South Africa: ANC hirelings attempt to hijack march, attack left

ANCYL members, employed as "host city volunteers" and dressed in green, clash with members of the Democratic Left Front, dressed in red, at the start of the rally. Photo by Sandile Ndlovu.

[For more on the COP17 Durban climate talks, click HERE.]

By Rehad Desai

December 3, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Mike Sutcliffe, the city manager of Durban Metro council, was forced to back down on his insistence that the December 3 global day of action march against climate change only comprise 100 people. Failing in that attempt he went on to insist that the march route stay out of Durban CBD. He then reneged as Civil Society Committee for COP17 (C17) lawyers pushed him into a corner, where he was forced to accept the march route that was originally proposed by civil society.

Obviously smarting from his failure to impose his will on our right to assembly and protest, he hired 150-200 "Host City Volunteers". These "Green Bombers" were generally well built young men recruited from the local Afican national Congress Youth League branches and paid R180 for their services. Their first attempt was to capture the front of the C17 march. They were then, after some time, forced to retreat. They then assembled to the side of the side of the Democratic Left Front (DLF) and community supporters of the One Million Climate Jobs campaign, who were lined up on the road at the assembly point waiting to march all wearing identifiable red T-shirts.

This contingent was roughly 400 strong, the comrades were singing South African struggle songs some of which [were against South Africa's ANC president Jacob] Zuma, one placard was critical of Zuma, the rest were about climate justice. The Green Bombers then started to prevent comrades from obtaining water from the water truck. They then charged the comrades, grabbing a placard and burning it, and went on to grab a number of the banners from the left contingent. Scuffles broke as the Green Bombers hurled bottles of water at the comrades and tried to grab hold of banners.

The Green Bombers, clad in green tracksuits, for the next hour and a half formed a bloc in front of the left comrades and behaved like marshals, preventing the contingent from joining the main march. They continued to hurl insults, to tell the comrades that they had no right to be on the streets, and were singing pro-Zuma and pro-COP17 slogans. Their presence on a climate justice demonstration remains a mystery. Tensions remained high with comrades working hard to keep their cool under intense provocation.

In attempt to defuse the situation, the Democratic Left Front and community supporters of the One Million Climate Jobs campaign held back to allow the comrades from the Rural Women’s Assembly to move in front, forming a barrier between ourselves and the hired members of the ANCYL. This tactic worked, but all the same comrades had been denied water, beaten with fists and banners torn down. The rural women, representing countries from all over Africa, were taunted by certain Green Bombers with crude sexist abuse. This is simply unacceptable, moreover it's disgraceful for this to happen on an international day of action in a country seen by many in the outside world as a model of democracy.

The 400 C17 marshals provided by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) were very thin on the ground. They were clearly untrained, too few and had not been given any briefing by the C17 organising committee. The C17 senior marshal took an hour to respond to a call from us, on a march of less than 10,000 strong. Someone from C17 decided that the riot police be brought in as a buffer. This then meant that for at least 30 minutes, the DLF contingent had COSATU C17 marshals, riot police and the Green Bombers hemming us in.

This completely alien aggression towards socialist activists from townships across South Africa clearly needs to be addressed. The Rural Women's Assembly, the Democratic Left Front and PACJA have called an urgent meeting with the C17 committee asking them to account for their actions regarding the police and their willingness to allow the presence of Sutcliffe’s Green Bombers on a civil society march, as well as their failure to instruct marshals as to what to do in these situations.

It's important to echo the sentiments of one of the speakers from our contingent after the march who stated that, "We have no fight with the Youth League. They, like us, live in shacks, have no jobs after tomorrow, have no electricity. They are being used by a mercenary force to fight other poor Africans by a system that is also robbing them. All this while our rulers sit inside the ICC and allow our continent to burn." They are our brothers and sisters and we would prefer to talk to them about how we fight for a just society and why climate change is a serious threat to humanity, one that it seems only the workers and peasants of this world -– those who are seeing its devastating impacts, have any urgency about solving. We seek dialogue not war. It is shocking to be denied the right to our freedom of speech and to experience what bordered on national chauvinism from locals towards black working-class visitors to Durban. It is shameful that such things should happen in a city that is spending vast sums of money hosting national and international rulers of the world in lavish style.

In addition, the ANC-controlled Durban Metro council and the ANC through its Youth League has a number of questions to answer regarding their attempt to hijack a march of civil society...

Perhaps today's attacks are more understandable when you consider what happened on December 2.

When reports came out on the evening of December 1 from inside the COP17 negotiations about what is being termed the "Durban Mandate", in which governments from the developed countries are seeking to delay commitment on legally binding carbon emission reduction until 2020, or alternatively to lock emission reductions to ridiculously low levels making them meaningless, the DLF and the Rural Women’s Assembly saw this as nothing less than a mandate to burn Africa and to flood Asia.

According to Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the UN, "If this deal goes through, one third of the planet will be laid to waste." In response to the Durban Mandate, on December 2 more than 1000 comrades took to the streets in a spontaneous march to the ICC that clearly rattled the government and the authorities. In this light today’s aggressive action against the climate justice activists was an attempt to silence the truth.

[Rehad Desai is a South African filmmaker. This article first appeared on his Facebook page and is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]

Civil society statement on conflict during the global day of action

December 4, 2011 -- On Saturday, December 3, the mid-point of COP 17, about 12,000 people from across the continent and the world gathered in Durban to demand climate justice and unite against climate change.

The march was largely peaceful, with divergent activist groups uniting to demand action from governments around the world. The march culminated in the handing over of memoranda of understanding to UNFCCC COP17 President Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christian Figueres.

There was, however, disruption during the course of the march in which a group of about 300 protesters, dressed in official COP17 volunteer uniforms tore up placards, physically threatened and attacked activists participating in the march. In spite of heavy police presence throughout the march, including mounted police, riot police, air patrol and snipers, and requests to address this disruption, police did not take any action. This was a major failure of the police to act to prevent this group from destabilising the march and injuring other activists.

The disruptive group persistently attempted to take up positions at the head of the march, but agreed to retreat to the back following negotiations between march organisers and the professed leader of this group. However they found their way back to the middle of the march where they continued to cause disruption.

The disruptive group wore uniforms distinguishing them as city volunteers for COP 17, in green eThekwini [Durban city council] tracksuits with city branding and emblems, but acknowledged themselves to be ANC Youth League supporters, displaying pro-Jacob Zuma and anti-[ANCYL leader] Malema placards.

As volunteers paid daily by the municipality of eThekwini, it is of grave concern that their intimidation of peaceful marchers was left unchallenged by those in authority. As such, the city manager and mayor, together with the UNFCCC must answer to the involvement of this group and the failure of authorities to address this unnecessary violence.

The need for action on climate change is urgent, and civil society stands united against climate change. But we also stand against violence and intimidation of any kind, which impacts on our right to assembly. Organisations were invited to attend the march on the understanding that it would be a peaceful protest. Every individual is welcome to civil society marches, but we are deeply concerned about whether this group will return to other peaceful assemblies, and the city needs to take urgent action to make sure that such destabilisation does not re-occur.

The threatening behaviour during the march yesterday constitutes an attack on democracy and cannot be tolerated.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 12/04/2011 - 21:49


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."

Climate clash

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.