For the better part of a muggy summer, I was cooped up in a dingy molecular biology lab at Cape Town University. Colorful accents and skin tones were swimming around me, and I knew there was more to life than sweltering in this tiny cement box atop a hill.I remembered how a few months earlier I had boarded a plane in Göteborg, Sweden. Mountains of snow lined the streets in one of the most prosperous countries in the world.As the plane touched down in Cape Town, I could see the endless maze of shacks known as Khayelitsha, rusty and glimmering in the hot African sun. I was determined to understand what accounted for such global disparities.Akudzwe was a black Zimbabwean, slender and softly spoken. He wore flip flops in the lab and sported a modestly groomed goatee. He would go entire days without eating, slaving away at his bench. When he did eat, it was almost always junk food.
FEUDAL LORDS: COKE AND MONSANTO
I tried to persuade him to eat healthier, but Akudzwe told me how lucky I was to be able to afford healthy food. Fruits and vegetables were more expensive than Cheetos and Coke. Coke was even cheaper than water in some areas, explained Akudzwe.
He would know; his father works for Coke in Zimbabwe. He told me how the company was racing to privatize water in the region, depriving many rural communities of any viable water source. His father makes a good living working for Coke in a part of the world where having a job can literally mean the difference between life and death. I wanted to see this for myself.
On his way back to Zim, Akudzwe graciously offered to take me with him to Johannesburg, where I would then hitch-hike throughout South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia. Along the way, we discussed the goal of the laboratory, which was to create drought-tolerant crops, ostensibly to help the rural poor.
In reality, we were minions for big-agribusiness. Monsanto and others would have control over our research and any commercial derivatives, fitting with their monopolistic business model, and raising prices for poor farmers.
SO VALUABLE, IT’S HOARDED
When I asked locals, who owns the vacant land? They would often reply that it was someone in Europe or the United States, and increasingly China. The owners just fence it off, wait for the land to rise in value, and then sell it for a profit. Meanwhile, people are suffering. The opportunity to feed everyone in the region is right in front of them, but they have no right to use the land, no means to gain legal access.
Private corporations should have a duty to be stewards of our natural resources (land, water, genes, etc), to not hoard, waste, or destroy them. Yet, achieving this goal seems remote to South Africans, even when their constitution reads:
“South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white… our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities.”South Africa certainly shouldn’t follow the path of Akudzwe’s Zimbabwe. There, white landowners who managed their land well were kicked off, just for being white. This created famine and chaos.How do we ensure that prime land is not monopolized along racial or other divides? How do we ensure that hardworking people who work the land are given access? How do we make sure that everyone gets enough to eat?
There is a way for you to help.
Kind people around the world want to help those born into poverty and misery. What happens though when we treat the symptoms of a problem while ignoring its cause?