Maverick Citizen

DEBT CANCELLATION OP-ED

Cancel odious Global South debt to accelerate climate justice

Cancel odious Global South debt to accelerate climate justice
Protesters from several organisations during the Debt For Climate Protest in Johannesburg on 14 October 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

On Monday, 27 February Debt for Climate activists across the world and in South Africa will picket German embassies calling for the cancellation of odious debt. They say: ‘If debt cancellation was good enough for Germany in 1953, it is good enough for South Africa and the Global South in 2023’.

Let’s go on a journey, beginning in Germany on 27 February 1953, and ending in South Africa in the not-so-distant future.

This South Africa has justly transitioned to clean renewable energy and is a positive force for its people and the planet. It’s a Mzansi where green infrastructure has allowed us to capture our god-given energy sources like the sun, wind and water, and rolling blackouts are a thing of the past. 

In this future possibility, our labourers move in electric-powered taxis not to the choking mines, but to sunny solar farms. Their children in Emalahleni, Sebokeng and Middelburg drink clean water and breathe clean air.

A new generation ushers in a sustainable technological revolution, expanding the middle class, 20 million jobs are created, the crime rate plummets, and #eskom is no longer trending on Twitter — what a beautiful destination indeed.

How do we get there from 1953?

By travelling back in time. June 2023, after climate-denier David Malpass steps down as chair of the World Bank due to public pressure, a leader from the Global South is elected through a democratic process. Germany, spurred by the protest actions on 27 February 2023 at its embassies in Pretoria and around the world, puts its considerable influence behind the call to cancel South Africa’s odious World Bank and IMF debt.

The debt is cancelled and the West takes the boot of imperialism off South Africa’s neck long enough for us to realise our dreams. Mine workers, trade unionists, truckers and taxi drivers, nurses, teachers, immigrants and South Africans of all colours and creeds join together to say, “Enough! We demand clean, affordable, sustainable energy!”

For now, South Africa is the most mineral-rich country (barring oil) in the world. We export between 50-85 million tonnes of coal for profit and that money — besides making some men unfathomably rich — barely scratches the surface of our crushing debt. Without the debt, we could keep that coal in the ground and use only what’s necessary while we transition to clean renewables. 

Let’s continue on our journey.

In 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine triggered mass disinvestment from Russian oil. Germany, heavily dependent on Russian oil, missed the opportunity to pivot to renewables, and sought new oil around the world, cementing its status as the sixth-biggest global polluter (after China, the US, India, Russia and Japan). 

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Germany has a Social Democrat chancellor, whose government was formed in coalition with the strongest Green Party in the world and is the fourth-largest economy on the planet. It is primed to be a leader in averting climate catastrophe but is choosing the status quo instead. But before this disappointing missed opportunity, Germany had a direct hand in digging South Africa’s debt mine.

Most recently, KfW, the German Development Bank loaned €300-million to a bankrupt, leaderless, Eskom to hook green power stations into the National Energy Grid. This investment has well-meaning supporters, but the problem is that we — and KfW — know that the money will be misused.

In 2010, Germany supported a World Bank loan of $3.75-billion for the construction of the Medupi power station. This project was rife with corruption, most notably, the “improper payments” made to the ANC by industrial manufacturer Hitachi to guarantee its contract to

build this planet destroyer. Hitachi’s European headquarters are in Germany and were at the time chaired by “soft-spoken German” Klaus-Dieter Rennert.

If loans are contracted by a government against the interests of its people and the creditors cannot prove they were unaware of how the borrowed money would be used, then the debt is odious. Any debt incurred after the 2015 US Securities and Exchange Commission findings of corruption with Medupi easily meets that criterion.

The criterion is also met in the $94-million in World Bank and smaller credit loans (some German) granted to Eskom since 1951. Half of the apartheid-era loans were made after the world witnessed the Sharpeville massacre, meaning the banks knew exactly who they were lending to and lent anyway. 

We’ve arrived at 27 February 1953. 

Nine years after the Nazi government perpetuated one of the largest genocides in human history, West Germany’s debt was cancelled with the signing of the London Agreement. Germany went on to grow its economy to join the global “development” banking powerhouses that keep South Africa beholden to fossil fuel extraction. Certainly, if debt cancellation was good enough for Germany in 1953, it is good enough for South Africa and the Global South in 2023.

Inspired? We invite you to join the Debt4Climate movement in the call for debt cancellation for the Global South in the name of climate justice. Call on our government to leave fossil fuels in the ground. DM/MC/OBP

Madison Bannon is an activist, writer and educator. She is the head producer of The Delve podcast, a US-based political news show, and a justice-focused communications specialist for NGOs. Sunny Morgan is a climate justice activist and co-founder of the Debt for Climate movement.

Support the global movement by visiting debtforclimate.org and following @debtforclimate on Twitter.

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