chapter  6
36 Pages

Resisting sustainable development: The politics of protest at the Summit

Saturday 31 August 2002 was hot, sunny and tense in Johannesburg, despite being winter. On this day, midway through the Summit, tens of thousands of protestors marched from Alexandra Township to the Sandton Convention Centre to bring their grievances to the attention of the international delegates. These confrontational and dissenting voices, and the divisions among them, served to disrupt and fracture the smooth Summit performance of exemplary government. Amid threats of police repression and allegations of state brutality, the theatre of the Summit was temporarily preoccupied with confrontation rather than consensus, and the expression of dissent disrupted the desired branding of a harmonious South African Rainbow Nation. This chapter addresses the political effects of the ‘mega-protests’ that accompanied the Summit ‘mega-event’, and by interpreting them as Foucauldian counter-conducts shows how they were inserted within formations of advanced liberal government. Many analyses of summits tend to either ignore, or conversely romanticize, the increasingly frequent, largescale and complex mega-protests which accompany them – and yet modern media technologies mean it is possible to follow the clashes between delegates, protestors and police at moments like the G20 Summit in London in March 2009, or the Copenhagen COP15 Summit in December 2009, more closely than ever before. This chapter seeks to understand the role of the Johannesburg 2002 protests within the context of broader forms of rule, and the changing nature of the South African state. The protests against ‘the W$$D’ showed how dominant forms of government are resisted, disrupted and paradoxically sometimes reinforced. They also revealed the tensions within sustainable development which the Summit discourses of consensus and partnership had tried to obscure.