing of Lonmin. That’s the classic
gimmick of the illicit financial flows, which go through Panama,
Bermuda, Isle of Man, Bahamas and Mauritius.
*/Let’s talk about the climate emergency from an economic point of view.
What is the responsibility of a small island like ours?/*
I would have already proposed an audit of your financial services to
check that Mauritius is not being used as a platform for the transfer of
money by big international polluters. Because that will work against you
sooner or later. What I would have done next is to analyse the huge
dependence you have on tourists who travel long distances, involving a
big carbon footprint. You and I want Mauritians to prosper. That would
mean a carbon tax. The North is going to act against you and you don’t
see it coming. There will soon be a climate tax that will hit you when
the tax on long-haul flights because of their carbon emissions. The
airlines have opposed it so far but in two or three years it will come.
It will affect your tourism industry.
*/And how do you prepare for it?/*
Talk to the Europeans. Tell them, “Okay, you want our tourists to pay
for their carbon footprint? We want to. But we are the ones who need
help. We are a small, vulnerable state. If you take a tax from our
tourists, send us the revenue. Because we don’t exploit the fossil
resources in our exclusive economic zone, because we don’t have big
polluting industries, you, the North, the historical polluters, need to
But if your offshore already houses the money of polluters, how will you
be able to go and ask for monetary compensation? We could talk for hours
and hours about the Mauritian case study. But as long as you don’t have
the will to make deep changes at root level in the public interest, in
the interest of the climate, you won’t be able to make your voice heard
with the Northern nations.
* “If your offshore is already housing polluters’ money, how will you
be able to go and ask for monetary compensation?”*
Don’t you think the Northern nations should pay for the drought you are
facing? There were 300 deaths in a rain bomb last April in South Africa.
Now there’s the question of “who’s at fault?” and science is showing
that it’s the pollution of the fossil fuel companies, the high emitting
corporations, the richest people on the planet who literally “dropped
the rain bomb on Durban”.
There are natural disasters that have nothing to do with human activity.
But science now makes it possible to establish cause and effect when
humans are truly at fault. The United States does not believe in climate
compensation. But in all their shops, there is a sign: “If you break it,
you buy it”. It’s the same thing.
But if states like Mauritius are not blameless, how can you make the
Americans pay for the damage caused?
/*There are, however, the Conferences of Parties (COP) on climate.*/
James Hansen, the leading climate scientist, said after the Paris
agreement, “Bullshit!” In general, we have six main areas of
disagreement with the UN approach. For example, emission limits are not
sufficiently anchored and not mandatory. They do not apply to the
military. This is a big problem, since the Pentagon is the biggest
polluter in the world! Imperialism is so strong that you can’t even put
this on the table at the UN.
Then there is a lack of will for a real transition. The workers who have
worked for years for the big carbon emitters have skills and knowledge
that can be put to use in green industries. But the transition is slow,
if not almost non-existent, if you follow the COP.
There is a lack of technological and financial commitment from research.
There is a whole issue around lithium used in batteries for devices that
supposedly run on clean energy. But the extraction of lithium is itself
an ecological disaster. Can’t we replace lithium? There have been small
tests on the use of concentrated salt and pumped storage; and then we
delegate the rest to the big technology companies so that we enter the
unfair cycle of inequality again.
*/And the innovations will become the intellectual property of these big
Exactly! You know, you can manipulate human opinion, pretend to solve
the crisis. But the planet reacts to reality, not to human rhetoric. The
power in the UN is so concentrated in the hands of the Northern states.
The failure to put in place a simple “polluter pays” penalty system for
large emitters is the main reason why they continue to emit so much carbon.
*“Inequality is a powder keg that can ignite at any time**”*
*/A final question. This week we saw Rishi Sunak hailed as the UK’s
first man of colour Prime Minister. What does the Distinguished
Professor of Sociology and Political Economy, who worked for Mandela,
It’s a horrible tragedy that started with Boris Johnson, then Liz Truss
and then Sunak. The latter has not even been able to maintain his wife’s
tax residence in the UK. They have their money everywhere else. How he
made so much money, and his whole attitude, don’t lie. He is from the
upper class. He is a neo-liberal. His last Budget before he was fired
was ridiculous. He said he was going to help the poor, but he did the
*/Don’t you notice his background? The fact that he is a minority?
Doesn’t that deserve to be praised?/*
It’s the same with Margaret Thatcher. Did any feminist welcome her
becoming PM? No, seriously. When you’ve got tokenistic leaders who act
for the enemy, it creates more damage. The same can be said of Barak
Obama. His first act as a president was to bail out the banks which
amplified the defaults of African-Americans. Millions of black Americans
suffered as a result. He could have sent the money directly to those
American citizens who would have paid the banks. But he went the other way.
You want me to tell you who was worst? 27 years in prison, getting out
in 1990, reconnecting with the masses, and then adopting policies from
May 1994 onwards, he impoverished his people, increased unemployment and
made society more unequal with ecological devastation to boot. I would
have put Nelson Mandela at the very top of the list of those who have
disappointed by moving completely to the right.
The results are clear. I would never deny his fight for democracy,
never. But his economic policies have only benefited the rich. You know
as well as I do that today, the struggle is about class. Those who
prefer to see Sunak’s race, obscure his bourgeois, neo-liberal and
fundamentally capitalist class interests.
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