26 April 2002

South Africa: Government Woos Labour Over Nepad

The ANC is keen to prevent possible protests at Johannesburg's World Summit. Senior government leaders briefed the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) this week, in what is seen as a move to head off possible protests at the World Summit on Sustainable Development later this year.

The briefing by Minister of Trade and Industry Alec Erwin, government communications boss Joel Netshitenzhe and the president's economic adviser, Wiseman Nkuhlu, at a Cosatu executive committee meeting reflected government worries about a civil society-led backlash against Nepad at the summit, to be held between August 26 and September 4 in Johannesburg, sources said.

They said government was keen to prevent the often violent protests led by labour and civil society which have become a feature of world meetings.

The briefing, the first given to Cosatu by the African National Congress-led government, follows the split between civil society and participating governments at the third preparatory meeting of the summit which ended in New York earlier this month.

Senior party sources also cited as a reason for government's courtship of the unions the upcoming G8 encounter in Kananaskis, Canada, on June 26 and 27, where Nepad is to be discussed.

"President Thabo Mbeki had already reversed his position on HIV/Aids, which is also on the G8's agenda. They don't want any problems with Nepad."

The government has indicated that the continent intends to showcase Nepad at the world summit in an attempt to lobby international support. Disgruntled elements of civil society, who were not consulted on the formulation of Nepad, have already indicated that they intend to air their views on it at the August gathering.

Some, grouping themselves as the South African Social Forum, have said: "The document [Nepad] has been inspired by Thabo Mbeki, developed without consulting the people of the continent and its content is neo-liberal in character.

"So it is not surprising that it has been coined Gear for Africa. Our voice on Nepad also needs to be heard."

A similar view has also been aired in Cosatu circles, where Nepad has been described as a "sophisticated begging bowl".

Sources said the ANC tried to lobby Cosatu to back Nepad at the recent alliance summit. The issue has also been raised in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

Sources said Cosatu considered rejecting the plan simply because it had not been consulted or allowed to make an input.

However, as it supported initiatives aimed at developing Africa, it had decided to engage the government on Nepad.

The issue will be aired with Cosatu's members and a decision taken at Cosatu's central executive meeting later this year.

Some labour sources feel Nepad's good governance prescriptions are vague, while others at Cosatu's central executive felt that it pandered to the Washington Consensus. It was felt that the plan did not get to grips with the economic plight of ordinary Africans.

"It says nothing about human resource development and education," said a source.

Also problematic for labour is the emphasis in the Nepad document on privatisation and deregulation, the dropping of tariff barriers and public-private partnerships, as instruments in promoting good economic governance.

Some in labour also feel that the plan appears confused about the kind of approach to development -state-led or private sector-led - that it is endorsing./

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