I have been looking forward to the Unite Against Climate Change March calling for CLIMATE JUSTICE since this time last year! Obviously, South Africa has got in a bit of a spin hosting the COP 17 negotiations in Durban – most people seem to be treating it as some sort of celebration, rather that the deadly serious conference it is. Anyway, I wasn’t missing a chance to dust off my limited toyi-toyi moves and shout “Awethu” a few times. Despite following the websites and blogs, the march route kept changing and only the day before did we actually know the start site! I heard that this is standard practice for dealing with activists – to try and confuse things so fewer people pitch up. I don’t think it worked – there were zillions of people!
So I painted my banners, packed some snacks and gathered with friends at Botha’s/King Dinuzulu Gardens in Durban beneath very large statues of these two guys (who never heard of climate change in their lives). I’d decided to leave my camera at home, so used my phone to take pictures. Bridget has sent me some of hers to use here – thanks B.
I was beside myself with excitement – it really was marvellous to be part of this. Usually, we just see London or Seattle on TV demonstrating to save the planet, but now it was us! Various good-hearted people tried to make speeches as we waited to begin, but it was a bit pointless as everyone was singing and dancing and raring to go. Nkanyiso and the boys from Nottingham Road were enthusiastic and energetic leaders of our group, keeping us bouncing in the colourful crowd. Bright banners carried many messages – “stop incineration” said the waste pickers , the Vegan society reminded everyone that meat-eating wasn’t helping our cause and Claire’s poster suggested “less talking, more walking” would help. Two Durban girls had an enormous banner demanding “Close down the smelters!” and behind me a tall man held up a poster saying “What happened to Compassion?” There were people from all over the world. When Sisanda met a guy from Japan she declared “Japan – Cool!”, Nomfundo sidled up to chat to an American man in rap gear and enormous sunglasses, Lwazi was startled when a white guy with dreadlocks began chatting to him in Zulu! I got a bit excited when I spotted Kumi Naidoo of GreenPeace nearby. Asanda and Philani asked Rico from Groundwork for his take on Climate Change. “the planet will be ok,” he said, “but the people won’t”. There were friendly conversations all over. Bottles of water passed around and the almonds in my pockets were shared out too.
It was great fun to bump into friends from Dargle and Howick as we wandered down the main street admiring the gorgeous old buildings which you can’t usually see while negotiating the traffic congestion – Kate wearing her polar bear head, Gabriel and her activist friends with their huge banners asking “Have you sold your kids for a 4×4?”, Iona had just finished school and this seemed like a good way to start a new phase of her life. Luke taking fabulous photos, Gill bearing an enormous banner that almost took off in the wind and Bridget who had brought the heaviest posters of all! When we reached the ICC, Lucinda suggested we head for the exhibitions. They were entirely the sort of thing to be expected from a global shin-dig, I guess, but the overwhelming branding, greenwashing and aluminium and plastic furniture was a bit tiresome.
We were in search of food and beer anyway, so were grateful to sit down at the simple wooden benches in a courtyard shaded by wild banana leaves hanging from huge nets – nice eco-friendly touch. There were crates and plastic bottles and all sort of containers planted with vegetables and water wise greenery, so it looked really lovely. I did notice plastic knives and forks… As Jen pointed out, there are plenty of people in Durban who would have been only too happy to wash cutlery for a few days. Still, there was no bottled water – just big coolers of tap water to fill our bottles, which was nice. Apparently all waste was being sorted and recycled or composted. It is estimated that total CO2 emissions for core COP17 activities will be 77 000 tons (61 000CO2e from the long haul flights!) .
Anyway, the food looked fresh and interesting and there were plenty of veggie options. Obviously, they had tried to be as local as possible and you can imagine my delight at finding cold Notties Beer! I chose felafel, which was freshly cooked right then and there and was surprisingly delicious for ‘fast food’. Freedom Cafe – a very hip restaurant in Durbs – had a stall selling their very famous muffins and other sweet treats and there were also plenty of Indian options available too – I almost had a Bunny Chow. Zulu dancers and drummers kept tired feet tapping.
I was very pleasantly surprised at how many times I saw food being mentioned as an issue. A group of young Asian women gave us books about “The Organic Vegan Way”. While the book looks a bit creepy – see pic – it is actually full of interesting facts. To quote Supreme Master Ching Hai – “It’s not a matter of personal choice anymore. It’s a planetary life – and death matters”. he asks world leaders to “act on principles of love” and set an example by changing to a vegan diet.
I do agree of course. Climate Change will affect human health and livelihoods, food markets and food security on a household level. Especially in Africa where most agriculture is rain based and 70% of the population lives by farming.
We wandered back long the vibrant Durban streets to our car park. Past women roasting mielies in drums on the pavements. Others selling chillies and imifino in big piles. Ross had brought a flask of tea, sensible man, and plums picked from their garden to refresh us. Pam was not able to come and had packed us a picnic to keep us going. Then it was back to the Midlands after a throughly satisfying day. Will need to be vegan this week to make up for the 13 kgs CO2e I created driving to Durban. Check out courageous moments from Durban: http://www.350.org/en/this/is/courage?akid=1465.596552.Or4Pys&rd=1&t=1