Jubilee 2000 campaign intensifies

As the “100 days to the millennium” approaches, the anti-debt campaign, Jubilee 2000, has entered a period of intense activity.

A campaign to collect 100 000 signatures by the end of the year for its petition calling for the cancellation of apartheid debt has been launched.

The Jubilee 2000 movement has become a source of irritation to G7 leaders and officials of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The campaign to cancel Third World debt has received major attention, especially because of its ability to greet these leaders with mass demonstrations.

In South Africa, Jubilee 2000’s slogan – “Won’t pay for apartheid twice! Cancel the apartheid debt” – sums up the basis of the campaign.

Holocaust victims and people used as slave labour by major German companies have had to wait more than 60 years for reparations and justice. The victims of apartheid should not have to wait so long, says Jubilee 2000.

It is also campaigning for the cancellation of apartheid-caused debt in Southern Africa, and the debt burden of all Third World countries.

The movement acknowledges that the South African government is in a difficult position regarding the call to cancel the apartheid debt. As the Jubilee 2000 publication Apartheid Debt: Questions and Answers, released on September 10 1999, points out, the mere perception of such support can be expected to have a negative effect on financial markets initially. However, the publication concludes “if our government’s fears are well-founded, if it is the faceless financial markets, the selfish profit- seekers from abroad who ultimately tell our government what to do, then the struggle for national liberation has still to be won”.

Jubilee 2000 media officer George Dor stresses the importance of the booklet. “The booklet takes on the public debate and, in particular, many of the statements by the Department of Finance; and articulates our argument that debt cancellation will release significant resources for development.”

International banks financially rescued the apartheid regime during its debt moratorium crisis in the 1980s. At the time, states Jubilee 2000, the African National Congress publicly condemned the banks’ role in rescheduling the debt as an act of inhumanity and said that “when the time comes, the South African people will not be unmindful of the role of banks in making profit out of the misery of our people”.

Recent research from Switzerland and Germany puts the total apartheid foreign debt at about $26-billion. The campaign argues that this is an odious debt and therefore repayment is not the responsibility of the new democratic government. It is a call that has been taken up by campaign groups in Europe and the United States who are targeting apartheid’s creditors. The campaigns call not only for the cancellation of the debt, but also for reparations from those who supported the machinery of apartheid.

Jubilee 2000 estimates apartheid-caused destruction and destabilisation (not taking account of human death and suffering) to have cost $115-billion in Southern Africa, excluding South Africa.

At the its national committee meeting in Johannesburg on September 10, campaigners launched the scrapping petition.

“Collecting signatures will go hand in hand with educating people across the country on the debt issue and mobilising people to engage in activities demanding debt cancellation,” said Dor. The petition is directed at the South African government, G7 leaders, the World Bank, the IMF and the creditors of apartheid.

The campaign is targeting 100 000 signatures in the 100 days from September 23 to the end of the millennium. Jubilee 2000 has established organisational structures in eight provinces, and will launch its Northern Province campaign on September 22.

Key activities and dates to intensify the campaign towards the end of the millennium were identified at the meeting.

Jubilee 2000 announced plans to host a Jubilee south-south summit in Johannesburg from November 18 to 21, involving activists from Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The summit will be held primarily to discuss conditions in countries in the southern hemisphere and strategise the shift of the campaign from lobbying the G7 leaders towards pressuring governments in the south not to pay debts. It will also consider how the campaign will continue beyond 2000. The summit will be strengthened by the participation of powerful social movements in the south such as the Zapitistas from Mexico.

It will be preceded by a meeting of civil society representatives from across Africa. Part of this Jubilee 2000- inspired movement is to build an “Africa Consensus” on development for the continent. This contrasts with the widely discredited Washington Consensus-type model of development imposed on Africa by the IMF and the World Bank.

Brian Ashley, Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), September 17, 1999

Categories: Africa, Odious Debts, South Africa

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