South Africa: Second attack on climate campaigners by ANC goons; Zuma looks on


South Africa's president Zuma watched as ANC supporters assaulted peaceful demonstrators.

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

December 8, 2011 -- Earthlife Africa issued a statement describing the events. It describes how during a meeting between South Africa' President Jacob Zuma and communities and civil society groups, violence broke out. After peaceful demonstrators silently held up signs asking “Zuma to stand with Africa”, pro-ANC goons, many wearing the official green uniforms of the COP17 "volunteers", violently attacked the demonstrators. Demonstrators were roughed up and some had to flee the hall.

While all of this went on, Zuma sat on the podium and remained quiet. It took nearly 10 minutes before police entered the hall to restore order.

Siziwe Khanyile of groundWork states, “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.”

Tristen Taylor of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg states, “This was a terrible display of mob violence that aim to suppress the democratic rights of citizens of this country. It happened in front of the President of this country, and disgraces this country in front of the eyes of the world at time when we should be solving the problem of climate change.”

Taylor of Earthlife Africa told the Weekly Mail & Guardian: "I was standing on the balcony above and saw everything. Some comrades had silently stood up with placards saying 'Zuma to stand by Africa' when they were attacked by the president's supporters. They were surrounded by about 30 or 40 people and it was a free-for-all, people were being punched and pushed quite violently and the president just sat there, doing nothing."

Other reports describe how Samantha Hargreaves (ActionAid) and Ferrial Adam (Greenpeace) were assaulted after displaying posters ("Durban Mandate = Death of Millions of Rural Women", "Stand with Africa"); when filmmaker Rehad Desai tried to defends them, he was fiercely attack, being spat at, kicked in the face, slapped and punched.

At least three activists were seriously injured in the assault.

This was the second attack on climate change protesters during the COP17 Summit. On December 3, during the mass protest demanding real action on climate change, ANC Youth League members wearing green "COP17 volunteer" overalls and hired by the ANC-controlled Durban municipal government disrupted the march and attacked left groups.

Open letter to Ethekwini mayor and city manager

From the Democratic Left Front

On Saturday December 3, the international day for a climate action march, the 500 strong Democratic Left Front contingent made up of activists from different parts of the country, arrived at the Botha Park Assembly point with its banners demanding: "1 Million Climate Jobs Now!", "Africa is Burning, Transform the System!" and "Listen to the People!". Our red t-shirts said the same thing. Our activists also prepared their own posters the night before. We had our own marshals and sound system. We were unarmed and intent on acting peacefully.

We were participating in the march to peacefully condemn the ruling elites who are obsessed with profit making market mechanisms as the solution to the climate crisis. Such solutions have not worked, will not work and are taking all of humanity closer to planetary destruction. We were also there to celebrate and amplify the call of other components of the climate justice movements for genuine alternatives like 100% renewable energy, binding and ambitious emission reduction targets, climate jobs, food sovereignty, mass public transport systems, the rights of nature and the vindication of climate debt.

On arrival at the assembly point at 9.30 am we were physically attacked by a group of 150 youth. Our posters were torn and our banners were also pulled down. We were also pelted with stones and bottles. In this context we defended and restrained ourselves. The police stood by and watched. (The story of this violence and intimidation was covered in the Mail and Guardian online weekly.) Our attackers wore green tracksuits and hats that were branded with the Ethekwini Municipality logo. The tracksuits also explicitly stated these were volunteers for COP17. It turns out that this was standard gear issued by the city to COP17 volunteers and such volunteers were meant to assist visitors to the city. These volunteers were meant to be the goodwill ambassadors of the city and of South Africa.

We would like to pose the following questions to the mayor and city manager of Ethekwini (Durban) Metropolitan Council:

(i) Why were these volunteers, who were meant to be busy with organising COP17, allowed on to the march?

(ii) Based on our investigations it was established that these were a group of special volunteers linked to the mayor’s office and were paid by the city. Why did the city leadership instruct these volunteers to physically attack us and constantly disrupt the march?

(iii) Why were these volunteers brandishing ANC banners, posters (100% Zuma) and ANC paraphernalia when they were meant to be non-party aligned?

(iv) Why should we not ask the public protector to investigate you for abusing public finance to fund an ANC goon squad?

The physical attack we endured was more than an attack on the DLF. It was an attack on our democracy, on our democratic rights and freedoms we have as citizens to assemble and to protest peacefully. With the world watching, the City of Durban has embarrassed South Africa and has shown to the world the ugly side of how the ANC rules. The climate crisis will worsen in South Africa and the world, but be assured at every moment we will be using our democratic freedoms and rights to struggle for climate justice and transformative solutions.

Mazibuko Jara 0836510271 and Vishwas Satgar 082 775 3420

For The Democratic Left Front National Convening Committee.…

Activists beaten at COP17 by Durban 'volunteers'

CANAAN MDLETSHEand NIVASHNI NAIR | 08 December, 2011 23:34
''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.
Rehad Desai

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.


Showdown at the Durban Disaster: Challenging the ‘Big Green’ Patriarchy

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

Dedicated to Judi Bari, Emma Goldman, my mother and all of the other strong women who inspire me

An action loses all of its teeth when it is orchestrated with the approval of the authorities.  It becomes strictly theater for the benefit of the media.  With no intent or ability to truly challenge power.

I hate actions like that.

GJEP's Anne Petermann (left) and GEAR's Keith Brunner (both sitting) before being arrested and ejected from the UN climate conference. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

And so it happened that I wound up getting ejected from one such action after challenging its top-down, male domination.  I helped stage an unsanctioned ‘sit-in’ at the action with a dozen or so others who were tired of being told what to do by the authoritarian male leadership of the “big green’ action organizers–Greenpeace and

I had no intention of being arrested that day.  I came to the action at the UN Climate Convention center in Durban, South Africa on a whim, hearing about it from one of GJEP’s youth delegates who sent a text saying to show up outside of the Sweet Thorne room at 2:45.

So GJEP co-Director Orin Langelle and I went there together, cameras at the ready.

We arrived to a room filled with cameras.  Still cameras, television cameras, flip cameras–whatever was planned had been well publicized.  That was my first clue as to the action’s true nature.  Real direct actions designed to break the rules and challenge power are generally not broadly announced.  It’s hard to pull off a surprise action with dozens of reporters and photographers milling around.

Media feeding frenzy at the action. Photo: Petermann/GJEP

After ten or so minutes, a powerful young voice yelled “mic check!” and the action began.  A young man from was giving a call and response “mic check” message and initiating chants like “we stand with Africa,” “We want a real deal,” and “Listen to the people, not the polluters.”  Many of the youth participants wore “I [heart] KP” t-shirts–following the messaging strategy of the ‘big greens,’ who were bound and determined to salvage something of the Kyoto Protocol global warming agreement, regardless of whether or not it would help stop climate catastrophe.

The messaging and choreography of the action were tightly controlled for the first hour or so by the male leadership. The growing mass of youth activists and media moved slowly down the cramped corridor toward the main plenary room and straight into a phalanx of UN security who stood as a human blockade, hands tightly gripped into the belts of the officers on either side.  I found myself wedged between the group and the guards.

Pink badges (parties) and orange badges (media) were allowed through the barricade, but yellow badges (NGOs) were strictly forbidden–unless one happened to be one of the ‘big green’ male leadership.  They miraculously found themselves at various times on either side of the barricade.  The Greenpeace banners, I might add, were also displayed on the non-blockaded side of security, providing a perfect visual image for the media: Greenpeace banners in front of the UN Security, who were in front of the mass of youth.  This was another indication that the “action” was not what it appeared to be.  No, the rising up of impassioned youth taking over the hallway of the climate convention to demand just and effective action on climate change was just a carefully calculated ‘big green’ photo op.

There was wild applause when Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace (at that moment on the protester side of the security barricade) introduced the Party delegate from The Maldives–one of the small island nations threatened with drowning under rising sea levels.  He addressed the crowd with an impassioned plea for help.  Later, the official delegate from Egypt was introduced and, with a great big grin, gave his own mic check about the power youth in his country had had in making great change.  He was clearly thrilled to be there in that throbbing mass of youthful exuberance.

Youth confront security during the protest. Photo: Petermann/GJEP

But as with many actions that bring together such a diversity of people (youth being a very politically broad constituency), at a certain point the action diverged from the script.  The tightly controlled messaging of the pre-arranged mic checks, began to metamorphose as youth began to embody the spirit of the occupy movement, from which the “mic check” had been borrowed.  New people began calling mic check and giving their own messages.  Unsanctioned messages such as “World Bank out of climate finance,” “no REDD,” “no carbon markets” and “occupy the COP” began to emerge as repeated themes.  At first, the action’s youth leaders tried to counter-mic check and smother these unauthorized messages, but eventually they were overwhelmed.

After a few hours of this, with no sign of the energy waning, the “big green” male leadership huddled with security to figure out what to do with this anarchistic mass. Kumi, or it might have been Will Bates from, explained to the group that they had talked it over with UN security and arranged for the group to be allowed to leave the building and continue the protest just outside, where people could yell and protest as long as they wished.

This is a typical de-escalation tactic.  A group is led out of the space where it is effectively disrupting business as usual to a space where it can easily be ignored in exchange for not being arrested.  In my experience, this is a disempowering scenario where energy rapidly fizzles, and people leave feeling deflated.

I feared that this group of youth, many of whom were taking action for the first or second time in their lives, and on an issue that was literally about taking back control over their very future, would leave feeling disempowered.  I could feel the frustration deep in my belly.  We need to be building a powerful movement for climate justice, not using young people as pawns in some twisted messaging game.

There was clear dissention within the protest.  People could feel the power of being in that hallway and were uneasy with the option of leaving.  Finally I offered my own ‘mic check.’  “While we are inside,” I explained, “the delegates can hear us.  If we go outside, we will lose our voice.”

But the ‘big green’ patriarchy refused to cede control of the action to the youth.  They ratcheted up the pressure.  ”If you choose to stay,” Kumi warned, “you will lose your access badge and your ability to come back into this climate COP and any future climate COPs.”  Knowing this to be patently untrue, I cut him off. “That’s not true! I was de-badged last year and here I am today!”  This took Kumi completely by surprise–that someone was challenging his authority (he was clearly not used to that)–and he mumbled in reply, “well, that’s what I was told by security.”

Crowd scene in the hallway. Photo: Langelle

Will Bates, who was on the “safe” side of the security line, explained that UN security was giving the group “a few minutes to think about what you want to do.” While the group pondered, Will reminded the group that anyone who refused to leave would lose their badge and their access to the COP.  “That’s not letting us make up our minds!” yelled a young woman.

I felt compelled to give the group some support. I mic checked again, “there is nothing to fear/ about losing your badge,” I explained, adding, “Being debadged/ is a badge of honor.”

After the question was posed about how many people planned to stay, and dozens of hands shot up, the pressure was laid on thicker. This time the ‘big green’ patriarchy warned that if we refused to leave, not only would we be debadged, UN security would escort us off the premises and we would be handed over to South African police and charged with trespass.

At that a young South African man stood up and defiantly raised his voice.  “I am South African.  This is my country.  If you want to arrest anyone for trespass, you will start with me!” he said gesturing at his chest.  Then he said, “I want to sing Shosholoza!”

Shosholoza is a traditional South African Folk song that was sung in a call and response style by migrant workers that worked in the South African mines.

The group joined the young South African man in singing Shosholoza and soon the entire hallway was resounding with the powerful South African workers’ anthem.

Once consensus was clearly established to do an occupation and anyone that did not want to lose his or her badge had left, Kumi piped up again.  “Okay. I have spoken with security and this what we are going to do.  Then he magically walked through UN security blockade.  “We will remove our badge (he demonstrated this with a grand sweeping gesture pulling the badge and lanyard over his head) and hand it over to security as we walk out of the building.  We do not want any confrontation.”

That really made me mad.  The top down, male-dominated nature of the action and the coercion being employed to force the youth activists to blindly obey UN security was too much.  I’d been pushed around by too many authoritarian males in my life to let this one slide, so I mic checked again.  “We just decided/ that we want to stay/ to make our voices heard/ and now we are being told/ how to leave!”  “I will not hand my badge to security.  I am going to sit right here and security can take it.”

And I sat down cross-legged on the floor, cursing my luck for choosing to wear a skirt that day.  Gradually, about a dozen other people–mostly youth–sat down with me, including Keith and Lindsey–two of our Global Justice Ecology Project youth contingent.

But still the male leadership wouldn’t let it go.  I’ve never seen activists so eager to do security’s work for them.  “Okay,” Kumi said, “but when security taps you on the shoulder, you have to get up and leave with them.  We are going to be peaceful, we don’t want any confrontation.”  Sorry, but in my experience, civil disobedience and non-compliance are peaceful acts.  And I find it impossible to imagine that meaningful change will be achieved without confrontation.

At some point from the floor, I decided I should explain to the crowd who I was.  I mic checked.  “I come from the United States/ which has historically been/ one of the greatest obstacles/ to addressing climate change.  I am sitting down/ in the great tradition/ of civil disobedience/ that gave women the right to vote/ won civil rights/ and helped stop the Vietnam War.”

Karuna Rana (left), sits in at the action. Photo: Langelle

About that time, a young woman named Karuna Rana, from the small island of Mauritius, off the southeast coast of Africa, sat down in front of me and spoke up.  “I am the only young person here from Mauritius. These climate COPs have been going for seventeen years!  And what have they accomplished?  Nothing!  My island is literally drowning and so I am sitting down to take action–for my people and for my island.  Something must be done.”  Her voice, from such a small person, was powerful indeed.  An hour or two later, while standing in the chilly rain at the Speakers’ Corner across the street after we’d been ejected from the COP, she told me that it was my action that had inspired her to sit down.  “You inspired me by standing up to the people that wanted us to leave.”  I told her that her bravery had similarly inspired me.

Kumi led a group of protesters down the hall, handing his badge to UN security. Those of us who remained sitting on the floor were next approached by security.  One by one, people were tapped on the shoulder and stood up to walk out and be debadged.  Keith, who was sitting next to me said, “Are you going to walk out?”  “No.”

Security tapped us and said, “C’mon, you have to leave.”  “No.”  Keith and I linked arms.

Then the security forcibly removed all of the media that remained.  I watched Orin, who was taking photos of the event, as well as Amy Goodman and the crew of Democracy Now! be forced up the stairs and out of view.  As they were removed, Amy yelled, “What’s your name?!”  “Anne Petermann. I am the Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.”

I was familiar with the unpleasant behavior of UN security from previous experiences, and so I was somewhat unnerved when security removed the media.  Earlier in the week a UN security officer had shoved Orin’s big Nikon into his face when he was photographing the officer ejecting one of the speakers from our GJEP press conference who was dressed as a clown.   Silly wigs are grounds for arrest at the UN.

One of the reasons that media have become targets of police and military violence all over the world is because they document the behavior of the authorities, and sometimes, depending on their intentions, the authorities don’t want their behavior documented.  Not knowing what UN security had in store for us, I decided I should let the remaining people in the hall–who could no longer see Keith and I since we were sitting and completely surrounded by security–know what was happening.  I explained at the top of my voice that that the media had been forced to leave, and encouraged anyone with a camera to come and take photos.  The photos on this blog post by Ben Powless of Indigenous Environmental Network are some of the only ones I know of that document our arrests.

Keith Brunner is hauled away by UN security during the sit-in outside of the plenary at the UN Climate Convention. Photo: Ben Powless/ IEN

They took Keith first, hauling him away with officers grabbing him by his legs and under his arms and rushing him into the plenary hall–which, we found out, had been earlier emptied of all of the UN delegates so the racket outside would not disturb them.  I was then loaded into a wheelchair by two female security guards.  A male guard grabbed my badge and roughly yanked it, tearing it free from the lanyard, “I’ll take that,” he sneered.   I was then unceremoniously wheeled through the empty plenary, past the security fence and into the blocked off street, where I was handed over to South African police.

“They’re all yours,” said the UN security who then left.  The South African police discussed what to do with us.  “What did they do?” asked one.  “They sat down.”  “Sat down?”  “Yes, sat down.  They are environmentalists or something.”  “Let’s just take them out of here.”  So I was loaded into the police van, where Keith sat waiting, and we were driven around the corner, past the conference center and to the “Speakers’ Corner” across the street, where the outside “Occupy COP 17” activists had been having daily general assemblies during the two weeks of the climate conference.  “Hey, that’s cool,” said Keith.  “We got a free ride to the Speakers’ Corner.”

I was told later that Kumi was the first arrested and had been led out of the building in plastic handcuffs, offering a beautiful Greenpeace photo op for the media. I rolled my eyes.  “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.  They used HANDcuffs???  Gimme a break.”  More theater.  Greenpeace is nothing if not good at working the media with theatrical drama such as pre-orchestrated arrests. Kumi may not have wanted to lose his badge, but he made the most of it.  At the Speakers’ Corner following our arrests, the media flocked to him while I stood on the sidelines.  The articles about the protest in many of the papers the next day featured Kumi speaking at the protest, Greenpeace banners prominent.  The fact that it was a COP 17 occupation that he had repeatedly attempted to squelch somehow did not make it into the news.

I lost a lot of respect for Greenpeace that day.

But many of the youth also saw how it went down.  I was thanked by several participants in the protest for standing up to the ‘big green’ male leadership and defending the right to occupy the space.  I, myself was deeply grateful for the opportunity to do something that felt actually meaningful in that lifeless convention center where the most powerful countries of the world played deadly games with the future.


Tord Björk

In the last hours of the UN climate negotiations at COP17 in Durban 2011, a crowd gathered inside the conference building where very many declared their willingness to occupy the hallway were they were standing. In the end only two people stayed while the very many left under guidance of Greenpeace director Kumi Naidoo and Will Bates from The political message stated by Naidoo behind this change was ”nobody can accuse us of disrupting the negotiations, all we want to show is our support of the most vulnerable in the negotiations”. The other political message was that people would loose their right to attend COP meetings in the future if they stayed. Thus the action turned from occupy in support of ”power to the people and not the polluters” to walk out freely according to the negotiations with the security authority and hand over the badge when tapped on the shoulder to continue the protest outside.

This can be compared to a similar moment at COP15 in Copenhagen 2009. Here a crowd of similar size also gathered inside the conference building. The difference was that at this occassion the very many including some governmental representatives chose to confront the idea that avoiding disrupting the negotiations as well as completly follow instructions by security authorities was the only intention. The very many chose instead to walk to establish a People’s assembly for climate justice together with thousands of protesters outside. Thus establishing an alternative to the negotiations by reclaiming power to the people attempting at occupying a space outside the conference building but inside the conference site. Both the protesters coming from the inside and those from the outside were met by police batons, pepper spray and tear gas. The spokespersons for the outside Reclaim power action organized by Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now ended up in jail for instigating violence with heavy economic debts for juridical costs. The action was completely non-violent as announced and no policemen were wounded but many protesters. The People’s Assembly was finally established outside the conference site in spite of the violent attacks by the police. Here the most frequent banner was the green Via Campesina flag, the largest mass movement on earth with some 200 million members standing up against power together with many others at COP15 in Copenhagen. The activists demanded system change not climate change and became one of the important inspirations for the Peoples summit on climate change in Cochabamba.

The difference between 2011 and 2009 is striking. Science shows even more than in 2009 the seriosity [seriousness] of climate change. The limitations of the COP negotiations are now more clear than ever. And yet is the response among those following the negotiations from civil society from the inside so much weaker. This is an argument for looking closer at what happened at the action on December 9 at in Durban. What thus [does] it tell us about future actions for climate justice and the alliances needed for bringing about change?

How the diminishing and almost [the] extinction was organized of decisiveness [the decision] to occupy, to not only talk but also act, at a crucial moment in governmental negotiations at COP17, is documented by a long video published by Avaaz ( The same crumbling of an action that from the beginning was strong is also accounted for in detail by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project, (including critical comments:…). She together with Keith refused to leave when everybody else chose to walk out freely according to the rules set by the security. The two last humans standing up against power at COP17 in Durban.

The reaction against Petermann's description has been very strong. ”I feel it’s a real shame that you believe what you have expressed here”, writes Cat member of the UK Youth delegation. “Your summary is extremely inaccurate, and you make a lot of false assumptions”, writes David Thong.

The content of the Avaaz video and the core of Petermann’s argument covers the same course of events - the development of the action once it started. In the video and in the Petermann’s report one can see that a great part of the people present agrees to stay and occupy the hallway. Petermann stated in her mic check, the method used by anyone willing to speak at the action borrowed from the occupy wall street movement: I have been coming to these COPs since 2004. They are dominated and controlled by the 1 percent. That will not change unless we make it. And if we go we will not have the power to make that change. So I say occupy the COP!

Organizers responded at first by stressing that individuals who want to leave must be respected. People from South Africa and elsewhere made their message clear supporting the call for occupying and stay were the action started. Power to the people! I did not come here to be caught outside clapping hands! I came to demand climate justice now, stay here and not outdoor. We do not want a new environmental apartheid, lets continue fighting for climate justice, social justice. Organizers once more stated that those who stayed would loose their badges and so those that did not want to lose his or her badge had the chance to leave. Petermann intervened and stated that if we go we will lose our voice. This was followed by someone calling for a decision asking who want to stay receiving enthusiastic response from very many. Once again UN security and arrests for trespassing was addressed as something to take into account by those that did not wish to see such consequences for themselves. Here a South African intervened strongly saying that nobody should tell us what to do. “We occupy!” The crowd started chanting, “The people united will never be defeated!” Followed by the strongest singing of the South African freedom song shoshaloza during the action. A consensus had developed for a civil disobedience action by staying while individuals could leave.

The response from the organizers at this stage was decisive. Julian who had started the action with his strong voice spoke up: Now we make a decision, we will not leave. This sounds perfectly in compliance with the decision made. He continued: The security will start to remove us. We will be removed one by one peacefully. And finally: If you are touched by security you need to allow yourself to be escorted out, that is all. Suddenly was the whole decision to stay turned into a decision to voluntarily leave.

This message was now explained in detail by Kumi Naidoo. He once again made it clear that people could leave and that those that needed to move please did so and that they should know ”we love you,” and ”you are choosing just another route to be part of the struggle”. Than he addressed the security with the help of the mic check: ”thank you for the dignity you have showed up till now.” stressing they did not see the people in the hallway as their enemy and certainly did not the protesters see them as part of the enemy. This was followed by ”we are challenged to show the highest level of maturity, dignity, and courage”

Instead of staying Greenpeace director Naidoo now proposed an action he once more described with noble words and called ”the highest tradition of peaceful civil disobedience”. He told the present crowd what it all was about: ”Now we have to plan towards UN security to ensure that nobody can accuse us of trying to disrupt the negotiations.” After the long introduction he had made concerning those that had to leave, the UN security and civil disobedience he proposed more specifically ”A peaceful, and a powerful way for us to leave the venue.”

After this more precise proposal was made a detailed instruction how to leave would follow embedded in explanation of how his proposal was related to consequences, possibilities to protest longer inside the building and how to behave in front of media. He started wanting to ”give people a final chance to know the implication of what will now happen.” When we get debadged we cannot come back to the negotiations and also not to future negotiations. Some of the present protested showing that they had badges now after being debadged at earlier COP meetings. Naidoo said this is what he had been told by the UN security and responded to the claim that there was no threat to not be allowed in coming negotiations by stating ”take that as an alternative view.”

He continued leaving the subject quickly focusing on singing and dancing in front of the cameras. ”So now the idea of singing is a great one. But we have the world media here. Lets show how we can leave in a way were we can show dignity and were we send a message to the negotiators we are with them, So now if you were to move on bloc to those doors it would create a disruption. So what I suggest, and this would take our departure longer, it means we can sing longer, and dance longer.”

Finally came the precise instructions from the director of Greenpeace: ”So what I propose if we make a straight line, and as you walk out peacefully take our badges and give it to UN security.” During this message Naidoo took of his badge demonstrating clearly what to do. His final comment was to remind the people once more about media and the risk that ”Our enemies will try to present us in a negative way” and then once more repeating with his movements and words to ”give the badges peacefully to the security when we walk out.” Ending with the call ”Be the line!”.

Petermann intervened again: “I think we all decided that we did not want to go. And now we are being told how we could go! I personally think that we should sit down and that we should stay. Our voices will be heard. And if security want our badges they can come and take them.” Then she sat down together with some who already were sitting on the floor. This was followed by another call for ”sending our message until they remove us. We remain peaceful. Let’s continue singing.” And the singing of shoshaloza started once again.

At this point the uncut Avaaz video ends. [But] Petermann ends her account by writing:

“But still the male leadership wouldn’t let it go. I’ve never seen activists so eager to do security’s work for them. ‘Okay,’ Kumi said, ‘but when security taps you on the shoulder, you have to get up and leave with them. We are going to be peaceful, we don’t want any confrontation.’ Sorry, but in my experience, civil disobedience and non-compliance are peaceful acts. And I find it impossible to imagine that meaningful change will be achieved without confrontation. Kumi led a group of protesters down the hall, handing his badge to UN security. Those of us who remained sitting on the floor were next approached by security. One by one, people were tapped on the shoulder and stood up to walk out and be debadged. Keith, who was sitting next to me said, Are you going to walk out?’ ’No.’ Security tapped us and said, ‘C’mon, you have to leave.’ ‘No.’ Keith and I linked arms.”

Naidoo was handcuffed as the only person reported to have been treated this way and went out among the first the front door. The only two that refused to leave were both taken by the security guards and then handed over to the police outside at the backdoor who drove them to the protest outside at the Occupy action going on since some time at the front of the building were they could leave.

Very little detailed arguments are made against the accuracy of Petermann's accounts so firmly confirmed by the Avaaz video of the course of the events. The strong differences are in how what happened is valued and how it was planned.

The reactions are against presenting the action as a way to use young participants to give an opportunity for Greenpeace and other big environmental NGOs to present a photo opportunity for the media. ”They were hardly useful pawns for a big Greens photo-op, and I find your characterisation of them as useful idiots, effectively, to be really frustrating”, writes Cat. There were at the action free possibility to use the mic check opportunity and some youth certainly did. But the director of Greenpeace also clearly dominated and spoke five to ten times longer then anyone else.

Also the accusation by Petermann against the action to have been male dominated and patriarchic is questioned. ”I also frankly do not see any gender issue in the planning or operation of the action”, writes Cat.

The central part of the accusation of top-down male domination during the action is the interventions made by those that negotiated with UN security. Fatima states: ” I find your words about Kumi and the male members of the 350 team personally offensive too. At no point did I feel like they were anything but equals to me.” And furthermore ” As for the other ‘males’ you accuse of patriarchy – they were nothing but supportive”. David Thong writes, ” I also frankly did not see any sign of male dominance, nor of it being a top down operation. Kumi seemed to be trying to negotiate with security, but I didn’t see that as top down.”

Petermann also includes Will Bates from in her group of dominating males. ”Will Bates, who was on the ’safe’ side of the security line, explained that UN security was giving the group ’a few minutes to think about what you want to do.’ While the group pondered, Will reminded the group that anyone who refused to leave would lose their badge and their access to the COP. ’That’s not letting us make up our minds!’ yelled a young woman.” In his comments Bates from have not opposed this description.

Instead he makes the following comment: ”I too felt very uncomfortable about the sort of “huddle” that took place with a few of us (yes, all men — I was cognizant of that as it was occurring too) with security as the action proceeded. I ended up as part of that huddle quite spontaneously as a result of being recognized as one of the action organizers and pulled through the security line. Once there, and hearing what sort of “agreement” was being considered with the security (to move outside), I then proceeded to argue that none of us could choose to re-locate on behalf of the larger group — and that in fact, the intent of the action was to stand our ground until removed from the conference, making the spirit of our movement and our objectives heard inside as long as possible. Kumi Naidoo stood by me as I very nervously made the case for staying where we were and at very least allowing the group to decide. Eventually the huddle agreed (well, aside from the security officials involved, clearly) that it should be left to the larger group to choose the course of the action, and that’s what happened. And in fact, I think the transparent group decision to stay, discussed and deliberated openly, was a great element of the action.” Which of the three evaluations concerning the possible top-down male nature of the action is the most accurate can anyone can find out by watching the Avaaz movie and reading the report by Petermann and the comments.

Concerning the planning of the action Petermann was wrong. The action was not planned in detail above the heads of young participants. The central role of Kumi Naidoo and Greenpeace and others had been given in advance at meetings were both YOUNGO, a Youth NGO delegation at the COP meetings as well as GCCA participated, the broad Global Campaign for Climate Action describing itself as ”born from conversations between internationally-respected campaigners and advocates representing environmental and development NGOs and social justice groups.” GCCA runs the TckTckTck campaign which according to their website ”strengthens global civil society action to prevent catastrophic climate change, adapt to climate impacts and make the transition to a more sustainable and just world.” Main initiators of the action were, member of GCCA intended as a mass action to support small islands states and African negotiators.

There is of course a legitimate role at actions that initiators in a transparent way negotiate with security authorities. That both Greenpeace and did not know that people debadged at earlier COPs were not refused accreditation for following meetings shows incompetence in being negotiators at important historical conjunctures were strong civil disobedience is called for. But that many men had been elected to be negotiators is clear and thus had the full right to do so. The question is in what way they did this. One should be very careful with hindsight. It is easy to sit on the side afterwards with videos and statements to come with an analysis and proposals for how things could have been handled better. To the benefit of Bates he certainly attempts at discussing what have happened with an open mind. Others chose to see Petermann's report only as totally inaccurate closing doors not only between themselves and those that stayed. But also to those not present that ask if the Avaaz video really shows a mass action that lives up to the intentions at the historical moment as an expression of ”the highest tradition of peaceful civil disobedience”. Those that do not only want words about climate justice but also action.

That Petermann puts in the same box as Greenpeace is also strongly opposed by commentators. But did the same as Greenpeace during the action. As initiators had the responsibility and the possibility to take charge of the course of events when it comes to necessary information on the security conditions. This seems to have been done in a way that caused confusion and gave Greenpeace the totally dominating role in what was an achievement by By describing the sentiment of the action as strong while avoiding to take into consideration the actual total change of the decision to not leave voluntarily shows that it is not only unfit to inform correctly about security consequences but also that it tries to hide the way the organization turned a strong action into a defeat for the democratic decision to stay.

Now what can be the conclusions? The central position of was well deserved. Like no other organization has been able to make a call for action that have resulted in unprecedented climate mass actions all over the world. That the legitimacy established by this role was given over to Greenpeace is a choice that devalues the role of self-organized mass actions into he hands of professionalized management of political opinion. This is a pity for several reasons, which has to be addressed at this historical conjuncture in the struggle for climate justice. The weakness of Petermann's account is that criticism is only directed at so called big environmental NGOs. Everyone have had the chance to initiate the kind of mass actions called for by in the struggle for climate justice but have chosen to focus on action for the few or very well developed political analysis of the situation. It is necessary to analyze how different organizations act to demand coherence and promote the ability to strengthen the climate justice movement. This will be important in general but also for the preparation for the coming Rio+20 summit in June 2012.

Tord Björk

Active in Friends of the Earth Sweden

Active in organizing alternative activities at the UN Conference on Human Environment 1972

Co-coordinator of international climate action days in 70 countries 1991-92

International contact person for the declaration process at Klimaforum09 during COP15