4December 2011 – On Saturday 3 December, 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 Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana 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 tracksuits with city branding and emblems, but acknowledged themselves to be ANC Youth League supporters, displaying pro-Zuma and anti-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.
Civil society groups are calling a press conference today regarding the
infringement of democratic rights of activists to protest.