Last Thursday evening our long-standing South African partner Biowatch celebrated the launch of a new book capturing the highs, the lows and the real inside story of an all-consuming, decade long battle. ‘A Landmark Victory for Justice – Biowatch’s Battle with the South African State and Monsanto’ tells a true David and Golliath story of a small but feisty NGO who took on the weight of a global corporate giant, and won.
In a case which is now one of the most cited in the South African legal system and recognised internationally, Biowatch was pushed to their limits as unforeseen twists following the request for information about GM crops being grown in South Africa resulted in them being ordered by the court to pay the legal fees of Monsanto. The implications of this would have been utterly crippling, which was clearly Monsanto’s intention. Despite this, Biowatch pursued their case through appeal, and in finally 2009 at the Constitutional Court, the order was overturned in favour of Biowatch.
In the foreword of the book, founders and trustees Rachel Wynberg and David Fig say, “What has become known as “the Biowatch case” originated in a genuine attempt to access information from government about the planting of genetically modified crops in South Africa. Biowatch only used the law as a last resort, after numerous earlier requests for the information, to which we felt entitled under the Constitution, were stalled or refused. The story you are about to read is the organization’s official version of what it experienced in the prosecution of this case. Biowatch was confronted by outdated approaches to the law, the immense power of transnational corporations and government collusion with corporate interests. It is a tale of risk and heroism, inasmuch as Biowatch’s existence was threatened and yet it persisted in its quest for justice.”
The first of three launch events to celebrate the publication of the book was held in Cape Town and attended by two members of the Gaia team who are currently in South Africa. Speeches were made by Cormac Cullinan, who headed up the legal defense for Biowatch and who is well-known for his work around Wild Law, by Rachel Wynberg and David Fig who co-founded Biowatch and have remained trustees throughout, and Lawrence Mkhalipi, who has been carrying out Biowatch’s community-based programme for over a decade. The pre-speech gathering was much like a school reunion; long standing friends and associates being drawn back together after in some cases many years, but all connected by the common thread of their commitment to securing justice for Biowatch, the anti GM movement, and the rights of people to know what is in their food. It was a fitting and hugely well deserved celebration to a case which offers a beacon of hope for all those fighting for social and ecological justice.
You can download a copy of the pdf here, and we would urge you do to so. ‘A Landmark Victory for Justice’ is a fascinating read and an uplifting one. Stories such as these are vital for all those of us who feel passionate in the fight for a fairer food system. It’s a poignant reminder that no matter how small we may feel, we have the power to win this.
By Rowan Phillimore, Head of Communications at The Gaia Foundation