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Sustainable adj
  1. capable of being sustained
  2. (of economic development or energy sources) capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing ecological damage: sustainable development

From: Collins Family English Dictionary, 1999

Johannesburg plays host to the World Summit on Sustainable Development from August 26 to September 4, 2002. The summit is the biggest in ten years, and will feature 106 world leaders and 60,000 delegates.

No event of this scale can escape criticism, though this one surely is very close to the line.


I live in England, so let's begin by considering the British posse.1

Tony Blair will attend for one day only, the main heads of government meeting on September 2nd. It doesn't appear as though Tony will spend the night in South Africa, but he will squeeze in a trip to a nearby impoverished area for a photo shoot with some authentic poor people:

He wants a photo opportunity at a genuine African development project, possibly tied in with access to clean water for the world's poor.
Water is one of five themes he has identified as central to the success of the summit, and a suitable case study out in the South African hinterland is being lined up for a visit.

The the 70-strong British delegation is headed by Environmental Secretary, Margaret Beckett. This is a small party, compared to Germany (300), Japan (200) and France (200). The original number was 100 and there is pressure to reduce the numbers further. Teflon™ Shoulders George Dubya Bush has managed to slip away from this one too, having missed Kyoto and the World Summit on Racism held in nearby Durban in 2001.


Forgetting about the other 60,035 attendees, let's stay focussed on the British politici. Tony, as we recall, does not need a place to stay because he's just popping in. The British delegation has nine rooms booked at the £250 a night Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, a short walk from the convention centre. Three of the main delegates, Margaret Beckett, International Develpment Secretary Clare Short and Environment Minsiter Michael Meacher, already have dibs. Should Tony Blair decide that Deputy Prime Minsiter John Prescott is needed, he'll also stay there. The other 66 Brits will have to fight for the rights to the remaining rooms, or make do with the £50 a night hotel nearer to central Johannesburg. They'll also have to fight over the four chairs the UK is allocated at the conference.2

Don't Shoot! I'm Saving the World!

The alarming thing about numbers is that those quoted are only the delegates. Everybody knows that Jo'burg is not the safest place in the world. Even Sandton, the most affluent suburb, has nary a mansion without a kick-ass alarm system and 8ft garden wall. Everybody drives with doors locked, anti-Hijacking system activated. Do I for one second buy that the Michelangelo guests will walk to the centre? No siree Bob! Well, I probably wouldn't either, and I'm South African.

Security is a big issue, though, whether you're a head of state or a delegate, South Africa is not exactly the safest place on earth and Johannesburg is quite possibly as bad as it gets. The government are savvy to the benefits of international events going off without a hitch, they have been since 1995's Rugby World Cup. Tourism is big buisiness, and the summit will get press coverage on all corners of the globe.3

Quite obviously, an event of this scale is a logistical nightmare. Couple in the fact that each head of state carrys around with him a mini army to keep him safe, and the numbers easily double. September 11, 2001 is touted as the reason for all the security, smart of the South African government to deflect the spotlight from their crime statistics. In order to limit numbers and take pressure off the already full hotels, the South African authorities are providing well-trained security peronnel. Where these well-trained personnel are coming from I will leave to your own conjecture.

Crime and terrorism are not the only things that the delegates will have to fear. The summit will be targetted by do-gooders the world over to try and get their message across. Some of the Sandton businesses are considering moving shop to Midrand during the delegation, in order to avoid the attention of demonstrators. Anyone with a remote interest in South African politics will not be surprised to hear that the PAC want to gatecrash the party.

The Landless People's Movement4 (LPM), however, has rejected the PAC's call to disrupt the summit. "We denounce it as pathetically opportunist for the PAC to make such remarks," the LPM said.
Last week PAC general secretary Thami ka Plaatjie urged the landless to disrupt the summit and claimed the party had been spearheading talks on plans for disruptions for months.

The Summit

The wording of the summit's final political declaration (mission statement?) is not yet agreed upon.

The Bali meeting failed to iron out the differences, mainly between the developed and the developing world, and much paperwork relating to the most important and controversial issues has still to be agreed.

Fortunately, somebody has their head on straight:

Kofi Annan, the secretary-general, has made it clear to UN agencies that they should take small, tight delegations.
We're taking the Earth Summit extremely seriously. If people have receptions they are being told not to get out the caviar. -- A senior at the UN official who was not named.

The Low-down

In 1992, delegates at the Rio Earth Summit agreed on Agenda 21, a global plan of action for sustainable development. Unfortunately Agenda 21 was only a strategy document. Ten years later, it is time to identify quantifiable targets for the policies of Agenda 21.

The Summit will tackle broad issues such as poverty, the environment and the interface between human society and the physical world. It will also address more specific issues, such as how to spread the benefits of globalisation, alleviate poverty, manage natural resources. Africa and Small Island Developing States will be specifically addressed.

See also: Sustainable Development

  1. Also handily thanks to the Torygraph publishing an article this morning, which one generous commuter left on his seat when he got off the train.
  2. It might be worthwhile pointing out, at this stage, that at the current Rand-Pound exchange rate, £50 = R750, which is what a domestic employee (maid) can aspire to earning in a month in some parts of the country.
  3. Sorry, couldn't resist =P
  4. Who?

  • The Daily Telegraph, Friday August 2, 2002
  • South Africa Times, July 31, 2002
  • http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/html/basic_info/basicinfo.html
  • http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/html/basic_info/faqs_agenda.html
  • http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?click_id=727&art_id=iol976607649677F653&set_id=1

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