WSF (1998): “Bad boy’s club: The ‘Non-Aligned Movement’ and mass murder in the Third World”

WSF (1998): “Bad boy’s club: The ‘Non-Aligned Movement’ and mass murder in the Third World”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

The SABC adverts proclaimed it “the biggest peace movement in the world”. With police motorcycle sirens wailing, 467 brand new stretch limousines followed by secret service agents in 4x4s drove at breakneck speed through Durban towards luxury hotel suites. The cops had hustled the street kids off the pavements out of sight of the foreign TV cameras. Snipers adorned rooftops and recces prowled the sewers below. The bad boys of the Non-Aligned Movement were in town for their R75-million debating society party.

Peace movement! Ha! If you believe that, you need your head read.

NAM founder India and arch-rival Pakistan were there, having recently flexed their muscles in a display of idiotic, genocidal behaviour by conducting !@#$%^&*-for-tat atomic bomb tests that threatened to plunge Asia into nuclear war.

The United States- the only government insane enough to have actually committed atomic genocide – was there as an “observer” of 1998’s most dangerous neighbourhood argument.

So too were Ethiopia and Eritrea whose guns were only just cooling after having belted the hell out of each other’s civilian populations. And let’s not forget the “Democratic” Republic of Congo where dictator and tribalist Laurent Kabila was backstabbing his former allies.

Talk of “democracy” and human rights” was hot air for the media. Take Burma, where the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council crushes all minority ethnic groups and any attempt at democracy. South Africa has helped prop up this anti-worker reign of terror by selling the junta R1-million in arms between April 1994 and February 1998. Or Indonesia, where a brutal regime which climbed to power on the corpses of perhaps a million murdered leftists, still gluts itself at the public trough, jails trade unionists, and commits genocide in East Timor. Our bosses sold them R1,9-million in arms over the same period.

Or former NAM chair country Colombia, where the regime, with United States backing, wages a bitter murder

campaign against working and poor people under the guise of a fake “war on drugs”. South Africa sold them R184-million in arms.

What about Sudan, where a Muslim fundamentalist regime has outlawed any social group that is not a state organ? Well, we sold them R7,4-million in arms. And Algeria, where civil war between the terrorist junta and the terrorist opposition has seen entire villages wiped out and has cost well over 60,000 lives? R11-million in arms.

And this is not even to begin addressing the violent anti-worker neo-liberal “New World Order” which most of the NAM elite are welcoming with open arms: privatisation, casualisation, flexible labour, cuts in education and health spending.

So who heads up this nest of vipers? Well, South Africa of course, which has tried to use the buzz word of “African Renaissance” to cover the stench of its role as an exporter of death and oppression (identical to its role during apartheid, except that thanks to the end of the arms embargo, we are now able to sell killing equipment to more countries than ever before). President Nelson Mandela made it quite clear on his last visit to Asia – when oppressed people were desperately expecting him to take a hard line in defence of human rights – that South Africa will trade with anyone- even dictatorships.

The NAM summit saw South Africa trying to play a leading role in sub-Saharan Africa as a regional power-broker, a sort of overseer cracking the whip on countries seen as not toeing the neo-liberal line, a strategy which should endear it to the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Both the 1995 Rwandan genocide (which saw SA assault rifles used against civilians) and the 1998 SANDF-lead invasion of Lesotho show that working class and poor people in the region and elsewhere in the world face the very real threat of finding themselves staring down the barrel of a South African-made gun.

(*arms sale figures: Sunday Times, June 28, 1998)

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).