Tag Archives: durban

BRICS lessons in (un)sustainable urbanisation

By Patrick Bond, November 27, 2013. Source: Daily Maverick

Site of the pipeline explosion in Qingdao, China. Screenshot by Sina Weibo

Site of the pipeline explosion in Qingdao, China. Screenshot by Sina Weibo

What is to be done, in the wake of Warsaw climate summit’s conclusive failure to cap emissions last weekend? The answer: walk out of the United Nations process when it needs delegitimation, and work much harder to curtail pollution in your home sites of struggle, everyone in civil society agreed.

For the 40 percent of the world suffering in the increasingly desperate Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) economies, this self-mandate is ever more vital, the more that both irresponsible multinational corporates and homegrown firms abuse the environment and societies, with nods of approval from corrupted, subimperialist local rulers.

It is this crew that our Durban elites are again (as in March this year) hosting in the International Convention Centre: the BRICS ministerial conference ironically entitled “Towards Sustainable Urbanisation.”

Tragically, on everyone’s mind is the explosion in one of China’s largest cities last Friday morning. What spin-doctoring should BRICS delegates believe, regarding Sinopec Corporation’s oil pipeline leak and deadly blast in Durban’s sister city of Qingdao?

With an estimated 60 lives lost, 130 injured and 18,000 evacuated, China’s State Administration of Work Safety quickly announced the culprits: “poor designs of the pipeline and local drainage networks, negligence on the part of safety officials, bad maintenance of the oil pipeline, as well as officials’ failure to seal off the affected area and evacuate residents after they detected the leak, seven hours before the explosions.”

As seven of its officials were arrested just as president Xi Jinping visited the site, Sinopec responded by blaming Qingdao municipal officials. Here in Durban that would indeed be a plausible line of argument, given the city’s decades-long failure to come up with an emergency evacuation plan notwithstanding repeated pipeline leaks and refinery explosions in South Durban.

The politician responsible for city government in our province, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, sent condolences , acknowledging that “Qingdao’s delegation is set to make a presentation on building productive and sustainable urban economies at the Urbanisation Forum.”

Will that presentation concede that China’s cities epitomize unsustainability, what with massive real estate speculation, extreme pollution, a migrant labour system akin to Apartheid’s, and prolific social protests?

If you take advice from Qingdao on sustainable urbanisation, well then why not ask Russia for help with nuclear technology post-Chernobyl, or beg the Pentagon to train SA National Defence Force against terrorism after the brutalising US troops were kicked out of Iraq and Afghanistan? Oh damn it, we do!

Durban, a major port with nearly 4 million residents, is certainly in desperate need of sustainable urbanization, given its history of racial apartheid since 1994 and worsening class apartheid ever since. For one, the city is strewn with white-elephant projects, including the money-losing, elite-magnet Convention Centre itself.

And just before the Qingdao delegation landed in Durban, their airplane flew above a newly-crumpled shopping mall, easily visible, as it lies in the suburb of Tongaat near the King Shaka “international” airport. That mainly empty barn is our most recent poster-child for unsustainable economics: a money-wasting “aerotropolis”-wannabe hub, just a 45-minute flight from Africa’s busiest airport, OR Tambo in Johannesburg.

Since the old South Durban airport was perfectly functional for many more years, the $1 billion spent on King Shaka International could have been put to use in bottom-up development – were it not for seven games of the unsustainable 2010 World Cup here that catalysed its too-early construction, as well as the empty albeit world-class Moses Mabhida Stadium next door to our existing mostly-empty world-class rugby stadium.

Popular anger for the dramatic collapse of the mall – which was still under construction when the collapse killed two people last week – now centres on one Jay Singh, a notorious tenderpreneur-builder who wrecked so much of the nearby Phoenix community’s low-cost (and upon rebuilding, high-cost) housing, not to mention the city’s public bus service (privatised and soon ruined), and therefore also on former city manager Mike Sutcliffe, who egged on Singh and similar cronies from 2002-11 before growing outcries contributed to his unwilling departure.

Holding a BRICS urban conference here is terribly bad timing, at both ends of the sister-city relationship. “As we extend our condolences to our partners from Qingdao, we also hope to exchange with them our own insights from the rescue operation in Tongaat,” said Dube-Ncube on Monday.

Rescue? What about sharing insights about the causes, in Durban’s systematic malgovernance? Much more information about Singh and Sutcliffe can be drawn from the “Manase Report” that Dube-Ncube had herself commissioned in 2011 and then tried to keep secret. It’s a vast 7051-page report, documenting patronage-based, parasitical class formation (the type of study all our BRICS cities need).

Feeling, therefore, right at home, the Chinese delegates might share Sinopec’s insights into expanding oil transport through these cities’ dense-packed residential areas. Sinopec seems to have no qualms about pollution, in a context, in many Chinese cities, where it is unsafe to breathe if you are outside air-conditioned buildings. Sinopec is so irresponsible that in late August, the Chinese state suspended the huge firm from engaging in any new refining and chemical projects because it didn’t meet 2012 emissions targets.

The same crime, ignoring air quality legislation, is daily committed by our own leading energy corporation, Eskom – which is up for the Davos ‘Public Eye’ awards for world’s worst corporation (vote!, please) – as well as by the huge South Durban oil refineries that give our city the reputation of  “Africa’s armpit”.

Yet all continue moving forward with multi-billion dollar expansions, including the doubling of capacity in the Durban-Joburg oil pipeline which – at more than double the advertised initial costing and way behind schedule – was recently rerouted from white through black residential areas due, it would appear, to the parastatal agency Transnet ’s residual racism.

So if Sinopec is having trouble at home, no doubt filthy South Africa offers a welcoming business environment in which to invest. In March, during the BRICS summit at the same Convention Centre, Sinopec announced its partnership in the $8 billion Mthombo project at Port Elizabeth’s Coega zone, a deal which by 2015 will allegedly result in Africa’s single largest oil refinery.

In this context, all the BRICS local government ministers, urban officials and corporate allies meeting in Durban today must be pleased at the outcome of the Warsaw Conference of the Parties 19 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change last weekend: “let the planet burn!” (Even if that means chunks of coastal cities like Durban and Qingdao sink a meter or two by 2100, including both cities’ ports.)

Already, Durban’s annual per person emissions arehigher than even London’s and Beijing, at eight tonnes of CO2 equivalent, thanks to capital-intensive high-carbon industry and transport. The failure of Singh’s privatised bus service has a little bit to do with that.

But the main problem is the city’s economic development strategy, as endorsed in the country’s National Development Plan, based on sports tourism (maybe an Olympic bid for 2024), petrochemical expansion, and raising the port’s freight traffic from 2.5 million to 20 million containers per year.

This is outrage enough, given Durban’s thousands of truck crashes each year and especially the recent massacre of two dozen black minibus commuters by an out-of-control container truck on one of the hilly highways linking Durban to Johannesburg (Field’s Hill).

Just prior to Durban’s hosting the UN COP17 climate summit in 2011, a $25 billion plan for this extreme port-petrochemical expansion in South Durban was conjured secretly by Transnet and Sutcliffe, with public information flowing like water-drip torture. In 2012, it suddenly became the country’s second largest Strategic Infrastructure Project (after coal exports through Richards Bay).

Sadly, a former trade unionist who is now the minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, is trying to fast-track these mega-projects with minimalist Environmental Impact Assessments. The Centre for Environmental Rights remarked on Patel’s “disregard for the very notion of sustainable development and integrated environmental management and planning.”

In the same spirit, Transnet engaged in climate denialism when making application for a huge berth expansion in the existing harbour. But last month, in an unusual move by the national environment ministry, Transnet’s Environmental Impact Assessment was rejected. By way of disclosure, on several occasions I questioned the draft EIA’s climate-change denialism, alongside the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) which firmly opposes the port-petrochem mega-project for health, social, ecological and economic reasons.

There is more resistance coming. For example, SDCEA’s new six-minute YouTube video threatens Transnet with a financial sanctions campaign against their overly-expensive international bond issues (investors get a 9.5% return in London) if attacks on South Durban residents by the parastatal and its allied oil companies persist:

  • In traditionally coloured (mixed-race) Wentworth township, Shell and BP (together using the Sapref refinery) will move the Single Buoy Mooring pipeline that brings in 80 percent of SA’s oil so as to accommodate the new port, probably disrupting one of the two main beaches traditionally used by South Durban’s black residents.
  • The Indian and African farmers on land next to the old airport – the site of the proposed $10 billion privatized “Dig Out Port” – were just given notice they will be evicted by Transnet, an announcement which brought many residents and the South Durban Climate Camp out to a solidarity protest last week.
  • A bit further southwards, Isipingo residents who will lose their main beach – also enjoyed by predominantly black visitors – are increasingly opposed to the Transnet expansion.
  • Indeed, concerned communities of all races, as far north and west as Queensburgh, Pinetown, Sarnia, the Bluff, Umbilo and Glenwood fighting the new trucking routes.

Durban’s other BRICS-twinned cities presenting at the ICC this week also have their hands full with protesters: tens of thousands of democrats who swarmed St Petersburg in late 2011; in Mumbai, a constant cat-and-mouse struggle by slum-dwellers to survive the increasingly mean streets; and millions who gathered in Rio de Janeiro several times in June this year, to fight public transport rate hikes and Sepp Blatter’s Zurich soccer World Cup mafia.

The most degenerate lessons in crowd control, though, are homegrown: cops at Cato Manor’s police station who decided to execute an estimated 50 suspects since 2003 instead of going to court, and top ruling-party politicians (including the mayor) who incited an Abahlali baseMjondolo community leader’s assassination at a Cato Crest meeting five months ago, expanding Durban’s long-standing record of civil society activist hits.

BRICS from above will probably keep such lessons fresh for as long as they can. Perhaps in future years, a “brics-from-below” side event can link up protesters from Qingdao to South Durban (and in between) to really teach the elites about urban eco-social sustainability. In contrast to their unsustainable, crony-capitalist assassination-cities.

Meantime, much more damage will be done, and multifaceted resistance must likewise strengthen.

(Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society.)

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Filed under Africa, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Pollution

Video: Petrochemical expansion threatens South Durban – A $25 billion mega-project mistake

November 27, 2013.  Source: South Durban Community Environmental Alliance


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COP19 – the cathedral and the bazaar

By Trevor Davies, 14 November 2013, Source: Thought Leader

The people in suits want to talk and nothing will stop them from listening to the sound of their own voices. COP19, the global climate-change meeting, might seem far away in Warsaw, Poland, this week but like a massive weather system migrating the globe its impact will be felt in Africa for sure.

Africa knows how to throw a party and South Africa — the 13th largest polluter on the planet — added big time to its carbon emissions, thanks to its hosting of the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference popularly known as COP17 in Durban. A primary focus of the conference was to secure a global climate agreement as the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period (2008-2012) was about to end.

This didn’t happen. After two weeks of negotiations a deal was reached only on the last day, Sunday December 11, after a 60-hour marathon negotiation session. The Durban conference agreed to establish a legally binding deal comprising all countries by 2015, which was to take effect in 2020.

The president of the Durban conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, declared it a success, but scientists and environmental groups warned then that the deal was not sufficient to avoid global warming beyond 2 °C as more urgent action is needed.

Continue reading

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Filed under Africa, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests and Climate Change, Natural Disasters, Politics, Pollution, UNFCCC

BRICS to sustain the oil-based system

By Nnimmo Bassey, March 25, 2013. Source: Oilwatch International

BRICSDurban, South Africa – Oilwatch International notes that the economic and political formation known by the acronym BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) started as an idea of Goldman Sachs for describing the main emerging markets. It is easy to read as a grouping conceptualized not in the interests of the people or the earth but for the sake of capital accumulation for the 1% and dispossession of the 99%, sustained by a system for the continuing extraction and consumption of fossil fuels.

The world has thus been saddled with yet another arbitrary and artificial multi-lateral collective like the G8, the G20 and whatever other “G” may be dreamt up tomorrow. Generally, such groupings have the role of subverting formal multilateral processes where some possibilities still exist for democratic decision-making. Groupings like the BRICS are like old-boy clubs, bestowing a sense of exclusivity on their members and enticing them to work for the collective interest of the powerful and to the detriment of others. When BRICS collectively gave $75 billion to the IMF in 2012, it was not Europe or the US which lost voting power – but Africa. When BRICS (minus Russia) signed the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ with Washington in 2009, this sleazy deal confirmed that the fossil-fuel addicted economies could continue polluting unabated while the rest of Africa is cooked by climate change. Continue reading

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Radical Anthropology 2012 on Commodification of Life, Occupy and more

Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 9.58.21 AM

Cover photo: March for climate justice in Durban, South Africa December 2011 by Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project

To download the PDF of the current edition of Radical Anthropology, click here

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Africa, Biodiversity, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests, Forests and Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, REDD, Rights, Resilience, and Restoration, The Greed Economy and the Future of Forests

Another witness of UN security violence to photographer during Durban Climate Convention

Note:  This official statement below, from Kevin Buckland, was sent to the UN today regarding Orin Langelle’s Formal Complaint Against UN Security and the response Langelle received from the UN’s John Hay, UN Media Relations Officer.  [See the response from the UN that Climate Connections posted last Friday: UN denies security used undue force when smashing camera into photographer’s face]  Langelle was on assignment for Z Magazine and he is also the board chair for Global Justice Ecology Project. We will continue to keep you posted as things develop.-The GJEP Team

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing to submit an official statement regarding an act of violence that occurred inside the ICC on December 8th, 2011 in Durban, South Africa by a member of the UNFCCC  Security. As mentioned in the official complaint filed by Orin Langelle, I was being escorted by security after giving an interview wearing a traditional clown costume (at this moment, I will not raise question as to the legitimacy of this expulsion). Upon descending a staircase, a reporter, Orin Langelle, began to loudly question the security officer asking (I do not recall the exact wording): “Is this man being expelled from the conference? What rules have been broken? Are you arresting him?” At which point the security officer very quickly approached Mr. Langelle and grabbed the front of the lens of his camera covering it so he could not photograph. The officer did not attempt to remove the camera from Mr. Langelle, but instead decided to very aggressively physically pushed the camera into his face. Mr. Langelle was notably distraught after such an unwarranted act of violence. In the next 30 meters, from the bottom of the stairs to the security office, the same officer aggressively but nonviolently confiscated two more cameras of two other conference attendants who began to photograph the incident. The officer did give a warning to one of the photographers who was photographing immediately before taking his camera, but no warning was given to Mr. Langelle or the other photographer. The officer arrived to the security office with no less than 3 cameras he had confiscated (these were shortly returned).

As I was being informed of my expulsion from the conference. I commented to UNFCCC official Warren Waetford on the surprisingly aggressive attitude of the officer – considering there was absolutely no aggression besides his own. (I had been walking calmly behind him as I am sure he will acknowledge.) I recommended to Mr. Waetford that this unprovoked act of aggression be addressed, and would like to reiterate that recommendation now to the UNFCCC secretariat, and formally.

I also asked why any security officer had the right to confiscate cameras at will, and was informed that UNFCCC Security Officers have the right not to be photographed, but are required to ask photographers to stop photographing, and only if the photographer refused could the officer confiscate their cameras. In the case of Mr. Langelle and another unnamed photographer, no warning was given.

Finally, I would like to comment on the official response issued by the UN regarding this incident. It stated: “Our investigations indicate that it was necessary to clear a passage within the conference center that was being obstructed, in the interest of the safety of all participants and in the interest of the smooth operation of the conference.  At no time was undue force applied in the exercise.” I would like to attest, as a witness to the incident, that this official statement is not true. If this statement derives from testaments by the arresting officer, then he has then both committed an act of violence and lied. No passage was blocked. It was the Security Guard who first approached Mr. Langelle because of his loud questioning, straying from the most direct path to the security office, and without any verbal warnings violently and aggressively took his camera. Undue force was very clearly applied.

I believe this incident should call into question the UNFCCC’s prohibition on documentation of its own security forces. As this case demonstrates – a clear violation both of the policy of giving warnings before confiscation of cameras, as well as an unwarranted act of violence, occurred. If we are denied even the freedom of press to protect ourselves against violence by armed officials inside a space under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, then the UN itself is complicit in the tyranny it was founded to confront.


Kevin Buckland

Barcelona, Spain

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Filed under Climate Change, Independent Media, Political Repression, UNFCCC

UN Climate Conference: The Durban Disaster

By Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle

Cross-Posted from Z Magazine, February 2012

During the march against the Conference of Polluters. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

This year’s UN Climate Conference of the Parties (COP-17) inDurban, South Africa, nicknamed “The Durban Disaster,” took the dismalt track record of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to new lows. At one point, it appeared that the talks might actually collapse, but a small cabal of 20-30 countries held exclusive closed-door talks over the final days to create the Durban Platform, which carbon analyst Matteo Mazzoni described as “an agreement between parties to arrange another agreement.”

The details of the platform will not be completed until 2015 and will not be implemented until 2020, leading many to charge that the 2010s will be the lost decade in the fight to stop climate catastrophe. Pablo Solón, the former Ambassador to the UN for the Plurinational state of Bolivia, summed up the negotiations this way: “The Climate Change Conference ended two days later than expected, adopting a set of decisions that were known only a few hours before their adoption. Some decisions were not even complete at the moment of their consideration. Paragraphs were missing and some delegations didn’t even have copies of these drafts. The package of decisions was released by the South African presidency with the ultimatum, ‘Take it or leave it’.”

Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, similarly condemned the outcomes: “An increase in global temperatures of four degrees Celsius permitted under this plan is a death sentence forAfrica, small island states, and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. This summit has amplified climate apartheid whereby the richest 1 percent of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99%percent.”

Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the North America-based Indigenous Environmental Network, went even further, calling the outcome, “climate racism, ecocide, and genocide of an unprecedented scale.”

The UN, on the other hand, trumpeted the success of the conference at “saving tomorrow, today.” One of the great achievements touted by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, was the renewed commitment to the Kyoto Protocol (KP):  “…countries, citizens, and businesses who have been behind the rising global wave of climate action can now push ahead confidently, knowing that Durban has lit up a broader highway to a low-emission, climate resilient future.”

To read the entire article, please visit the Z Magazine website

To view Orin Langelle’s Photo essays from Durban, go to:

Photo Essay: Global Day of Action Against UN Conference of Polluters (COP) in Durban

Photo Essay: UN Climate COP: Corporate Exhibitionism (parting shots)

To read the associated blog post by Anne Petermann, go to:  Showdown at the Durban Disaster, Challenging the Big Green Patriarchy

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Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, Posts from Anne Petermann, REDD, UNFCCC

Radio Hour: Keystone XL Pipeline Decision, Analysis of the Durban Disaster, Preparing for Rio+20

The KPFK’s Sojourner Truth show on January 19th hosted a special hour-long Earth Segment devoted to discussing the announcement of the Obama Administration that it was rejecting the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, as well as analyzing the outcomes of last month’s UN Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa, and what comes next for the climate change movement with the Rio+20 Earth Summit to be held in Rio de Janiero in June.

Speakers on the show included Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network, Teresa Almaguer, Youth Program Director at PODER!, a member of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.

To listen to the hour-long show, go to: Sojourner Truth show Jan 19, 2012

Global Justice Ecology Project and the Sojourner Truth show partner each week for an Earth Minute every Tuesday and an Environmental Segment every Thursday.

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