Chanting “Amandla,” the rallying cry of the South African anti-apartheid movement, thousands of people marched through the streets of Durban Saturday calling for “climate justice.”
Their appeal was aimed at diplomats locked in negotiations under the 194-nation UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is tasked with beating back the ever-mounting threat of global warming.
The crowd, estimated by police at 6,500, snaked through the coastal city’s downtown area shouting and singing against a backdrop of drums and vuvuzelas, the high-decibel plastic trumpets that gained worldwide notoriety when South Africa hosted the football World Cup.
Many in the crowd lashed out at the UN talks, which end next Friday, saying that they were moving too slowly in the face of potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change, and that many of the solutions proposed lean too heavily on the market.
“Climate Justice, not Climate Apartheid,” read one hand-written banner, flanked by others saying “Stop Killing Earth” or simply, “Justice!”
“We want them to stop the boring texts they are drafting and become as lively this march,” said Leo Saldanha, a climate activist from India.
“I don’t think that can save the world, it’s really movements and people that will force governments to change, not bureaucrats.”
Sande Wycliffe, a 24-year-old Kenyan, said it was time to make Africa’s voice heard.
“I am here to say to the world leaders that the time to act is now. They need to honour their promise of giving Africa resources that we need… so we can make our environment secure for the future.”
The peaceful demonstration, flanked by four armoured vehicles and riot police, was organised by a broad international coalition of environmental groups, farmers unions, and grassroots associations, organisers said.
“We are bringing the voice of people from South Africa and the world to say to those inside the negotiating rooms that that they have to actually take serious decisions on climate change,” said South African Lubna Nadri of the group Women in Action.
Decisions so far, she complained, reflect more the interests of big corporations and oil industries than the poorest people, most exposed to heatwaves, drought and floods intensified by global warming.
“That’s our message: we want climate justice, we don’t want climate apartheid,” she said.