A colourful mass of protestors marched through the streets of Durban on Saturday morning, creating a spectacle that was worlds apart from the solemn climate change negotiations under way in the city this week.
Cosatu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi addressed the group, which marched to the Durban International Convention Centre where the negotiations are being held, saying “We demand that they hear us and we demand action.”
“The polluters are here to filibuster and waste time while Africa is burning,” said Vavi. He said multinationals were polluting the environment and people were suffering in the name of job creation while big companies earned billions for stakeholders.
Some 15 000 delegates have arrived in Durban to attend the conference, providing a huge boost to tourism in KwaZulu-Natal. But Vavi reminded the protestors that COP17 was “not about tourism”. “This must be about saving our world from the polluters who continue to act recklessly,” he said.
In the rain
COP President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres came out into the rain to meet the protestors and accepted their memorandum.
Nkoana-Mashabane assured the protestors that the COP summit would be run in a transparent and inclusive manner and that it would focus on problem-solving and “not become just another gathering”.
The women graciously accepted the memorandum but some in the crowd heckled Figueres, calling her a “liar” who needed to do more.
The march brought together a host of civil society organisations from around the world. There were organised environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, a host of green-clad Durban city volunteers, rural women’s groups in sunhats, and indigenous people in feathered headdresses. There were also representatives from the Landless People’s Movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, and the Haiti-based Papaye Peasant Movement.
Halfway through the march, members of faith-based organisations and a group of singing, bell-ringing Hare Krishna adherents joined the march.
Clown, dreadlocks and more
There were also protestors who decided to lie down in the street and roll along, as well as topless women, juggling clowns and others on unicycles, people with giant puppets, and an articulated octopus float wearing an ‘Uncle Sam’ hat. Young dreadlocked women in flowing clothing stood on street corners blowing bubbles.
Riot police, backed up by Nyalas and water cannons, were on standby during the march and police seemed to be taking no chances after members of the Rural Women’s Assembly and the Democratic Left Front engaged in a stand off with police outside the ICC on Friday.
There was little in the way of violence at the march on Saturday, although supporters from political groups got into a scuffle about who should be allowed to march at the front of the procession. It was decided that Cosatu should march in the front and centre, to separate supporters of the ANC from those of the DLF.
For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.