NIREN TOLSI - Dec 03 2011 19:13
ANC supporters dressed in the COP17 volunteers' tracksuits tossed stones and water bottles at members of civil society organisations that were marching in protest against climate change, the corporate-funded lack of progress at COP17 and other green issues in Durban on Saturday.
At around 11am, as the protesters were still congregating at Botha's Park near Warwick Triangle in Durban, a phalanx of volunteers joined the march, in "support of COP17" and "in defence of President Zuma", according to some of the 200 or so volunteers who spoke to the Mail & Guardian.
In what appeared to be a strategic move, they situated themselves in front of members of the Unemployed People's Movement (UPM) and the Democratic Left Front (DLF) -- the latter of which were involved in a face-off together with the Rural Women's Assembly against the police at a separate march on Friday -- and soon protest songs were being exchanged.
With the DLF's criticism of President Jacob Zuma's government growing ever louder, tensions reached fever pitch when several water bottles were hurled by the "volunteers" at the DLF section of the march.
Some red-shirted DLF members responded by singing "Zuma Kwabeta" (Zuma is a racist), which led to further heated exchanges and small skirmishes before marshalls and police intervened.
Planted to cause trouble
Simon Mokoena, a 26-year-old DLF activist and ANC Youth League member from Sasolburg stood staring down ANC supporters with stones in his hands: "They are wrong; we are free to protest and to voice our grievances. I don't understand why they are bringing ANC politics to this march -- we are not here to embarrass ... President [Zuma]", he said, pointing to the green track-suited group of people holding placards that read "100% COP17, 100% JZ" and "Fire Malema."
The tension simmered for a large portion of the march and was finally contained by members of the Rural Women's Assembly placed between the volunteers and the DLF.
There was a suspicion among many of the activists in the march that the group of ANC supporters had been planted at the march to cause trouble.
Said Pat Hall of street trader organisation, Street-Net: "They are agent provocateurs, here to disturb the march. The [eThekwini] Municipality had to be forced by a court order yesterday to allow this march to go along this route because the city wanted us going around in circles at Curries Fountain Stadium today, now they they're trying to prove that we are violent," she said.
Cosatu general-secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi told the Mail & Guardian that "while there was a broad church of people at the march with different agendas, we cannot condone the violence that I am told happened."
Many of the volunteers said they were ANC supporters from surrounding townships like Umlazi and KwaMashu, who "didn't want the President to be embarrassed".
Yet, with the eyes of the world watching COP17, the unspoken message emanating from the group, which resembled what Robert Mugabe's "Green Bombers" might look like if their merchandise was sponsored by a global talk shop, was clear.
Those acting in Zuma's name have little space for political tolerance.
As Dr Habte Abate, executive director of Sustainable Land Use Reform in Ethiopia said: "I'm not sure what the context of this is, but we are here protesting about global issues, which affect all of us. I am very surprised these people would come here to disrupt the march and fight petty political battles."
IT WAS meant to be a rally to highlight civil society’s united demand for action against climate change, but tensions flared as political groups hijacked the Global Day of Action rally through the Durban city centre yesterday.
Chants of “amandla” (“power” in Zulu) and “amalungelo ethu” (our rights) could be heard inside the International Convention Centre, venue of the COP17 conference as about 5000 people took to the streets.
While civil society groups, trade unions, faith-based organisations and members of the public rallied against climate change, two political groups used the platform to push their own agendas.
It was a bitter twist to an otherwise peaceful event, which started at about 10am at the bottom of West Street. But shortly after the march began, the ANC Youth League, employed as COP17 volunteers and dressed in green, taunted the Democratic Left Front, a new political movement which carried posters saying “10 more years of Zuma” and sang anti-government songs.
The two groups burnt each other’s posters and fist fights broke out. Riot police had to intervene throughout the march. “The ANCYL are against our march. We are socialists,” said Democratic Left co-ordinator Alan Goatley. “We are a front for many different community organisations and interest groups. We want service delivery. They (the ANCYL) tore our placards and burnt our flags because we chanted antigovernment sentiments.”
“I’m in solidarity with everyone here – but not them. They are insulting our president. These are not socialists. They are anarchists hiding as socialists,” said ANCYL KZN official Jomo Sibiya.