Beware the TNC: 3 Years of People’s Resistance against Corporate Power
What happens when a powerful entity backed by the most legitimate form of authority in a country harms and disregards a community’s needs and human rights? Well, the popular understanding is that the powerful entity makes millions (sometimes billions), the authorities get their kickbacks and the community gets thwarted at every end. Yet, for the past 3 years, the Southern African Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power (DCP) has been actively challenging this perception.
Much of this has only been possible through continuous work of countless committed activists, the bulk of whom are rural women, facing the brunt of corporations and states. As the campaign’s title suggests, it is located in Southern Africa and consists of an alliance of communities, social and labour movements across Southern Africa struggling against the transnational corporations (TNCs) who violate their human, environmental and socio-economic rights.
A key dimension in light of many states’ failures has been the hosting of the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Transnational Corporations in Southern Africa (PPT). Influenced by the iconic Permanent People’s Tribunals of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The PPT on the role of TNCs started in Manzini, Eswatini with 11 cases that highlighted corporate abuse in different sectors as well as the adverse effects corporate impunity has had and continues to have on indigenous and local communities. Among these were the struggles against Maloma Collieries and Chancellor House, Mineral Commodities Ltd, and Glencore.
The first Southern African PPT offered an opportunity to highlight issues related to women and extractivism. Both of which have a great degree of significance in the region when one considers the colonial roots of contemporary neoliberalism and the disproportionate weight shouldered by women in modern economies. The failure of liberation movements to fight for an equitable transition to the post-colonial society has further exacerbated this pattern.
Instead, the ties of colonialism have been reproduced under a series of “Neo’s”, whether it be neoliberalism, neo-colonialism and/or neo-imperialism. The present conditions also bring a variety of contextual specificities that cannot be divorced from history but are not prisoners of it. Chief among these has been the increasing modernisation of forms of domination and exploitation. This has led to further monopolisation on a global scale, an important consideration when one notes that corporations are some of the largest economies in the world.
In addition, the cases presented at the PPT highlight that, under capitalism, Africa tends to be reduced to a “social-historical role of being a sphere of economic competition of old and new powers of economic globalisation“. The increased power of corporations and their globalisation, of course, has exacerbated the cycle of dependence on foreign capital, the export of raw materials and imports of manufactured goods from the former colonial metropolis and other economic powers.
This interconnected nature has been reflected perhaps in what one might call the Tribunal’s truly internationalist spirit. The cases are focused on localised struggles ranging from the iconic Amadiba Struggle in Xolobeni to the struggles of Chirodze in Tete, Mozambique. The distinguished set of Jurors at the 1st PPT ranged from Mireille Fanon-Mendes of France [chairperson]; Dr Donna Andrews of South Africa; Lucy Edwards-Jauch of Namibia; Thulani Maseko of Eswatini and Gianni Tognoni of Italy. The Corporations involved are slightly trickier to reduce to nationalities due to the various complex ownership processes involved, but they too reflect the truly global and highly entangled nature of this process. The list of nations involved seems like part of a list of G20 nations ranging from Brazil(such as Vale), Indian (Jindal), Russian (DTZ-OZGEO), China (AFECC) and South African (Chancellor House), Australian (MRC) and Swiss (Glencore) companies involved.
The complex international tangle has not only laid bare historical inadequacies of states in the region but also contemporary failures to boot. Each scenario, with relative degrees of variation, demonstrates the complete disregard states have held to their so-called role as custodians of “the land”. This role has produced a dynamic of the ruled and the rulers. Communities have often found themselves dispossessed of land under the guise of “Mining for Development”. South Africans will remember President Cyril Ramaphosa proclaiming mining to be a sunrise-industry. This rhetoric and logic has justified displacement and harm inflicted to all for “developmental” purposes. This, of course, has coincided with states’ failure to meet their minimum obligations on compensation, culture and the environment.
Even in cases where communities have somewhat been compensated, a series of issues have arisen. These have ranged from the inability to account for longstanding ties to the land, being unable to respect cultural heritage, ancestral burial sites and communal legacies.
These spiritual concerns have also coincided with material ones as well, the communities in which relocations are proposed often have little or no infrastructure. The promised housing never appears and transport (public or private) is non-existent. Not to mention that the distance from arable land for farming or from water sources has created great strain.
Each of these situations has not been accepted without challenge, while the states have capitulated or been bought off. Residents of the affected communities have not taken it lightly. Whether it be mining-affected people in Mpumalanga fighting against conglomerate Glencore, or rural activists risking assassination in Xolobeni or the women defending water, land, and life in the communities of Somkhele and Fuleni, Kwazulu Natal, or small-scale dairy farmers paid below a living wage by Parmalat in Zambia, communities have actively and without pause continued to defend their land, health, heritage and futures.
In the increasingly exploitative context in which we operate, the struggles of many of these communities will play a decisive role in our collective futures. The Amadiba’s victory on the Right To Say No is but one such example. The push for foreign investment happening across the region, coupled with the promulgation of the African Free Trade Agreement mean that we must be ever vigilant in the sight of TNC’s.
By Keamogetswe Seipato, Coordinator Southern African Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power.[Part 1 of a 3 part series on Struggles against corporate impunity in Southern Africa]