Climate demos cop it

2011-12-09 00:00

PANDEMONIUM broke out in Durban’s City Hall yesterday during a meeting between President Jacob Zuma and representatives of civil society, held to discuss issues around the UN Climate Change Conference (COP17).

Sizani Ngubane, representing the Rural Women’s Assembly, had just begun delivering her address from the stage when noise erupted from the gallery. A number of protesters began displaying posters, one of which read “Zuma stand with Africa not USA”. The posters were confiscated by green-clad COP17 city volunteers, who hustled the protestors out of the gallery.

At this point, down in the auditorium, Ferrial Adam of Greenpeace Africa stood up and displayed a poster saying “Stand with Africa, say no to Durban mandate”.

“I stood up with my poster and the people in green grabbed it,” Adam told The Witness. “Then I sat down. Next to me Sam [Samantha Hargreaves of Action Aid] was working on some posters to demonstrate with outside. They grabbed them. Then she had just blank sheets and they wanted them as well.

“Then people came in a mob,” she said. “We were shoved and had our hair pulled. Then Rihad [Desai] came to protect us, which was amazing of him. But instead of getting better, it got worse. There was nowhere to go. Then someone from the security detail pulled us out.”

The two women were briefly taken out of the hall. “But as we were going people kept punching us on the back,” said Adam. “It was just traumatic.”

The two women were brought back in and protected by city hall security. “But when the meeting was over and they escorted us out by a side door the green mob came for us again. The security blocked them and we were able to go.”

Desai, a member of the Democratic Left Front, said he intervened to protect the two women. “I told them to leave the two women alone,” he said. “The next thing I knew they were spitting in my face. I was punched and knocked down and kicked in the face. I was then bundled out and on the way knocked down and kicked again a few times.”

Desai said members of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) were among those who assaulted him.

“It was upsetting to be attacked by my fellow trade unionists,” he said. “Since when are placards alien to our meetings?”

Desai called the attack on him and the two women an example of “Zulu chauvinism”.

“It was a case of ‘Who are these guys coming here from outside KZN and telling us what to do?’ For them Zuma’s unassailable.

“Cosatu’s membership and their stewards have put their allegiance to Zuma before all else.”

Adam and Hargreaves later laid charges against the city of eThekweni. “These were the city’s volunteer marshals,” said Adam. “They were supposed to protect us, not beat us up.”

eThekwini municipal manager Mike Sutcliffe said the protesters broke an agreement with the city authorities not to disrupt such meetings. “They were going against the agreement we’ve had all week.”

Sutcliffe said it was a small group trying to get media attention. He said there was a similar disruption during the Global Day of Action march last Saturday. “Someone pulled out a poster saying ‘Zuma is a rapist’ and that caused the trouble.” He said once the poster was taken away things calmed down.

Sutcliffe said that when the posters were displayed in the gallery of the city hall he went up and intervened. He instructed the COP17 volunteers not to overreact and he denied the volunteers were responsible for the incident in the auditorium involving Adam, Hargreaves and Desai.

“They deserved that reaction from people,” he said. “People were outraged, especially after what happened at the weekend. Why vent when they had the opportunity when the president had come to listen? Surely that’s not right.”

Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, who was on the stage with Zuma and spoke during the meeting, said he saw people raising placards accusing the president of betraying the position of Africa at COP 17 — “which is not true”.

“Union people did not take kindly to insults to the country’s head of state,” he said.

Dlamini said everyone has the right to raise issues, but it must be done with respect. He referred to the incident during Saturday’s march. “How can you have a civil society march where people produce a poster saying ‘Zuma is a rapist’, which has nothing to do with the issue you are gathering about?

“You get what you deserve when you provoke such a situation.”

Dlamini said the Democratic Left Front is a breakaway group from the SA Communist Party and it is “disingenuous to cry foul and accuse Cosatu” of being party to the attack.

GroundWork’s Bobby Peek, who acknowledged the validity of the protest when he later addressed the meeting, said it is surprising that police who were present in the hall did not intervene during the incident. “The green COP volunteers were the muscle.”

Peek said the incident was unfortunate. “It distracted from the real issue, which was to stand together and support our president and Africa.”

The fracas lasted for 10 minutes and during this time Zuma sat expressionless on the stage. KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, the event’s programme director, called for order several times. “Calm down, calm down,” he told the audience, many of whom were on their feet and chanting “Zuma, Zuma, Zuma”.

Mkhize asked people to sit. “I will invite the police to get you to sit,” he said. “If you refuse to sit they will escort you to the door.

“We don’t want chaos,” he said. “Posters are for outside; in here you listen.”

Once calm had been restored Mkhize invited members of civil society in the audience to come to the podium and speak. They included Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo, Jean-Pierre Lukamba of the African Diaspora Forum and Lorraine Pillay of the National Union of Miners.

Earlier in the meeting there were speeches from Anglican bishop Geoff Davies of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

In his speech Cosatu president Dlamini referred to a rumour that South Africa was going to break from the African Group.

Zuma categorically denied this. “South Africa is strongly promoting the African agenda in each of the COP committees, so I don’t know where this rumour is coming from,” he said.

Zuma also referred to the earlier incident and called for tolerance of opposing views. “If you have a different view you must raise it with respect,” he said. “We had an incident, it was not clear what happened but it was uncalled for. If you want to be respected respect others as well.”

WHAT was foreign intelligence chief Mo Shaik doing at President Jacob Zuma’s COP17 briefing yesterday?

He referred queries to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) official channels. NIA spokesperson Brian Dube in turn said official comment must come from national police spokesperson Colonel Vish Naidoo, as the police are co-ordinating the entire security sector at COP17.

Naidoo said he could not comment on any individuals within the security cluster, nor of their roles at COP17.

Leftist activists have complained that before the start of the global climate change conference in Durban they were being closely watched by both national intelligence and the police’s crime intelligence.

Naidoo would not be drawn on this, but said the only way to determine security needs and plan for the conference is to look at the entire sector.

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