COP17 People’s space culture evenings just keep delivering !

Various artists were on show at the COP17 Peoples Space held at Howard college every weekday night. From peotry readings, kwaito, reggae, blues and the ever present Tanga Pasi. Such talent on display – make sure you find time to come to Howard college from 8pm to 10 pm for live entertainment adn movie screenings at 7. Definitely worthwhile. Hosted by Pamela Ngwenya and Nidhi Nepaul. (Photographs by Timothy Wiggill).


Experiences of a journalist at COP17 …

Between the smatterings of German, Dutch and Korean and having to dodge the perilous wheelie- bag infested walkways, COP17 has, so far, been quite an interesting experience.
During this time, I have been mistaken for a Brazilian, lost my way in Durban’s bustling CBD and been burnt to a crisp, but I’ve also learnt a lot.
I’ve seen the frustrations of developing countries about some wealthier nations not being keen on signing a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
I’ve sense the despondency of climate activists.
I’ve also felt the pain of the representatives of the indigenous people being displaced by carbon mitigation projects in their countries.
But I’ve also felt the hope, and the enthusiasm for what some believe is a lost cause, and that spurs me on.
So what have I learnt four days into COP17?
It’s been four days of technical jargon, shirt-wetting humidity and overpriced food, but, despite the blisters from running between the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre, the Durban Exhibition Centre and the Climate Change Response Expo across the road, I have to say I still feel optimistic and excited, albeit a little tired.
Who knows? South Africa might just surprise everyone. ~ Kamcilla Pillay

A bad day … really?

 You wake up every morning, get out of bed, stumble to the kitchen and make a hot cup of coffee. Standard right? On your way back to the lounge, you stub your toe on the furniture. “Ahhh!” you blurt out in anger and then curse for several minutes thereafter. The start of a bad day: the truth is, we all will probably never know a bad day. Indigenous tribes in Peru reside in the forests and have done for centuries; they and all other groups in forests live in harmony with nature and possibly the few of us that live truly sustainable lives. Drinking water, planting crops and raising livestock for personal consumption only and only using what we need and not for commercial gain that is sustainable living. It is climate change and projects such as “REDD+” that are driving these people out of forest into … the unknown. Deforestation of forests just to replant monoculture just to gain carbon credits is not the way to curb climate change: it just gives people who can afford it (industry) an opportunity to pollute. Members of these indigenous tribes were present at a media briefing during COP17 during the week; the men almost looking in uniform with black pants and white shirts as if they had done shopping to board a plane and travel 10922.20 km to Durban to tell their story. The sad truth is that only one journalist attended the media briefing; an absolute failing of humanity on these people. So the next time you stub your toe or curse at how miserable your life is or day was for that matter, Remember, it isn’t, it really isn’t. ~ Kamleshan Pillay

COP OUT … (30/11/11)

A lab of environmental carnage (Ashwin Desai, 30/11/11) Daily News

Copy of ND Wentworth residents
Residents of Wentworth matching against Engen. Picture: S’bonelo Ngcob

High on the Bluff, environmentalists are fighting a major battle with the municipality.

The city of Durban has signalled its intention to install wind turbines, but the site proposed for this is also the habitat of the Egyptian slit-faced bat (Nycteris thebaica) and the large-ear-free-tailed bat (Otomops martienssen). Wildlife activists say the spinning blades will pose a hazard to the bats.

In the valley below, an older battle between activists and polluters unfolds daily. This is the South Basin, with the township of Wentworth lying at its heart.

The massive curving pipes, 10 storeys high, connected to stacks that flare red flame around the clock, dominate the landscape. Wentworth is across a narrow road from a huge petrochemical refinery.


The development in the South Basin was carried out at the instigation of white business interests, with the aggressive support of both the local and national government, during the apartheid era. This meant the uprooting of whole communities. In Clairwood, for example, the population declined from 50 000 in 1960 to 5 000 in 1970.

This “creative destruction” was done under the auspices of scientific management, implemented by planning bureaucracies at the local level.

With the present government earmarking the South Basin as a priority development zone, the trend threatens to continue.

The alternatives for the communities are also out of City Hall’s dusty old socialengineering textbooks: relocation, voluntary or otherwise.

People living in an area known as the Barracks in Wentworth, where row upon row of poorly built and narrow dwellings exist, giving the impression of fowl runs, have been persistently threatened with removal to a place some distance from the city centre, where the dwellings are so badly built, cramped and isolated that they have been dubbed “toilets in the veld”.

The green parts of the South Basin are under constant threat from petro-chemical companies seeking to gobble up more land. As if to compound the burdens of the South Basin, it was signalled on the eve of COP17, that Clairwood Racecourse is earmarked for sale to a private property developer.

Meanwhile, there is endemic and chronic asthma at rates four times the national average and a suspiciously high incidence of blood and lung cancers.

An environment conducive to the well-being of each citizen is the promise of the new South Africa, but stunted children, choking air and a repellent aura is the reality for those living here.

Émile Zola, resurrected in Wentworth, would not know that centuries had passed since the Industrial Revolution.

Fires break out, spewing mountains of black smoke into the air. People march. The government issues ultimatums.

When a fire broke out on October 10 at the Engen refinery, a hundred children from Settlers Primary School in nearby Merebank were taken to hospital. Children at this school have the highest recorded rate of asthma in the world, some 52 percent.

Environmentalists spewed venom, calling the fire “an indictment against both Engen and government health and safety officials”. The refinery spokesperson said the refinery “regrets any inconvenience or discomfort caused”.

The next morning, as usual, the fathers went to work at Engen. The mothers marched. The corporations bullied and threatened to close shop.

In these set-piece confrontations and sublimations to the need for paid employment one is reminded of the words of Hannah Arendt: “Nothing then remains but ghastly marionettes with human faces, which all behave like a dog in Pavlov’s experiments, which all react with perfect reliability even when going to their death, and which do nothing but react.”

At a march a protester carries a placard reading “Forward with worker control of the means of production; Socialism is the answer”.

Is that the answer? Socialism, with its wilful productionism. Would it change the environment in which people labour and the air that people breathe if the petro-chemical industry were nationalised? If capitalism puts profits before people, does not socialism puts production before people?

But marches are not for debate and engagement but controlled confrontation with the other.

The eminent geographer David Harvey writes of capitalism as “accumulation through dispossession.” Socialism always seems like accumulation through repossession by a centralised state machinery that keeps production intact but distributes more fairly.

As if to confirm my un- ease the following week the general secretary of the all-mighty National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) berated environmentalists. He wanted us to keep the coal mines churning, but under worker control of course. In order to address these conundrums, leftists have come up with a new fudge, eco-socialism.

Scanning the literature, it is hard to discern the content of what the economy will look like under the sway of eco-socialists but no doubt a manifesto will emerge during the civil society deliberations around COP17.

As morning breaks, slit-faced bats prepare to do battle with wind turbines, mothers pack asthma pumps alongside their children’s school books, fathers don overalls to seek work at the very factories that clog their lungs.

Lydia Johnson, the KwaZulu-Natal MEC who gave Engen an ultimatum to come clean, gets fired.

The community calls a meeting at Settlers Primary School smelling, through cynical nostrils, a conspiracy.

We agree to a memorandum and another march.

l Ashwin Desai is Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg



Sustainable bio-energy fuelled by cow dung (Laea Medley, Daily news, 29/11/2011)

Rhythm Divine ….

Musical brilliance: Tanga Pasi performing live (Spencer and Pamela Ngwenya in shot) Picture by Timothy Wiggill
The rhythm filled the air with song and dance at the COP17 Peoples Space held at Howard College yesterday hosted by Nidhi Nepaul and Pamela Ngwenya: A definite success. It must be said that the night was stolen by Tanga Pasi, with their melodic voices, amazing beat and overall charisma on stage, they are a definite must see. Other acts included interpretative dance, poetry readings which were performed by Nomvula Greeninglady; Bongisipho Bongs Phewa and Menzi Maseko. Tonight, there is going to be a movie screening of “The reckoning” which should be entertaining and informative. Make sure you bring all your mates down to the Peoples space for these evenings which run for the duration of COP17. A fun evening out and you will definitely be inspired in an environmental sense … See you there tonight. ~ Kamleshan Pillay