BRICS Lessons From Mozambique

Bobby Peek is director of the NGO groundWork.

Just across the border in Mozambique there is neo-colonial exploitation underway. It is not Europe or the United States that are dominating, but rather countries which are often looked up to as challengers, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This is a dangerous statement to make but let us consider the facts.

South Africa is extracting 415 megawatts of electricity from Mozambique through the Portuguese developed Cahora Bassa Dam, which has altered permanently the flow of the Zambezi River, resulting in severe flooding on a more frequent basis over the last years. In the recent floods earlier this year it is reported that a women gave birth on a rooftop of a clinic, this follows a similar incident in 2000, when Rosita Pedro was born on a tree after severe flooding that year.

South Africa’s failing energy utility Eskom is implicated in the further damming of the Zambezi, for it is likely to make a commitment to buy power from the proposed Mpanda Nkua Dam just downstream of Cahora Bassa. Most of the cheap energy generated by that dam is fed into a former South African firm, BHP Billiton, at the world’s lowest price – but jobs are few and profits are repatriated to the new corporate headquarters in Melbourne, Australia.

After years of extracting onshore gas from near Vilanculos, the South African apartheid-created oil company Sasol is planning to exploit what are some of Africa’s largest offshore gas fields, situated off Mozambique, in order to serve South Africa’s own export led growth strategy.

Brazil is also in Mozambique. Sharing a common language as a result of colonial subjugation by the Portuguese, business in Mozambique is easier. The result is that the Brazilian company Vale, which is the world’s second largest metals and mining company and one of the largest producers of raw materials globally, has a foothold in the Tete Province of Mozambique between Zimbabwe and Malawi. They are so sensitive about their operations there that an activist challenging Vale from Mozambique was denied entrance to Brazil last year to participate in the Rio +20 gathering. He was flown back to Mozambique, and only after a global outcry was made led by Friends of the Earth International, was he allowed to return for the gathering.

BRICS-countriesFurther to this, India also has an interest in Mozambique. The Indian based Jindal group which comprises both mining and smelting set their eyes on Mozambican coal in Moatize, as well as having advanced plans for a coal-fired power station in Mozambique, again to create supply for the demanding elite driven economy of South Africa.

Russia also plays an interesting role in Mozambique. While not much is known about the Russian state and corporate involvement, following the break when the Soviet Union collapsed, there is a link with Russia’s Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation which has non-ferrous metal operations in Mozambique. Interestingly the Russian government has just invested R1.3 billion in Mozambique to facilitate skills development to actively exploit hydrocarbons and other natural resources, according to Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

So this tells a tale of one country, in which tens of billions of rands of investment by BRICS countries and companies in extracting minerals results in the extraction of wealth. Mozambique will join the Resourced Cursed societies of our region, with polluted local environments, and a changed structure of peoples’ lives, making them dependent on foreign decisions rather than their own local and national political power. This is not a random set of exploitations, but rather a well-orchestrated strategy to shift the elite development agenda away from Europe, the US and Japan, to what we now term the BRICS.

This positioning means that the BRICS drive for economic superiority is pursued in the name of poverty alleviation. No matter how one terms the process – imperialist, sub-imperialist, post-colonial, or whatever – the reality is that these countries are challenging the power relations in the world, but sadly the model chosen to challenge this power is nothing different from the model that has resulted in mass poverty and elite wealth globally.

This is the model of extraction and intensely capital-intensive development based upon burning and exploiting carbon, and of elite accumulation through structural adjustment also termed the Washington Consensus. The agenda of setting up the Brics Bank is a case in point: it is opaque and not open to public scrutiny. Except for the reality as presented above, these countries are coming together with their corporate powers to decide who gets what were in the hinterland of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Caucuses.

It is projected that by 2050, Brics countries will be in the top ten economies of the world, aside for South Africa. So the question has to be asked why is South Africa in the Brics? Simply put, the reality is that South Africa is seen as a gateway for corporations into Africa, be they energy or financial corporations. This is because of South Africa’s vast footprint on the continent.

Remember Thabo Mbeki’s peace missions? Well they were not all about peace; they were about getting South African companies established in areas of unrest so that when peace happens they are there first to exploit the resources in these countries. This could potentially be a negative role, if South Africa is only used as a gateway to facilitate resources extraction and exploitation of Africa by BRIC countries, as it is now by the West. The question has to be asked by South Africans why do we allow this? I do not have the answer.

Returning to poverty alleviation, the reality is that in the BRICS countries we have the highest gap between those that earn the most and the poor, and this gap is growing. Calling the bluff of poverty alleviation is critical. How to unpack this opaque agenda of the Brics governments is a challenge. For while their talk is about poverty alleviation the reality is something else.

We recognise that what the BRICS is doing is nothing more than what the North has been doing to the South, but as we resist these practices from the North, we must be bold enough to resist these practices from our fellow countries in the South.

Thus critically, the challenge going forward for society is to understand the BRICS and given how much is at stake, critical civil society must scrutinise the claims, the processes and the outcomes of the BRICS summit and its aftermath, and build a strong criticism of the Brics that demands equality and not new forms of exploitation.


2 replies to “BRICS Lessons From Mozambique

  1. An old Afrikaner prophet (who is being interpreted wrongly by a few radical Afrikaners) correctly predicted that the Chinese will take over Africa without firing a shot. So they did as African leaders, as they did over the past 500 years or more, still sell out to slave masters.

    Few people know that apartheid was not a fight against the black man but against atheist communism. BRICS is a formal contract that enslaves Africans and that reserves Africa;s resources for (unfair) exploitation by especially China.

    Chinese traders in my city frequently call black Africans “stupid kaffers” and I hate their racist conduct with a passion. It is my people that they are insulting on OUR turf!

  2. We South Africans consume too much. We follow a Western culture or strive to be doing so. The endless search for new energy resources should make way for a culture of using less by living more simply. Even Land Rover’s Defender now has electric windows, we see on SABC3’s Top Billing luxurious homes, floodlit at that. Opulent, grandiose even. China’s population is following suit. We all strangle earth in our efforts to extract to over indulge.

    Perhaps living more simply should become the new fashion. I have always thought that our farming methods should become more aligned with Africa, in that we should be farming with indigenous crops and stock, not maize and cattle requiring much water. Maize is a pest that came from Mexico and the many heads of exotic cattle requiring 200 litres of water each per day, presents an insane way of producing food.

    Indigenous stock such as Sanguni/Nguni cattle, game such as kudu or eland, springbok maybe, should become the alternative. These are drought- and disease resistant and Nguni’s still produce the most kg/hectare.

    Lifestyles should change. I have never owned a car since 2001 and hardly ever needed one, as public transportation is adequate. So many people afford themselves the luxury of a 4×4 toy, used for indulging themselves in showing how tough they are. This is while others have no transportation to get to work or school. There is this huge imbalance.

    When we had severe drought in 2004/5, our family of 4 did not even need to cut down as our household consumption already was only 4 kilolitres per month! This was less than half the allowance under the restrictions. We lived well and showered at least once a day, but we did not fill baths to the rim, etc.

    Growing one’s own food also saves a lot. We really need to be educated on how our lifestyles affect others and that we sometimes do not realize the price paid for our comforts.

    Floods: SA’s Air Force now is dysfunctional and pilots cannot even fly. If we have another flood at Laingsburg or Mozambique, or another Oceanos sinking or another Merriespruit disaster, our defense systems will not be able to intervene.

    It is time to return to sanity as South Africa is getting pulled out of shape. In Cape Town, we have the cripple living on the streets, without institutional homes, right next to a US$500m soccer stadium, to which even more development capital has been channeled so that people can have the enjoyment of leisure activities. We spend R56m annually on its upkeep, while we cannot house invalids, who get discarded like waste.

    We are so arrogant and then blame government, but are we prepared to change?

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