Activists beaten at COP17 by Durban 'volunteers'

Fri, 2011-12-09 11:17
Submitted by motho

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''Volunteers'' employed by the city of Durban at COP17 yesterday slapped and kicked environmental activists who confronted President Jacob Zuma for not standing up for Africa at the climate change talks.

The heavy-handed actions of the "green bombers" - so called by activists because of their green uniforms and aggression - and of unionists, who kicked an activist, were in full view of the world's media.

After Zuma had told the activists at a report-back session in the Durban City Hall that he felt that it was necessary for him to interact with civil society, pandemonium broke out when placards calling on him to "ditch Europe and the US" and not "let Africa fry" were held up.

The volunteers and Zuma's bodyguards pulled the placards from the activists and tore them up.

When the activists demanded that they be allowed to hold up their placards as part of their interaction with Zuma, the volunteers pushed and slapped them while trying to throw them out of the hall. A group of people, wearing SA Municipal Workers' Union T-shirts, then started singing in support of Zuma.

Zuma did not intervene in the scuffle but had a clear view of the assault on local climate activist Rehad Desai, who was slapped by a volunteer and then pushed to the ground when he called for the president to stand up for Africa.

After Desai fell, the unionists formed a ring around him and kicked him as they sang.

Moe Shaik, the head of the Secret Service, and Cosatu's KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Zet Luzipho, tried to stop the chaos by pushing the volunteers away but the group continued to kick Desai.

After KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, the programme director, repeatedly called for calm police broke up the scuffles.

Desai and several other activists were thrown out but the volunteers, who started the trouble, remained. No arrests were made.

The meeting continued with Zuma denouncing the chaos as "uncalled for".

"I don't agree with people who disrupt and loot in the name of democracy," he said. "We must tolerate other people's views."

But the activists slammed Zuma, saying he did nothing to protect their rights.

"He just sat there and did nothing. It happened right in front of him," Siziwe Khanyile, of South African environmental group Groundwork, said.

Desai said he was kicked for raising his concerns about speculation that Zuma was planning to side with the EU during the climate negotiations.

He said he had it on good authority that the ''green bombers'' were members of the ANC Youth League, employed by outgoing Durban city manager Mike Sutcliffe to intimidate activists at COP17.

eThekwini municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng confirmed that COP17 volunteers were hired and paid by the city, but he rubbished claims that they were told to intimidate activists.

Sutcliffe said the volunteers did not initiate the scuffle.

"The meeting, which was progressing positively, was interrupted by a small group of protestors who chose the opportunity to attempt to disrupt proceedings by raising posters while their own representatives were engaging with the president.

"After a few minutes of disruption, members of the audience tried to get the protestors to take down their posters and allow the proceedings to continue. The situation escalated and a scuffle broke out between protestors and the audience. Security, both SAPS and municipal, became involved and then a few COP17 volunteers, who were standing close by, were drawn into the fray," he said.

The secretary of the ANC Youth League's eThekwini region, Vukani Ndlovu, dismissed the suggestion that the volunteers were recruited from the league, saying they were "just youth".


CIty Press

Activists claim Zuma supporters attacked them
2011-12-08 16:

Yolandi Groenewald

Tensions between local left activists at COP17 in Durban and the government exploded again today with activists claiming they were assaulted by “a group of pro-Zuma supporters” at a meeting with President Jacob Zuma.

“In a meeting designed for engagement between President Zuma and communities and civil society, violence broke out when peaceful civil society demonstrators silently held up signs asking ‘Zuma to stand with Africa,’” said Tristen Taylor from Earthlife Africa.

He said the “pro-Zuma supporters”, many wearing the uniforms of COP17 volunteers then attacked the demonstrators “in an act of mob violence”.

“Demonstrators were roughed up and some had to flee the hall,” he said. “While all of this went on, President Zuma sat up on the podium and remained quiet. Furthermore, it took nearly ten minutes before police entered the hall to restore order.”

Greenpeace activists were also caught in the fistfight. Greenpeace activist Melita Steele was injured. She tweeted: People attacked in the meeting for protesting. I ended up getting punched and other people were kicked.

Her colleague, Ferial Adams, told Eyewitness News that youths started singing and toyi-toying before they were joined by a group of ANC supporters, dressed as COP17 marshals, who then attacked the activists.

Adams was also punched and kicked by the crowd.

Siziwe Khanyile of groundWork said: “This was our event, organised to communicate with President Zuma. We were then abused, kicked out, robbed, and manhandled by Zuma supporters disguised as COP17 volunteers.”

The latest incident follows violence over the weekend where activists were attacked by a group of COP17 volunteers, also dressed in their bright green uniform.

The “green bombers” as they were dubbed by the activists roughed up the green activists and pelted them with stones over the weekend at the Day of Global Action march.

Before COP17 the leftist activists also complained that they were closely being watched by both National Intelligence and the police’s crime intelligence.

Zuma’s office would not say how the president reacted during the scuffle, reports Sabelo Ndlangisa.

In a statement, Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said there had been “an unfortunate scuffle at the beginning of the meeting” with groups jostling to be heard.

“The Presidency acknowledges the intervention of the police who did their jobs to restore order in the Durban City Hall. The meeting continued successfully and constructively with civil society afterwards,” Maharaj said.

Spokesperson for the police, General Vish Naidoo, confirmed the altercation, but denied that it took place directly in front of Zuma.

"There was a difference of opinion and police intervened," he said. "The situation was resolved and normalised immediately."

He said he was informed the fight was between COP17 volunteers and NGOs. No one was arrested.


Drama at Durban City Hall
Posted on 08 December 2011 by terna

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.

Activist Rehad Desai was forced out of the public meeting with President Zuma. Credit: Ramatamo wa Matamong/TerraViva

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.