Sutcliffe organises his own Green Bombers to intimidate the South African left
Mike Sutcliffe, the City Manager of Durban Metro had originally insisted that the march route stay out of Durban CBD. He then reneged as CI7’s 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 ANCYL 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 anti -Zuma, one placard was critical of Zuma, the rest were about climate justice. The Green Bombers then started to prevent the 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 block 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 these streets, and were singing pro-Zuma and pro COP 17 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 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 the 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 and the ANC through its Youth League has a number of questions to answer regarding their attempt to hijack a march of civil society. I am that sure Brian Ashley of the Alternative Information Development Centre and the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign, Michelle Maynard of PACJA, and Mercia Andrews of the Rural Women’s Assembly can testify to my report. They have called an urgent meeting with C17 tomorrow morning where they will be lodging a formal complaint.
Perhaps todays attacks are more understandable when you consider what happened on the 2nd December.
When reports came out on the evening of the 1st Dec from inside the COP17 negotiations about what is being termed the Durban Mandate, where governments from the developed nations are seeking to delay commitment on legally carbon emission reduction until 2020, or alternatively to lock emission reduction 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 2nd December, over 1000 comrades took to the streets in a spontaneous march to the ICC that clearly rattled the government and the authorities who are determined to what is really going on inside the COP17 negotiations. In this light maybe today’s aggressive action against the climate justice activists was an attempt to silence the truth.
I have lost my voice physically in all the commotion of today, so cannot do telephone interviews, but I will not be silenced and hence have taken the time to write this report and circulate it far and wide. You can also speak to Anita Khanna, who has helped me to write this report, on 083 357 5904 .