By Ramatamo wa Matamong – Alex Pioneer*
DURBAN, Dec 8 – (TerraViva) For a second time, people dressed in the green track suits issued to city volunteers helping out with the U.N. climate conference have clashed with protesting members of civil society. The latest incident took place at Durban’s City Hall – in the presence of South African President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma was meeting with civil society on issues of climate change, with their demand for a second commitment to replace the Kyoto Protocol top of their concerns. Civil society fears that developed countries – historically responsible for the majority of pollution – will refuse to commit to new emissions reduction targets before Kyoto expires in 2012. There are also fears that the Green Climate Fund which would pay for adaptation measures in developing countries may not be realised when the 17th Conference of Parties ends.
The Rural Women’s Assembly was represented, as were the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the National Union of Mineworkers, the South African Council of Churches and numerous environmental organisations.
While KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize was introducing the event, a campaigner held up a sign reading “Stand with Africa! No to Durban Mandate!” Volunteers in the green track suits moved to take it. When film-maker and activist Rehad Desai tried to intervene, and he and several others were wrestled out of the hall.
“They pushed me to the floor and kicked me in the face,” said Desai.
“We were called to come here and express our feelings, this message on the placards is exactly how we feel,” said Samson Mokwena from the Vaal Triangle. “I think these volunteers are being used for cheap political campaigning.”
The action recalls what happened of the start of the Global Day of Action march on Saturday, when volunteers wearing the official tracksuits, issued by the City of Durban to its COP 17 volunteers disrupted the beginning of the march, which had been organised by a coalition of environmental groups including Greenpeace.
Mkhize, convener of the meeting, called everyone to order and stressed that the gathering was not intended for demonstrations, but as an interaction between President Zuma and civil society. “We need to respect each other and raise our views accordingly.”
Taking the floor, rural women told the president to take the lead as the hosting country to encourage parties to commit to Kyoto 2, otherwise small-scale farming will continue to suffer. COSATU said hosting COP 18 in Qatar was inappropriate, given that country’s infamously repressive labour laws.
“As labour movement, we don’t see it a desirable destination, it is not clear how our role is going to be or ever we will be allowed to go there,” said COSATU President Sdumo Dlamini.
Other civil movements said if there is no commitment to a successor to Kyoto, hundreds of millions of people across Africa – people who bear no responsibility for the ruin of the planet – have been condemned to misery, insecurity, dislocation and death.
The world is currently headed for a minimum average temperature rise of four degrees – which would spell an increase of between six and eight degrees for most parts of Africa.
Before responding to the concerns raised by activists, Zuma also condemned the commotion that had unfolded before his eyes. “We defeated the apartheid regime by talking and debating around the table, not with violence. We are here with different views, but let’s tolerate each other.”
Zuma then attempted to dispel the rumour that South Africa has broken away from other African Countries in negotiations. “This is not true. As Africans, we remain united and are one voice for a common goal.”
He said he had taken note of their concerns, but seemed to have disappointed some when he said there are some countries that are more powerful than others.
“Unfortunately there is nothing we can do, we will never be equal. There are those countries in the history of United Nations that have veto rights. Even if we vote on issues, if they don’t want to participate, they are free to do that,” he said.
“However as African colleagues, we remain committed on adaption and mitigation. The rich countries must help developing ones through the Green Climate Fund,” he concluded.
Civil society was not satisfied. “He was vague and lacked details. We are calling for a fair and a binding agreement,” said Desmond D’Sa, a leader of the South Durban Community for Environmental Alliance.
“Zuma must listen to people. South Africa has enough power to influence both EU and U.N. to push the boundary of poverty and inequality.”
* Community media coverage of COP 17 is being supported by the Media Development & Diversity Agency of South Africa, which is promoting the participation of local journalists through a programme of training and reporting on climate change.