White versus white
Well, in South Africa, not quite the same as in other countries. First, despite the disasters, it',s a case of 'no change'. Having fought and won its toughest election since 1948, the National Party still has a massive parliamentary caucus of 131 against 26 Progressive Federal Party (the nearest thing in South Africa to a liberal party) and eight New Republic Party (hard line rightist) seats.
Now, secure in its power but frightened by its loss of popular support, the Botha government's racial reforms are likely to remain just sops to world opinion. There will be no fundamental changes: blacks will not be given South African citizenship, territorial apartheid will not be dismantled, and no real rights will be offered to Asian or coloured citizens which would alter by one iota the entrenched privileges of white Afrikaanerdom.
Second, this election again showed that South Africa votes along tribal lines - white tribes of course. The rest are not allowed to cast votes. The two white tribes are recognised by their home language: English or Afrikaans. The former elects the more liberal non-National Party members. But the latter, for the first time since 1948, found themselves bitterly divided. Suspicious of Botha's reforms, they were faced with a difficult choice between the far right and the extreme right: to maintain intact the unity of Afrikaanerdom and vote for the National Party or openly to opt for the hardliners of the two Afrikaaner parties represented at the hustings.
The result of this fraternal strife within the Afrikaans-speaking 'volk' was the slashed majorities in safe National Party seats. And it is expected now that the Botha administration will not dare pursue policies of change, fearing lasting splits within Afrikaanerdom that would topple the ruling party and provide an opening for the liberals.
But splits have always existed. The myth of the monolithic rock of Afrikaaner nationalism is just that: a myth. Descendents of the early sixteenth century Dutch settlers mixed with Huguenot, German and - let's be frank - the blood of dark skinned people - are as divided as any other group. The Cape Afrikaaners by virtue of their deep-dug roots in the gracious wine valleys of the Cape, have long enjoyed more wealth, culture and comfort than their poorer, rougher brothers descended from the Trekboers of the last century. Though they sided with the Trekboers against the British in the Boer War and though Cape Afrikaaners have created hardy institutions to help the Poor Whites of the north-east, on the whole people of the Cape tend to look down on the Ferreira and the van der Merwer families of the Trekboers.
South Africa's north-south line is also the divide between the verlighte - enlightened - politics of the Cape Nationalist and the verkrampt - conservative - stance of the industrialists, factory workers and farmers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The boom of the past two decades has done much to blur the edges of this class division. But the election showed that differences still exist and have openly reared their heads.
The herbicides 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T together make the notorious 'agent orange' used in the Vietnam war to defoliate the jungle. Its use was soon followed by a steep rise in birth defects and miscarriages in Vietnamese hospitals. In Hue District, the rates of still births rose to 50 per cent after agent orange had been used. And of the Australian soldiers who served in Vietnam and who have since become parents - one in four has fathered a deformed child.
The two chemicals, banned in many countries, can be just as dangerous when used separately as agricultural weedkillers. 'Pray before you spray' warns a leaflet produced by the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in the UK. In it they demand that 2, 4, 5-T be outlawed and last month they accused the government's Pesticide Advisory Committee of negligence for allowing the continued use of this chemical, known for its links with cancer and neurological birth defects.
Workers exposed to 2, 4, 5-T and dioxin in the Dow Chemicals and Monsanto plants in the US have been found to be 40 times as likely to develop a rare soft-tissue cancer. And Australian research has revealed that the proportion of babies born with nervous system abnormalities in New South Wales corresponds closely to the amount of 2, 4, 5-T sprayed on crops nine months earlier.
Evidence of this kind has prompted the US Environmental Protection Agency to declare that 'it is impossible to ascertain a safe level of human exposure' to the chemicals. But with 30,000 tons of 2, 4, 5-T sold in Britain last year, praying is not likely to prove sufficient protection for agricultural workers.
The British Trades Union Congress has urged members from all sectors to boycott imports of the herbicide. This campaign echoes a parallel campaign on the other side of the world. According to the Consumers Association of Penang, 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T are still being widely promoted in Malaysia. The Association reports that 'practically every estate and smallholding is sprayed at least once a year with 2, 4-D, whilst 2, 4, 5-T is widely used on rubber estates both to kill old trees and as part of a latex stimulant mixture'.
Despite its tendency to leave stillbirths, miscarriages and deformities in its wake, 2, 4-D remains the most widely used generally registered pesticide in the world. Now the Consumers Association of Penang want both chemicals removed from Malaysia's shelves, a ban on all imports, an educational campaign to warn estate workers and farmers and more research into biological control as an alternative to chemical herbicides.
Sabres rattling in Asia
And if Pakistan's President Zia-ul-Haq wants to play the Lone Ranger along the Pakistan - Afghanistan border, it seems he can rely on plenty of military hardware from the US: two and a half billion dollars' worth of sophisticated weaponry over the next five years, according to Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Minister. The only snag is that US Congress currently bans the sale of arms to Pakistan because the country has a nuclear enrichment programme but has not yet signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Nevertheless the US Secretary of State proposed to overlook this little anomaly because of 'the strategic threat to Pakistan posed by the Soviet Union'.
Not surprisingly, India's leaders have objected vigorously to the US arms sales, warning that weapons intended to defend Pakistan could also be turned against India. 'The cold war has come to our doorstep,' announced Mrs. Gandhi to Parliament. 'Now Pakistan's defence seems to be becoming part of a larger strategy stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to say nothing of the Indian Ocean in between.'
Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Minister, Agha Shahi, replied coolly that 'these statements have created an atmosphere of artificial crisis in bilateral relations' between India and Pakistan. And he pointed out that Pakistan had not objected to India's massive arms purchases from the USSR - to the tune of UKP10 billion over the past three years.
Tilted heavily in India's favour, the balance of power in the subcontinent is unlikely to be affected by the US arms deal with Pakistan. India's army - the fourth largest in the world - is nearly three times as big as Pakistan's. And well over half of India's forces, supported by deep penetration strike aircraft, are deployed along the western frontier - with sights trained on Pakistan.
Having exploded a 'nuclear device' in 1974, India also has a head start in developing a nuclear capability - though the Indian government denies that it is producing nuclear weapons. President Zia also denies the rumours that Pakistan is developing a nuclear armory. But Senator Alan Cranston, after visiting the country early this year, predicted that Pakistan would explode a nuclear device before the end of 1982 and could have a nuclear arsenal within five years.
Now Mrs. Gandhi has warned that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Pakistan would have 'grave and irreversible consequences' for the Indian subcontinent and that India would respond 'in an appropriate manner' in such an eventuality. Meanwhile the pressure on Mrs. Gandhi's government to develop its own nuclear arsenal is mounting steadily despite the Reagan administration's refusal to supply enriched uranium to the nuclear plant in Tarapore. Writing recently in the Times of India the Director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses commented that 'If Pakistan were to go nuclear and India does not, it will confirm in the US mind the image they held in the late fifties and sixties' that India is a country to be abandoned in favour of nations who show greater willingness to help themselves. 'The time to act is not after Pakistan conducts the test. That would give Pakistan an undue advantage. The time to get ready for the appropriate response is now.'
Stop the stopcock
This may be fine for the West's inconvenient 'traveller's tummy', but can have drastic consequences when used to treat diarrhoea in the Third World's children. According to the World Health Organisation, diarrhoea is the commonest cause of death in children under three. These fatal diarrhoeas are usually caused by poor diet and recurrent infection. The children die from dehydration - loss of fluid from the body tissues. The only way to prevent death from dehydration is by rehydration - either orally with small frequent feeds of a weak sugar and salt solution or with an intravenous drip in a clinic or hospital. And the best prevention for serious recurrent diarrhoeal infection is a healthy diet. Lomotil neither prevents nor cures - it just stops the symptoms.
• One of the consequences of 'stopping the stuff coming out' is that the fluid loss is hidden. Fluid from the tissues accumulates in the child's intestines, but the gut is too inflamed to reabsorb it. The diarrhoea stops but the potentially fatal process of dehydration continues.
• Lomotil's constipating effect also prevents the body ridding itself of the infection that caused the symptoms in the first place. So the child remains infectious to other children for longer.
• If this were not enough, evidence is also accumulating about the dangers of Lomotil overdose. The dose that stops the diarrhoea is only slightly lower than the dose that poisons or kills. And children vary widely in the amount of the drug they can tolerate before it poisons them. According to the British Medical Journal children under the age of five 'may develop pronounced symptoms after taking only one to five tablets'. Yet, despite this danger, Searle's recommended doses for children vary around the world. In the US, packets warn against giving Lomotil to children under two; in the UK it is advised for one year olds. But in Thailand, the Philippines and Hong Kong it is offered for infants only three months old: this in spite of the fact that children in the developing world tend to be smaller and thinner than those of the same age in the West, that there are fewer trained medical staff to supervise doses and watch for side-effects and that in many developing countries the drug is freely available over the counter - to those that can afford it.
• And that is the final bitter pill. The smallest pack of Lomotil costs the equivalent of a whole days pay in the Third World and about 25 times as much as kaolin mixture, which is equally effective in stopping diarrhoea.
From hand to mouth?
Advertising posters of the big relief organisations invariably carry the portraits of skinny infants clutching a tin cup of milk or gruel. But, if Bangladesh is anything to go by, it is debatable whether the food aid actually reaches those empty bellies. Despite the 4.5 million metric tons of grain and cooking oil received from the US since independence from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh still seems no closer to being able to feed itself. In fact, that massive amount of imported food may be one of the main causes of stagnating production. According to Wall Street Journal reporter Barry Newman, grain imports have tripled since the 1960's, while malnutrition has increased from 45 to 60 per cent of the population: the average Bangladeshi plate holds even less than it did 20 years ago.
Needless to say it is the middle class in cities and rich landowners in the countryside who have prospered. Most food destined for the 90 per cent of Bangladeshis who live in rural areas is instead sold in local markets by the government which then uses the money as it chooses. Ration cards meant to enable the holder to purchase foreign grain at subsidised prices are dealt out as political rewards. So those with power and clout - civil servants, police, the military and employees in big factories- end up with the lion's share. One World Bank study discovered that a rural resident gets an average 14 kilos of food aid grain a year while his city cousin grabs more than ten times that amount.
Because most spare cash is siphoned off by government-run ration shops, incentive for local food production is badly undercut. Why grow more food if there is no-one to buy it? But by now food aid has become so much a part of the political landscape that any efforts to dismantle the system would run into stiff opposition. 'To be very frank,' Food Minister Abdul Momen confided to reporter Newman, 'political aspects must be taken into consideration. If the price is suddenly increased or subsidised foods are withdrawn, this may lead to discontent.'
President Ziaur Rahman has ambitiously pledged food self-sufficiency by 1985. He hopes to increase grain production from the present 13.1 million tons to 20 million tons, with a guaranteed production of 18 million even in bad weather years. Most observers wish him well. But his chances of success are virtually nil unless he grasps the nettle of land reform. Otherwise large farmers would turn their attention to feeding the city and those with neither money nor land would be no better off.
Over half of the people in Bangladesh are landless. Another 25 per cent are tenants farming small plots in return for half the harvest. But the 15 per cent which controls over two thirds of the land carries considerable weight in the ruling party and the opposition. And they are rather prickly about moves to erode their holdings. 'They talk of removing property markers. I will kill you if you move my property markers one inch' warned one Dacca resident whose family owns 50 acres in his ancestral village.
And it appears that the President is unwilling to step into this political quagmire: 'We are working towards land reform,' he says, 'but it must be done quietly. It's not something you can beat a drum about.'
Showing their metal
In recent weeks the giant oil corporations, known collectively as the 'Seven Sisters', have been falling over each other to spend money on metals, minerals and mining.
Flush with profits from oil and gas price increases and faced with declining petroleum reserves, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, Mobil, British Petroleum, Texaco, Chevron and Gulf are diversifying into coal, zinc, copper, uranium and other essential minerals. In just one week last month, the fattest of the multinational Sisters are reported to have gone on a shopping spree to the tune of eight billion dollars.
The world's need for new energy sources and its dependence on key metals, along with the similarities in geological, extracting, processing, transport and marketing resources required by the mining and oil industries make 'minerals' an obvious signpost for the multinationals to follow. Growing by as much as two to three billion tons a year, coal is widely expected to be the boom commodity in the next two decades. Each of the Seven Sisters already has a major stake in the coal industry: Gulf Oil has bought the Kemmerer Coal Company, one of the biggest in the US, and Standard Oil has paid a princely $4.3 billion for the Amex Metal Company. Kennecott, America's largest copper producer, is also facing a takeover bid. In the US alone, 35 per cent of the copper and 25 per cent of uranium ore is now mined by corporations owned by the oil giants. And thinking along the same lines, even the Canadian drinks company, Seagrams, has paid two billion dollars for St. Joe Minerals, America's largest producer of zinc.
Fuelling this rapid expansion is the rise of the oil giants' profits to $23 billion last year. But, as more and more of the world's vital minerals fall under the control of the Seven Sisters - not to mention their extensive interests in the raw materials base of many Third World countries - it is not their accounts, but their accountability, that is increasingly coming under scrutiny.
Meanwhile the proposed 'Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations' is making painful progress towards the United Nations General Assembly in mid-September when it is due to be finally ratified. The United Nations working group trying to draft the Code was thrown up by the wave of revulsion that followed disclosures about the role played by transnational corporations in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973.
About one-third of the provisions in the Code have now been agreed - but these cover mainly technical issues. The battle over political and economic stipulations is yet to come. And though developing countries are demanding that the Code be legally binding, countries want it diluted to a mere 'Guideline'.
Help us keep this site free for all
New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.