Rural Farmers Protest “Climate Apartheid” in Durban

by Cole Mellino

As the climate talks unfold in Durban, South Africa, farmers all over the world are feeling the impact of extreme weather exacerbated by a warming planet.

Changing weather patterns, especially rainfall, are having disastrous affects on global crops. Last year in the Caribbean, banana and vegetable crops were hit hard by months of drought followed by torrential rains that resulted in flooding. The story is the same in Southern Africa. Droughts and erratic rainfall in the South African desert are destroying the Redbush tea plant, known by its Afrikaner name Rooibos. In other areas of the world, a range of agricultural products like coffee, chocolate, peanuts, and pumpkins are all being harmed by extreme weather.

But farmers in Africa — a continent that would be worst hit by climate change — are not idly sitting by. Protesting outside the Durban climate talks, members of the Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly are expressing their frustration with international inaction on climate:

“We’ve come to join other rural women farmers from the southern African region,” said Thandiure Chidararume, a member of ActionAid, an international organization that helped bring together this meeting of the Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly. “We have come as one voice from Africa, we are saying no to damning deals, Africa is not for sale, we want this air pollution that is causing climate change to stop now.”

The assembly unites women’s farming and agricultural unions and movements from around the world.

Women from all across Africa, some as far north as Kenya, came out to the rally at a Kawaulu-Natal University in Durban, several kilometers from the downtown convention center where the more subdued, official meetings on climate change are taking place.

The protesters, who also have the support of women’s movements in Latin America, do not believe that government negotiators represent their interests.

They lament the inaction by developed countries, and point to schemes in which biofuel companies or other firms buy land in countries in Africa and Latin America to make money off of trading carbon credits. These land grabs drive people off the land and often don’t reduce carbon emissions. That’s why Mercia Andrews, the director of the South African Trust for Community Outreach and Education, calls the situation “climate apartheid”:

“We have a responsibility, we have to begin to mobilize and we have the power. We have shaken this country before, we brought down apartheid, now is another turn. This is a bigger struggle, a more important struggle and this is a struggle that we must unite around. We must say, ‘No, to climate apartheid, no.’ ”

The concerns are real, said Theresa Marwei, an activist from Zimbabwe.

“I think if we can agree, all the countries that we are here, not to let the air be polluted, because we are having hunger, no water to drink, no gardens, no money to send our children to school because no rain,” she said. “If the rain comes it will be floods, we can’t do anything.”

This group of women representing rural farming interests is just one of many protesting outside the Durban climate talks in an attempt to get negotiators to see the human consequences of their actions.

— Cole Mellino is an intern with the energy team at the Center for American Progress

7 Responses to Rural Farmers Protest “Climate Apartheid” in Durban

  1. Leif says:

    I am beginning to feel that there will be more surprises in store for the “Durban Talks” than the Lame Stream Media bargained for.

  2. Farid Noori says:

    I’m very glad to see there is a big momentum all around the world against climate change!!! Good for you protesters!

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Africans have the moral high ground here, and this will drive emigration patterns in the future. India and Pakistan will soon experience similar difficulties.

    Instead of immigrants to North America and Europe trying to come in quietly and keep a low profile, it will be the opposite. Climate refugees will feel entitled, with justification.

    The Right will end up with their worst nightmare- one they brought on themselves.

  4. Leif says:

    The right is now on the defensive, this is when they start making obvious mistakes and pulling out all the stops. Push has come to shove and we are starting to shove back. We, the 99%, or I like to say, 100% of the poor, almost always win when we unite. The fight just gets dirty now because that is the only tactic of the right. We can not lose and only be crushed if we start to lay down. Then the Capitalistic/Corporate death star will roll over us all, with a dead planet in its wake. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

  5. sailrick says:

    Off topic
    There’s a story at CBS today –
    “Scientists cope as climate debate gets personal”;contentBody

    I recommend going over there and putting in your two cents, along with the 20 comments I just left.

  6. Naomi Klein gave a barn burner of a speech last night in Vancouver BC about the tar sands and the petro-corrupt Harper Government. In response to a complaint Harper is making now that American money is helping to fund the fight against the multi-national oil companies in the tar sands, Naomi said:

    “We are going to be as international and global as they are and they had just better get used to it.”


    I hope Africans know that their voices are critical in the fight against climate injustice.

    As Bill McKibben said recently in Vancouver as well, the greatest thing that worldwide rallies has shown him is that environmentalism isn’t just a hobby of the middle class whites…it is a global desire rooted in every kind of society and every economic and social level.

  7. Buzz Belleville says:

    There is a disheartening lack of progress both internationally and domestically. I think we need a new paradigm. Internationally, those nations that have adopted a policy that puts a price on carbon need to begin imposing tariffs on imports from nations (like China and the U.S.) that don’t do so. See The Obama administration (if it’s serious about addressing climate change) could even support this in backdoor meetings, as that would bring political pressure to bear on domestic U.S. policy. While cap-and-trade has become synonymous with big government and has no chance of passing in the near future, a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be supported by climate change activists and conservatives alike.

    Whatever has been happening so far in post-Kyoto negotiations and in domestic policy initiatives isn’t working. Let’s try something new.