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Put people first, urges Brics-from-Below

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NGOs concluded their Brics-from-Below civil society summit on Wednesday with a march to Durban’s International Convention Centre, where the fifth Brics Summit is being held.

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BRICS march Picture; DOCTOR NGCOBO

There they hand over a memorandum which was accepted by a UN Ambassador on behalf of the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

It demanded that Africa not be carved up and that south Durban should not be moved to make way for a dig-out port.

“We recognise how much is at stake. We are very worried about the potential for Brics heads of state and 15 allies among African elites to continue the processes of neocolonial extraction and destruction. The best example of this, close to home, is the south Durban port expansion and petro-chemical investment,” the memorandum read.

The NGOs, including the South Durban Environmental Alliance and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Civil Society, met south Durban residents at Settlers Primary School, where pupils’ health has been affected by pollution from industries in the area.

“The investments being planned by Brics elites, and in particular the South African government, do not do much to improve people’s lives. The solution to Brics is to be found below, across Africa,” the memorandum read.

The only NGO allowed to attend the main summit was Oxfam Great Britain, which works to overcome poverty and suffering.

Questions

Commenting on the summit and in particular on the planned Brics Development Bank, Oxfam’s Steve Price-Thomas said there were still many unanswered questions on this issue.

“What are they going to focus on? It’s essential to put poverty reduction at the centre of its mission. I know the bank will focus on infrastructure, but they need to make sure the needs of the poor are met,” he said. Almost half of the world’s poor people, said Price-Thomas, live in the Brics countries, and all the Brics apart from Brazil have increasing rates of inequality.

He added that there needed to be a better water supply in rural areas, as well as free access to education and health care.

“Brics leaders are blazing a trail in reforming the global financial architecture, but the devil is in the detail. If the Brics Bank fights poverty and inequality it could be a big success. But if it focuses only on big-ticket schemes that fail to directly benefit poor people, it could do more harm than good,” he said.

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