Sunday, 29 November 2015

Report from WITS Student Activist on Jozi Climate Justice March

Author: Felix Kwabena Donkor
Marching With the Planet One Step At A Time – Johannesburg Climate Justice March
Demonstrations have been a common feature at international climate meetings since at least 1990. However, “sympathy” or solidarity marches in places far removed from the climate talks – have equally become popular over the years. This weekend, thousands of people in cities across the globe took to the streets to protest against governments' inaction on climate change, hoping the Paris climate summit that follows immediately after will be a turning point.

This year’s event could not have been at a more opportune time. Coming on the heels of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit and on the eve of the much awaited COP 21 Climate Negotiations in Paris, it was sandwiched between two main highlights of the year 2015. In South Africa, people gathered together in Johannesburg to march for an ambitious climate agreement in Paris, COP21  demanding firm action as global leaders get ready to sit down to their negotiations. People from all walks of life started trickling in from early morning and by 10.00 am the crowd gained momentum and surged on the principal streets of town. The mammoth gathering had people holding placards some of which read: “ Go Solar”; Never Trust the COP;I have been a good girl, I don’t want coal for Christmas”; Coal=Climate Chaos”; “Poverty, Climate Change and Hunger, it is the same”; ‘Eskom stop Smoking Our Planet’ amongst others. 

Similarly people took the streets with different motivations. Some sentiments expressed by some people in the march include:
Vishwas Satgar an activist and  lecturer in international relations at the University of the Witwaterstrand: There is the need for a global solidarity against a corporate controlled climate negotiations. Human solidarity against failing governments which are not putting forward climate justice solutions. This is an avenue for grassroots solutions such as food sovereignty, socially owned renewable energy, climate jobs, solidarity economy, universal income grant, public transport all to achieve a just transition where the poor landless workers do not pay the price for us suffering the climate crisis.
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 Penny-Jane Cooke, climate and energy coordinator for Greenpeace Africa: Greenpeace Africa wants South Africa to take action. Make commitments to achieving 100% renewable energy, divest from coal and the fossil fuels. We want to hold government accountable to do what they say they will do internationally.
Jane and Thomas of the Wits Food Sovereignty Campaign and Climate Justice echoed the sentiments of other groups: It is important to raise awareness and mobilise effort. So we came to show solidarity and support and in doing so create awareness and support for climate change as we need climate justice so by being here. We promote this in our own small way.  Annika whose placard (I have been a good girl, I don’t want coal for Christmas!) caught the attention of many protesters was there with Chris, Felix, Vish, Attish, Rowan and some other friend of the Inala Forum.
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A lone protester said he came because: I am concerned about what humans are doing to the planet; it is time to look after the planet.
Kido from Sasolburg: People are affected in Saslburg like other communities with TB, Asthma and other terrible diseases due to the degradation of their environment.
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A representative of Mine Affected Communities (MACUA): Mines for coal supply big stations which emit harmful smoke into the atmosphere and affects the poor people the most. They are not employed by the mines, they are relocated, they are sick, their land is degraded and they cannot farm the land. This is further complicated by the complicity of government with mining firms.
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A vegan advocate: People need to be educated that climate change is real, and human caused.The number one problem is animal agriculture 51%. So we can change what we eat and do something.
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Moeketsi of the Vaal Environmental Group: The problem of climate change is a problem of all of us. We have to come together and show decision makers their decisions are affecting all of us.
A representative of 350 Africa.org : COP 21 meeting tomorrow in Paris France. As an international organisation we came to demonstrate in solidarity with others concerned about climate justice an on behalf of those who cannot demonstrate in Paris due to current circumstances. Our main concern is divestment. # Fossil fuel must fall!
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Sammy Morgan of the Africa Climate Reality Project and Food and Tents: We believe climate change poses an existential threat to all humanity. Climate change affects the poor and here in Africa we came to voice our message to COP 21 to conclude an agreement that deals effectively to society and act.
The Johannesburg march was organised by Earthlife Africa Jhb in collaboration with a number of grassroots and international organisations such as Avaaz, Greenpeace, 350.org. Ultimately, this march is led by and overwhelmingly constituted by community activists Sisonke Women's Club, Inner City Resource Centre, Orange Farm Water Crisis Committee, Youth Agricultural Ambassadors, DIVINE GREEN Co-op, Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, Go Green Tembisa Environmental Forum, MASAKHANE Civic Association, Riverside Community, Displaced Rates Payers Association, Kwa-Thema Working Group, Treatment Action Campaign, Poritjie, Thabeng Tsa Mogale, Evaton West Faith Based Organisation, Sphamandla Community Based Organisation).
The colourful march which was interspersed with drumming and dancing ended on the precincts of Eskom which is blamed for using low grade coal in its stations across south Africa hence a ‘climate criminal’ denying people of their right to breathe and live healthy. People then listened to solidarity messages from the participating civil society groups showing diversity of support for the issue.
It was the firm prayer of protesters that as they trumpet their concerns on the streets, it will simultaneous echo with other marches across the globe to heard in the corridors of power and come to play at the Paris COP 21 Climate negotiations.
Inala members then continued to the neighbourhood food market to interact with some food vendors and proceeded to the Wits Food Garden where they weeded, watered and tilled the garden. They then had some chilled time with nature as they treated themselves with salad, wine, braai, bread and some other awesome stuff. Finally the day ended with some soccer.
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The mood could best be desrbed in the words of Oliver Twist of Charles Dickens Fame, “..we want more!