Category Archives: South Africa

Hot Docs: Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me

Nelson Mandela. Synonymous with reconciliation. Forgiveness. A grandfatherly figure, laughing and smiling (though perhaps not as much as Desmond Tutu).

Freeing South Africa. Creating the Rainbow Nation.

A comforting narrative. Not a controversial figure. Not someone who used violence to reach his goals, who was labelled a terrorist by the American, and many other, governments. Not someone who said that our freedom is bound up in the freedom of the Palestinians.

The second film I saw at the Hot Docs festival 2014 was titled Nelson Mandela: The Myth & Me, also known as A Letter to Nelson Mandela. This was not a love letter to Mandela. It was a critical look at the myth that rose up once he was released from jail and went on to become South Africa’s first Black president. As one of the interviewees put it, he wasn’t that genteel, benign grandfatherly figure. “He was cold.”

Because the reality is that Mandela was the epitome of the phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” He’s been called both during his lifetime, and he’s made the epic arc from being widely viewed as a terrorist to now being overwhelmingly considered a saint; in fact, few people would argue otherwise, at least in polite company.

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Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, November 2011

This film, however, argues a more nuanced perspective of the man behind the myth. As write and director Khalo Matabane said during the Q&A after the screening, quoting the incredible Chimamanda Adichie, “It’s dangerous to have a single narrative. Mandela suffers from that, from the Western media as well as the media in South Africa.” For Matabane, this film was meant to provide multiple alternative narratives to the story of a man who is often only portrayed through a single lens.

And so he interviewed many diverse subjects – ranging from leftist activists to right-wing Conservative politicians (side note: when Henry Kissinger appeared on the screen, I wanted to boo and hiss. Same when Colin Powell described himself as essentially a peace activist who knew when to use hard power to get back to the bigger goal of peace. I did restrain myself). He interviewed people who believed that forgiveness was the ultimate goal – that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa went about things the right way, and that Madiba succeeded in transitioning from an armed idealist to a politician who could birth and cultivate a healthy, thriving democracy.

But there were other interview subjects who saw things differently. Who saw things similarly to the way I saw them when I visited South Africa two and a half years ago. They spoke of the myth of Mandela as a hero and a god (which was telling, as only gods can forgive, as one interviewee put it). And that he’d bought into that myth and even encouraged it. One woman, who’s caption simply read “Feminist” below her name (and apologies but I don’t remember the name and there’s no list of interview subjects online that I can find), spoke of how the reality on the ground was much different from the myth. The myth says that South Africans are free, that they are so much better off than they were under Apartheid, when they were dying in the streets. “But depending on who you are,” she said, “people still are dying in the streets.”

South Africa is a country of extreme contrasts. It’s the most advanced African country when it comes to LGBTQ rights, and yet Black lesbians know the fear of corrective rape all too well. It has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, yet it is also one of the most unequal societies in the world. This was starkly illustrated when I was flying into Cape Town from London at the end of 2011. Flying into the airport, when we got low enough that I could really see the houses, I saw grandiose homes, nearly every single one with a swimming pool. Then the homes became more structured, more box-like, and there were no more bursts of blue in their backyards. Finally, closest to the airport, was the township.

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Khayelitsha township, the largest one in South Africa, with over 1 million inhabitants, Nov 2011

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A typical home in Langa township, November 2011

It’s been twenty years – almost to the day (April 27, 1994) – since South Africa had its first democratic elections (here’s a good article about the changes, good and bad, and what hasn’t changed, since the end of Apartheid). Yet the country is still widely divided along racial lines. The poorest of the poor are overwhelmingly Black, with the richest of the rich still being overwhelmingly White. This is seen in terms of land. From when Apartheid ended until the end of 2011, when I visited the country, less than 7% of the land had been transferred. Rich White landowners own the big farms, and poorer, Black small scale farmers are landless and continue to suffer under a similar unequal system as they did under Apartheid. (Side note: there are organizations like Surplus People Project working for land reform. See my blog post from November 2011)

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Willem, a small-scale farmer without access to water on the land he farms (but does not own) near Citrusdal, Western Cape, November 2011

As some young people interviewed in the film commented (and this was filmed when he was still alive), Mandela never goes to bed hungry. Mandela is fed because of them, they argue. Another interviewee says its easy to forgive when you’re the president. But what about the woman in the hut whose son went missing and who is inconsolable every time she realizes that the footsteps she hears outside her home are not that of her long lost son returning? We are being presumptuous, insulting even, if we think we can comfort her.

This brings up the issue of forced reconciliation, which is somewhat addressed in the film. As one interviewee analogizes, “If someone steals your watch and asks for forgiveness but is still wearing your watch, what good is that?” It creates a culture of impunity, not one of reconciliation, he argues.

What good is forgiveness if it is coerced? I am very uncomfortable with forgiveness narratives, especially around genocide or ethnic cleansing or system human rights abuses. The 20th anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide was earlier this month, and there were countless media portrayals of perpetrators standing with their victims in solidarity and forgiveness. I remember when I was completing my Masters degree and seeing a short video of a Rwandan woman serving food to the man who had killed her entire family, in a move that the narrator clearly viewed to be inspirational. But for me, there’s a problem with that. Not least because, when I visited Rwanda in 2009, I heard time and time again, “We have no choice but to forgive.”

In the TRC in South Africa, there were times during the hearings when forgiveness was definitely coerced, or at least strongly encouraged. I heard one story, during my Political Reconciliation class at LSE (taught by Dr. Claire Moon who’s written extensively on South Africa) of a victim who came to tell her story even though her perpetrators refused to appear. Yet still she was asked, repeatedly, by the Commissioners, “But you forgive them, right?”

That’s why it was so interesting that Matabane included the story of Charity Kondile, who refuses to forgive the man who killed her son, Sizwe. “I was looking for an alternative narrative to the Black woman who cries at the TRC and forgives,” Matabane explained during the Q&A. “I was trying to be as honest as possible in a world where everything, even documentaries, is a performance.”

I couldn’t help but think back to the time last month I spent at the TRC in Edmonton. In this Canadian context, I didn’t encounter that kind of “cult of forgiveness” that has appeared in other reconciliation processes. While we may still argue whether justice is being done in this care, or any of the cases discussed in this blog post, the Canadian TRC process is much more victim/survivor focused. It is about survivors telling their stories, and having institutional perpetrators apologize to them. Very rarely did individual perpetrators appear before the Commission, although it did happen. Of course, concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation were discussed and promoted at the TRC. But I never felt a coercive element; survivors were allowed to be angry and to remain angry. To tell their story as they saw it. Reconciliation is a process. As Elder Lorna Standingready said to me one day in Edmonton, the residential school system operated for over 100 years. We can’t expect it all be fixed in the few years of the TRC’s mandate.

But back to Matabane’s movie. Watch the trailer below. And then make sure you see the full feature film as soon as you can.

Verdict: 4.5/5.0

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Actual Last Post

Well, my last post was supposed to be my last post, but since the UCC has created a 4.5 min “Report from Durban,” I figured I should post that too. Just to bring everything to a close.

Enjoy!!

Holy sh*t, it’s had 364 views so far! That’s a lot of people!

Looking to the Future

Well, after only 33 hours of travel, I’m safely back in Toronto. It was a long journey, and I kinda feel like I don’t know what day it is (it feels like I missed Monday – how is that possible?). I’m back at work at Church House tomorrow, but first, this morning, I went to see my friends Sarah and Jon’s new baby Jacob, who was born while I was away, on November 21.

Me with Jacob and Bobby (the cat)

I was so excited to meet Jacob, as I’d thought about him a lot while I was in Durban. Sometimes, Durban felt very doom and gloom – a bit like “We’re all going to die!” Things are getting desperate; things are getting serious, and we really need to start taking concrete action, well before 2020. I heard several people talk about saving Earth for our children and grandchildren. Some even broke down, saying that they wanted their grandchildren to live in a world where they “wouldn’t be burned.” It got pretty heavy at points, and sometimes I even felt helpless. What kind of world are we bringing our children into?

I remember one day in Durban, after the briefing with Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques, I was talking to Moderator Mardi Tindal about having kids. I’d like to have kids, maybe in 5 years or so, but I sometimes wonder if I even should, with the state the world is in. The Moderator told me that many people also felt this way in the 1970s, when nuclear war felt like a very real threat. But, she said, “We still need to have hope.” Despite feeling hopeless at times, we need to hold on to our hope and our faith that we can change the course the world is on, and preserve Earth for many generations to come.

The Moderator told me about Madeleine L’Engle, and her words about bringing children into a non-perfect world:

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the Earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn —
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time of love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
Any by a comet the sky is torn —
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

– Madeleine L’Engle

Because, really, isn’t this what it’s all about?? 

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Resolution??

My last few days in Durban were pretty eclectic. At the Centre, we spent most of the last 3 days working on our individual projects. These are projects related to eco-justice, and centred on youth, that we will be implementing back in our home countries. We presented them to each other in small groups, giving each other (hopefully) constructive feedback.

Project Group A

Friday afternoon was free, so naturally a few of us went down to the ICC (where the COP is being held). Our first stop was at the Occupy COP site, where we affixed our sign from the previous weekend’s rally to the fence surround the site, facing the ICC.

Our sign at Occupy COP

Next, Claire (UK) and I went into the ICC to see what was happening. The sessions were closed to us, even though we were accredited, at this point because only certain key people were allowed into the negotiations. Claire and I took a photo of our accreditation badges, just in case they got taken away at a protest. Mine was not; Claire’s was, when she, and a group of others, sat down in the ICC in silent protest. Again, how is this a security threat?? And how is Canada’s position at these negotiations not a security threat?

Look Ma, I’m accredited!!

Inside the ICC, there was a big protest near the Plenary. Interested, we went to investigate, and met some of our fellow Youth for Eco-Justice participants.

Hierald (USA and El Salvador) and Njideka (Nigeria) at the protest

The protest

A media frenzy

When I was leaving the ICC, I saw this simple message written on the pavement in chalk.

Yes – why??

In the end, the negotiations ended in a type of deal. Negotiations went into Sunday, and, essentially:

The conference agreed to start negotiations on a new accord that would put all countries under the same legal regime to enforce their commitments to control greenhouse gases, according to Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s foreign minister and headn of the 194-party conference.

The agreement would take effect by 2020 at the latest.

Friday night party

We spent Friday night with a celebratory dinner and party. Perhaps we were a bit premature in the celebrations, since we didn’t yet know what would come out of this COP in Durban, but we were celebrating the successful Youth for Eco-Justice program.

Caroline and I – travel buddies!

With more friends

On Saturday, we did some last-minute Christmas shopping at a market at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. That afternoon, I went to the Kwa Muhle Museum, Durban’s Apartheid museum. Interestingly, it is located in notorious building that served as the Native Administration Department under Apartheid, which controlled the affairs of the African urban population in Durban.

Kwa Muhle Museum

A wander along the beach afterwards led us to one of the cooler installations on the beachfront – a tree with lights that are powered by cyclists. It was pretty awesome.

Tree lights powered by cyclists

And Sunday morning was spent communing with nature at Durban’s botanical gardens, the oldest botanical gardens in Africa. At 3 pm, I set off for my nearly 1.5 days of travel back to Toronto.

The rainbow tree

Flower 

Today, Canada formally announced its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. Many countries have criticized this decision.

I am beyond ashamed.

And so, I leave you with these last comments from Mardi Tindal’s last blog post about Durban:

Canada may yet choose to participate in a miracle. But clearly it will not do so on the schedule for which we have prayed, and certainly not in time for December 25th 2011. We will continue to act and pray with both the longing and hope of Mary.

It Ain’t Easy Being Canadian

Anyone want to guess who gets the distinction of Grand Fossil? (This is from yesterday, when Canada had 11 awards)

Then, when I was in the plenary, I was surprised, and seriously amused and delighted, by the action of 6 youth in the Canadian Youth Delegation who stood up in silent protest, with t-shirts that had on the front “People Before Polluters” and on the back “Turn Your Back on Canada.”

For shame, Canada. For shame.

Of  course, this peaceful, silent protest was a security risk and they had to be ushered out. All they did was stand. It was the most effective protest I’ve ever seen, and one that made the security officers, and COP 17 officials, seem even more ridiculous. Check out the video of Kent’s speech below. At about the 3.30 minute mark, you’ll here a round of applause – listen to how long it is! And it was much louder from where I was standing; you couldn’t even hear Kent. That’s for these amazing youth.

As soon as they stood up, and I was just behind them in the back corner, everyone around started taking photos (and hopefully someone got some video). I also took photos of them being led out, and was yelled at by the security guard to stop filming them. They were taken out a back exit, and then when I went to get back to my laptop, I was stopped by another security guard until I showed him my computer. Craziness.

Taking a stand! (Elizabeth May in green at the front)

It. Was. AWESOME!!

The six youth being escorted out. Second from the right is Brigette DePape (the “Rogue Page”). Peter Kent is onscreen in the background.

General Secretary of the Mennonite Church in Canada, Rev. Willard Metzger, wrote a great blog about yesterday. Additionally, Moderator Mardi Tindal’s excellent blog post is getting some publicity on Canadian social media sites, particularly Twitter. The Globe and Mail reported it yesterday, and today they have an article an about Kent apparently changing tack and seeking a binding climate treaty by 2015. There was another article about the youth here. And to hear about it in the 6 youths’ own words, read about it here or listen to a podcast here.

(insert raucous applause and whoops)

Hear Cam Fenton of the Canadian Youth Delegation speaking after six of its members (he wasn’t one of them; they strategized to make sure he keeps his accreditation) were thrown out of COP17:

After meeting up with Caroline for some lunch, we ran into some of the youth from the Canadian Youth Delegation, including  the six youth who participated in the protest. They told us that, after they were escorted out, they were grilled with questions for about 10 minutes, with the security guards asking them who they were, what organization they were with, who their leader was, etc. They just kept quiet, and were eventually escorted out via the security exit and had their accreditation revoked.

Me and Caroline, in solidarity with the Canadian Youth Delegation

Later on, we came across one of the signs I’ve mentioned previously, depicting Stephen Harper. Of course, I had to get a picture with it!

Me in my I (heart) KP (Kyoto Protocol) shirt. I wore it to yesterday’s plenary and today’s briefing

Then this morning, I skipped out of the Youth for Eco-Justice program briefly to attend one of the daily briefings with Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s Chief Negotiator and Climate Change Ambassador. The sessions are meant to provide information on the status of the COP 17 negotiations to interested Canadians accredited as observers to the UNFCCC (comme moi).

I don’t want to go all conspiracy theory on you readers, but it was a bit odd that for this briefing, the day after the infamous protest, the time suddenly changed from 8:30 am to 8:00 am, and then later the rooms were also changed. It took me awhile to find the actual room, since I had to find the first room in the huge ICC complex (the room was empty and the media guy told me the Canadian briefing was happening there at 8:30, so I’m not sure why the room had to be changed), and then the correct one, and there was also a group of people who arrived right at the end of the briefing, at 8:30, who obviously hadn’t gotten the message. But there was a small note on the door to the first room, so maybe it wasn’t a conspiracy after all. 🙂

Anyway, this briefing, I was told, was one of the most exciting briefings yet. When it was time for questions, all of them displayed frustration and disappointment with Canada’s position. One youth (I’m assuming from the Canadian Youth Delegation) asked the ambassador, “Can you look me in the eye and tell me you’re negotiating in good faith on behalf of my generation and not [on behalf of] the tar sands oil companies?” Guy Saint-Jacques responded, and the youth repeated his question, which is when Paul Booth, Deputy Minister of Environment Canada, and said “I’m looking you in the eye and…”

And four youth stood up, one even tipping his chair over, and stormed out of the room. While it was exciting, and it made their point, it also sent the message that “we can’t talk to you.” And as Moderator Mardi Tindal said, “Pragmatically, we need to find a way forward. We need to listen to each other long and hard enough, listen intently enough, to find a way forward because we can do nothing less.” To read about additional conversation between these youth and Paul Booth, click here.

Then, later today (and I wasn’t present for this, unfortunately), an American youth, Abigail Borah, was ejected from the plenary. Willard Metzger writes about it here and the New York Times describes the scene here. And if you’re on Facebook, check out the set of photos here. And here’s a short video clip of it happening:

Seriously, when will our leaders and negotiators get it? And why does it seem like it’s only the youth who give a damn? Or is it only because we have less to lose by getting thrown out, and more to lose by not taking a stand?

Wandering Around the COP

I’ve noticed that I have a few cool photos of activism from around the COP that I haven’t shown yet. So this is a bit of a fusion of those random photos and some of the cool COP-related activities that happened yesterday, my first day of accreditation. I was finally allowed inside!!

But first, a couple of randoms:

At the People’s Space at Kwazulu-Natal University

Another t-shirt

Yesterday, I went inside the ICC (International Convention Centre) for the first time. It was pretty awesome to experience it. But it also made me realize, once I got in, how exclusionary the process truly is. You need to be a delegate to get inside, and that can be a difficult process. Plus, not all the delegates have access to all the parts of the ICC process; as one of the KAIROS partners said on Monday, you really notice what colour your badge is (hers and mine are yellow, for NGOs). Today and tomorrow, you may even need a special ticket to get in to the plenary. It really makes me wonder how much say “the people” have in any of this.

Inside the COP, at the Youngo meeting

At the youth (Youngo) meeting that morning, I heard about, for the first time, a community about 20 minutes north of Durban that really felt the rains we all experienced on the eve of the COP. This community is called Kwa Mashu, and on that Sunday night, around midnight, there was huge flooding of the river. Homes were destroyed, and 10 people were killed. The community was frustrated with the media because the media would come in, do a story, and then just leave without having done anything for the community.

People died the day before the opening of the plenary, from extreme weather. In their opening statement on the first day of COP, this group of young people who went to the community and made a short video of the aftermath were told (I’m not sure by who) not to mention that people had died in the floods before. How does that make any sense?!?!

Here’s the short video we saw yesterday morning:

Then, I was able to get into the plenary, which was really cool. This is where all the representatives (heads of state, ministers, and I think a couple of princes thrown in) talk in front of all the other representatives, and the observers. I heard from the representatives of Singapore, Belize, Morocco, the Marshall Islands, Liberia, Tuvalu, Qatar, Sweden, Malta, the Maldives, Nigeria, and finally, Canada. All of the countries before Canada expressed how important the issue of climate change is for their countries. Many declared the importance of the Kyoto Protocol. Canada, obviously, did not.

 Tuvalu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs speaking at the Plenary

Several of the representatives had inspiring, and devastating, things to say:

“We must not miss this opportunity to curb climate change for the sake of our children.” (Singapore)

“My country’s future is now in jeopardy.” (Marshall Islands)

“We need to collectively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.” (Liberia)

“We have a concern for the vulnerabilities of other island nations.” (Malta)

“We are currently on a path of a rise of 4 degrees Celsius, which will certainly wipe out my country.” (Maldives)

“Durban is a beautiful city and we should not [contaminate/ruin] it by killing the Protocol.” (Nigeria)

“We want to say to our children, ‘It was Durban that saved Tuvalu.'” (Tuvalu)

“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past.” Peter Kent

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After this pretty intense plenary, we had some levity in the afternoon in the form of a mock soccer game between the 1% bankers/clowns and the 99% Robin Hoods. The prize? Control of the Green Climate Fund.

A participant in the soccer match

The Robin Hoods

Fighting over the Green Climate Fund

After the soccer match, I went back into the ICC and attended a panel discussion called  “Climate Justice and Food Security: Moral, Ethical and Spiritual Imperatives.” Moderator Mardi Tindal was speaking on the panel, along with Rabbi Hillel Avidan (rabbi at the Temple David of Durban), Sister Jayanti Kirpalani (Regional Director, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University – Europe), Rev. Nicta Lubaale (General Secretary, Organization of African Instituted Churches), Bedria Mohammed Ahmed (Co-chair, Women of Faith Network, Ethiopian Interfaith Development Dialogue and Action), Presb. Patricio E. Sarlat Flores (Executive Secretary, Episcopal Commission of Caritas Mexico), and Dr. Ela Gandhi (Honorary President, Religions for Peace). The panel was moderated by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier (Chair, KwaZulu-Natal Inter-religious Council).

Moderator Mardi Tindal with Sister Jayanti Kirpalani 

The Moderator said that Canadians expect more, and we are letting our politicians know that; she also spoke about the Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Justice. Rabbi Hillel Avidan spoke of how, as time goes by, faith communities find that they have a lot in common, while Sister Jayanti Kirpalani  spoke about respect, saying that we need to learn to respect ourselves before we can respect animal and plant life, and that respect is what’s missing from today’s world.

The Panel

Bedria Mohammed Ahmed told us that there are over 750 verses in the Qur’an that deal with the environment and maintaining the balance of creation; Dr. Ela Ghandi explained that even though all our scriptures talk about the climate, humankind has failed in maintaining this balance. Rev. Nicta Lubaale told a story about traveling through Maasai territory in Eastern Africa. He had gotten out of his car, and his eyes were all red due to allergies. A Maasai woman came up to him, trying to sell him some goods she’d made. I experienced similar scenes when I was traveling through Kenya and Tanzania. But the woman noticed his red eyes, and she put the goods away, saying in Swahili “You’re sick, you’re sick.” Rev. Lubaale explained: “Her spirituality stops her from doing business when she realizes someone is weak, even if that person is richer than her.” I think that’s something we all need to learn.

And here’s something I didn’t get to see yesterday, but it was pretty spectacular:

A World of Worship

Sunday, as every Christian knows, is a day of rest. Well, for Caroline and I, it was anything but. It did include lots of worship, though!

Maggie (Zambia) and Njideka (Nigeria), ready to worship

We went to a Methodist church in one of the townships on the outskirts of Durban. It was a very moving service, and also one of the longest I’ve ever been to (nearly 3 hours!). The congregation was super welcoming, both during the service and after. We all introduced ourselves, and Lungelo (from South Africa) from our group translated the Zulu sermon for us. After the main part of the service, a woman came up and gave an informative talk about HIV/AIDs, including the use of condoms, to the congregation.

Langa (Malawi) playing his drum

After the service, Caroline and I went downtown, back to the Diakonia Centre, for a meeting with KAIROS partners (some of whom are also UCC partners). It was an interesting journey to get there, which involved a jaunt in the back of a pick-up truck throughout the township. I was asked how I got out of the pick-up truck (I was wearing a dress). My answer: gracefully. Really, it was anything but.

KAIROS meeting with partners

Jim Davis, of KAIROS, has written a fabulous blog post on the discussion we had.

Next, we headed over to the interfaith service. Caroline Foster has written a great summary of this service:

The multi-faith service this evening represented the diversity of voices from religions around the world.  I especially enjoyed the meditation component where we sent good vibes into the atmosphere for all of creation.  Finally, relax.  Take three deep, long breaths.  Sit comfortably.  I will leave you with some words from the service that I hope  you can use today to send out your own good vibes:

There is enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed – Gandhi

General Secretary Willard Metzger (Mennonite) and Moderator Mardi Tindal (UCC)

Interfaith service

There were great songs throughout the service, as well as readings and reflections on the scriptures from different faiths. It really showed that, while we have our differences, we can come together on the important issue of climate change.

Interfaith service

Interfaith service 

Then on Monday, I went down to the ICC (International Convention Centre) for the first time. There’s a big part at the entrance to the ICC where anyone can go, filled with cool art installations on climate change and lots of booths on the issue. I’m trying to get accredited, but I’m not yet, so I can’t go right inside, where the other delegates go.

Outside the ICC, where COP 17 is taking place

Monday was also the day I went to a Women Religious Leaders and Climate Change panel at the Diakonia Center. The panelists were Ela Ghandi (who happens to be Mahatma Ghandi’s granddaughter) from the World Council of Religions for Peace,  Rev. Gugu Shelembe of the Thukela Amajuba Mzinyathi Christian Council, and Rev. Priscilla May McDougal, from the USA (United Church of Christ).

Ela Ghandi

Some key quotes from the participants (note: I’m not sure if I have these written down verbatim):

Ela Ghandi: “I would like to believe that few women are involved in the spread of hatred…We build our faith around love, compassion, goodwill and tolerance.”

Rev. Gugu Shelembe: “We need to reflect theologically, to invite people to understand our call to be stewards of nature…It all begins with me, with my influence on my family.”

Rev. Priscilla May McDougal: “Women have a certain compassion that we are born with, saying ‘This child is mine and I want it to live.'”

Panel Discussion 

The most powerful feeling I was left with, and it was one of despair mixed with a new passion to get things done, was after Rev. McDougal said, while breaking down, “This conference is telling us that in 2020, this won’t be an issue anymore because we’ll all be burned…I have a beautiful granddaughter and I want her to live in a world where she won’t be cooked.

“We need to stop being hopeless. We need to act. Walk to the sea (referring to Ghandi and the salt march).”

Future Genocide in South Africa?

Today is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. And so I think today is fitting to examine some of the prejudices and conflicts that continue to bubble under the surface of South African society. Aside from the homophobic and sexist comments I’ve heard around Durban, and within the Youth for Eco-Justice Conference itself, it is the racial tension that has most surprised me, and which is most likely to devolve into large-scale physical violence. (side note: to learn about one combination of homophobia and sexism in South Africa, corrective rape, click here)

When I arrived in Cape Town, I was keen to learn about the history of Apartheid. Both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies have focused on international human rights violations, particularly genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. Apartheid is up there as one of the worst systematic violations of human rights, in place from 1948-1992. I actually didn’t realize that it began in 1948; I thought it was sometime in the 1950s. The reason 1948 surprised me so much is because it was only 3 years after the Holocaust. You’d think that after such a horrific example of the ultimate form of racism and prejudice, people would be less inclined to create a similar system. Especially because a lot of Jewish people (albeit white Jewish people) emigrated to South Africa. Although I guess we only need to look at Israel to see that victims often become perpetrators of collective punishment and other forms of human rights violations.

And then I arrived in South Africa, and learned that it is the most unequal society in the world; the gap between the riche and the poor is the largest of any country. This inequality is certainly not conducive to peace.

Soon after arriving in Durban, I heard about a “white” genocide in South Africa. At first, I doubted this. It sounded similar to what white supremacists say about such things as intermarriage or immigration. And I’d also heard about the white South African who got asylum in Canada, and everyone kinda dismissed that as being a pretty wacky decision. But then I looked into it, and while I wouldn’t necessarily label what’s happening in South Africa as “genocide,” it’s definitely disconcerting. And it’s not only against white people.

Some refer to a new kind of apartheid in South Africa – xenophobic violence aimed at African refugees, especially those from Zimbabwe.

And even more alarming, Genocide Watch has placed South Africa at a 6 – “preparation.” 7 is actual genocide.

The update from Genocide Watch

And since I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed this fairly extreme racial tension. First, many of the roads around Durban have been renamed, and apparently in some of the mainly white areas, where the street names are now named after Black militants, the names have been scratched off the signs. Second, at the Global Day of Action march on Saturday, things turned a bit political and songs were sung essentially saying “bring me my machine gun” and “kill the Boer.” The important thing to note here is that there are two main white communities in South Africa – the British-origin South African and the Afrikaaner. The British South Africans, generally, were against Apartheid and now refuse to speak Afrikaans, as it is seen as the language of the oppressor. “Boer” is the Afrikaans word for farmer, and now (I think – I’m a bit confused about this part – South Africans please correct me) generally refers to white people or white farmers now. And there have been many cases of Afrikaaner farmers being killed, often in incredibly grotesque, horrible displays of sadistic torture.

But the most alarming example I personally witnessed here in Durban was at a gathering of South Africans and Zimbabweans, demanding land reform, which is something, in theory, of which I am in favour. But not in the way it was expressed here. The Zimbabweans present spoke up and told the South African farm workers that they should learn from the Zimbabwean example (namely – getting rid of White farm owners). Zimbabwean veterans were mentioned as being particularly useful, and from my understanding, they violently threw the white farmers off the land. There were also shouts of support for Mugabe, which was disconcerting. Even Nando’s (a popular South African restaurant) has a commercial depicting Mugabe as the last dictator standing!

And then, I got very uncomfortable. A South African farm worker stood up and yelled out, “Those white farmers don’t want you baboons on their land. So we baboons need to kick them off the land!” Which was met with rapturous applause. Since then, I’ve been told that, after Nelson Mandela dies, there’s a belief that there will be attempts to kill or remove all the white people in South Africa, a concept, I was told, was called uhuru. This is actually a misuse of the word uhuru, which means liberation or independence; it has been twisted, in the way it was explained to me, as a way of ” liberating” the country by killing White people. I’d studied critiques of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Movement in school, and how it didn’t necessarily work as well as some think or hope or believe. But after being in South Africa for 2 weeks, now I get it; now I understand why South Africa might be at a “6.”

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As I said at the beginning of this post, today is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Twenty-two years ago today, on December 6, 1989, 25-year-old Marc Lépine entered the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and shot twenty-eight people before killing himself. Armed with a (legally obtained) semi-automatic rifle and a hunting knife, Lépine killed 14 women. His suicide note blamed feminists for ruining his life and included a hit list of 19 Quebec women who Lépine viewed to be feminists and wanted to kill.

This was obviously a gender-based crime – an attack on women simply because they were women. When Lépine entered one classroom, he separated the men from the women and then told the men to leave. He asked the remaining women if they knew why they were there; one answered “no” so Lépine said, “I am fighting feminism.” He later said, “You’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.”
In the aftermath of this tragedy, Canadian gun control laws became much more strict. Now, our Conservative government is in the midst of repealing that legislation.
And so today, we remember the 14 women killed. And we pray for peace:
  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

Global Day of Action on Climate Change

Saturday was the Global Day of Action. Demonstrations against climate change took place around the world, including in Toronto. In Durban, civil society gathered for COP 17 marched through the streets, attracting a lot of curious onlookers.

Me with Willard Metzger and Moderator Mardi Tindal, before the march

The faith contingent met at the Diakonia Centre in central Durban. Canadian faith leaders Willard Metzger (Mennonite) and Moderator Mardi Tindal (UCC) were two of the faith leaders who marched at the front, with the We Have Faith banner.

Moderator Mardi Tindal preparing to march

Moderator Mardi Tindal with Joy Kennedy and Caroline Foster (KAIROS Canada)

Moderator Mardi Tindal with Joy Kennedy and Caroline Foster (KAIROS Canada)

A photo-op pour moi

To get to the Diakonia Centre, we hitched a ride from the Glenmore Pastoral Centre with the “We Have Faith” caravans that travelled from Nairobi to Durban in the weeks preceding the COP. I’ve spoken to many of the participants of that journey (Claire from the UK who’s part of Youth for Eco-Justice was also part of it), and seen some video clips, and it looked amazing!!

Jim Davis of KAIROS Canada

Moderator Mardi Tindal speaking with another faith leader

Reports vary, but there were anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 people marching that day. It certainly felt like many more; George, who took my video camera and climbed onto a terrace of a building to get an aerial shot, told me that he tried to see the beginning or the end of the march, and he couldn’t. There were that many people.

Joakim (Sweden) and Thea (South Africa) at the march

Marcelo (Uruguay)

Great signage

More great signage

Claire (UK) and Thea (South Africa)

Youth for Eco-Justice at our best!

Some words from Caroline Foster, of KAIROS Canada:

Some of the most powerful songs, chants and dances of protest took place while we were waiting to join with the wider rally.  There was a large contingent of youth who have travelled on the caravans.  They were a vibrant group leading others in the chants and songs.  One in particular stood out to me.  One young person began by calling out “hello?” to which everyone else in the group would respond “hello!” and this was repeated several times before the leader would give a statement such as “we came from all across Africa and will not leave without being heard” after which everyone would cheer.  I found this particularly relevant as it is pertinent to the situation that our calls are answered.  It is one thing for us to call out, but who is listening and who will answer?  This chant demanded a group response that all were eager to give.  “This is our future,” they said “and not their future.”  They were very clear that they have heard enough talk. It’s time for action.

A mini demonstration in the march

Maggie (Zambia) and Njideka (Nigeria)

Youth dancing

The police presence was exceedingly high. At previous rallies I’ve been to, I’m never sure if the police are there to protect the public from us, or us from the public. At London’s (UK) Reclaim the Night march that I participated in 2 years ago, the police were definitely there to protect us. At this march, I wasn’t so sure. Mainly because the majority of them had riot shields, and they were plainly blocking us from entering certain establishments (such as McDonalds…not sure why…and a hotel). And we spotted police with guns on the tops of buildings along the route, particularly at the intersections. It was a bit unnerving.

Obviously a strong police presence was needed for us rowdy folk

This all made much more sense to me when I heard about the Hilton here, where some of the more high-powered delegates are staying. It’s entirely rented by COP17, and they have security on the premises who only let people in who are staying there. Us peasants can’t even go into the boutique if we wanted to. It demonstrates what I’ve been feeling a lot, that this COP is really separating people – those who have power, and those who do not. I’ve been feeling quite isolated from what’s happening inside COP, and after hearing about this, and seeing all the police, I’m not surprised I feel that way.

Moderator Mardi Tindal

An awesome sign

Another awesome sign

Hierald and Kristi (USA)

After the march, we headed down to the beach for some lunch and to see the exhibits for COP along the beachfront. There was also a concert on the beach in the afternoon and into the evening, when there was an NGO party. I saw this interesting sign of Obama on the beach. And as we were traveling back to where we were staying, I also saw signs with Harper’s mug on them. Canada, seriously – what are we doing with a majority Harper government?? I’ve never seen my beloved country in such a sorry state, nor have I ever been more nervous about my own rights and freedoms. Or the survival of Earth.

Will this beach still be here in 20, 50, 100 years?

Bringing Canada to Durban

On Wednesday, we looked at theological and ethical perspectives on creation and on justice. This consisted of some very interesting lectures and discussions, around such questions as “Did the leaves fall from the trees in the Garden of Eden?” It was deep.

Caroline and I were tasked with the evening prayer that day. We wanted to bring a very Canadian feel to this prayer, so we incorporated some United Church of Canada and KAIROS resources into the service. It was very important for us to include an Aboriginal element to the service, and to what we bring to the program as Canadians. Of course, I in no way am speaking on behalf of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada, nor do I presume to be an expert on Aboriginal issues. In fact, I have a lot to learn. And I want to learn a lot more.

I just want to make sure that the views I bring from Canada are not solely a white, middle-class, female perspective, but include other voices, especially the voices of our original inhabitants. And we’re doing that not by speaking for them, but by including examples of climate change in Canada that specifically affect Aboriginal communities, relating things that Aboriginal people have directly told us, and including Aboriginal spirituality in our services. We did this on Wednesday by using a prayer, from a KAIROS resource, that focused on the Four Directions, and had the youth participants move to the East, South, West, and North for different parts of the prayer.

Instead of a hymn, we used what I called “an alternative hymn.” At the North American Forum and Hearings on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology, one of the participants, David Greenfield of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Saskatchewan performed a song he wrote at the Occupy Calgary site. We taped it and put it on youtube, and so Caroline and I decided to share it with our fellow participants.

Speaking of Occupy, people interested in Israel/Palestine should read this post by United Church of Canada Ecumenical Accompanier Jan McIntyre.

Wednesday evening was pretty awesome. It was Part 1 of our Cultural Night, and there were many different cultures on display. Some danced, some played instruments, and some, like Caroline and I, showed a beer commercial.

Jeyathilaka Prathaban V. from India

Mike from Malawi

Tamo from Georgia

Jessica and her kangaroo, from Australia

Maggie and Suwilanji from Zambia and South Africa

The traditional Zambian dance evolved a bit…

Raimy from Venezuela

Ra’ed from Palestine, our MC

C’mon, doesn’t every Canadian love this commercial??