Durban civil society groups call for WEF Africa delegates to leave the city - saying they were not welcome. Picture: Arthi Gopi

The World Economic Forum caters to the interests of the ruling elite and key decision-makers while leaving communities out in the cold.

This was the reason, said activists, they had held their own alternative to the international conference - the People’s Economic Forum, which ended on Wednesday.

Desmond D’Sa of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance told The Star on Thursday that the conference excluded people on the ground, which forced them to hold their own independent workshops.

“This trend of talking about people’s interests behind closed doors doesn’t work. Development and societies should be able to coexist, not to work on one at the expense of the other.”

He maintained that it was a “big boy mentality” that led to the marginalisation of communities.

“We keep hearing about radical economic transformation, but what really needs to change is the system.”

Patrick Bond, a professor of political economy at Wits University and honorary professor of development studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the Swiss-based WEF met not only in Davos each January but also gathered a few thousand elites in each of the main regions annually.

“At the WEF-Davos in 1992, Nelson Mandela was persuaded by both east Asian and Western leaders to drop the Freedom Charter and impose pro-corporate policies (and) since WEF-friendly policies were adopted here in the mid-1990s, official unemployment soared from 16% to 27% and poverty rose from 45% to 63%.”

Bond added: “As for Durban’s reliance on the port for trade, container traffic shrank from 81.2 million tons in 2014 to 76.8 million last year.”

He said the most dangerous of the world elites might well be Rex Tillerson, a frequent WEF-Davos attendee who ran ExxonMobil before Donald Trump made him the US secretary of state in January.

“Under Tillerson’s direction, ExxonMobil went into exploration overdrive from Alaska to Siberia, and in 2014 began seeking oil and gas 3.5km deep directly offshore Durban, in spite of repeated objections by the South Durban Community and Environmental Alliance.

"The site is in the middle of the Agulhas Current, the world’s second most turbulent, near a priceless coastline.”

In contrast, he said, the People’s Economic Forum of local social, environmental, youth, student and labour movements had met daily at the Durban University of Technology since April 27.

“Its march of several hundred on Wednesday morning against the WEF Africa included a protest stop next to City Hall: the US consulate. Durban offered solidarity marches with four million women protesting Trump misogyny on January 21 and with US scientists protesting defunding on March 22.”

The Star