Positive Environment News

INTERVIEW - South African NGO boss urges real action at world summit

Date: 16-May-02
Author: Manoah Esipisu

Zakes Hlatswayo, president of Sangoco, the South African coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), called on the West to avoid adding to a history of major summits whose resolutions were seldom implemented.

NGOs, including environmentalists, labour, youth and women's groups, will be represented by a 40,000-strong delegation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg from August 26 to September 4.

A follow-up to the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, it aims to map out a concrete set of action plans to reduce global poverty and the North/South income gap in a sustainable way without inflicting irreparable damage to the environment.

Hlatswayo told Reuters there had been past commitments by governments to fight poverty and improve the lives of Africans, but no tangible action followed the lofty promises.

The South African government expects 65,000 delegates for the summit, including at least 100 heads of state.

"We need the summit to go beyond rhetoric. Churning out another list of development needs will not be good enough, it would be a failure," Hlatswayo said.

"To be successful, we would expect institutions to be put in place to implement agreements," he said.


Hlatswayo said South African NGOs and their peers from around the globe would voice their opinions through, forums, pickets and demonstrations, because "one cannot criminalise the expression of ideas, it is a democratic right."

"We would like to see a focus on the issues of AIDS and other diseases, on poverty, on easier access to productive resources within southern Africa," he said.

Malaria is Africa's number one killer while AIDS is decimating the cream of African professionals and is considered the continent's biggest development challenge.

Africans want greater pressure on Western pharmaceutical companies to provide access to cheaper drugs, especially for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Hlatswayo said NGOs planning to attend the summit were hampered by a lack of cash as governments had not backed their commitment to ensure civil society participation with money.

Only 15 percent of his group's 100-120 million rand (about $10-12 million) budget has been delivered by foreign donors.

"My greatest fear, and the fear grows real every day, is that we are not seeing a flow of resources as well as we thought we would have," he said. "The international commitment to NGOs remains purely rhetoric, it is not backed by action."

"When you look at Africa as a continent, one cannot avoid seeing the impact of colonisation and deprivation. It is inevitable that we reflect on how this impacts on Africa and (must) provide funding to help reverse things," he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2002 All rights reserved

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