Amandla! Awethu! – Experiences of solidarity in South Africa

By Karen Rooney

We are four days into the 17th Conference of Parties (COP) and I have already learned the truth in Margaret Mead’s famous quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Around the world, people are pushing back against the commodification of the earth and the corporate lobbies that are influencing government policies.

Yesterday, in Calgary, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) announced their intentions to sue Shell for a failure to honor their contractual obligations regarding tar sands development in ACFN traditional.  Solidarity actions were also held in the UK and South Africa to bring international attention to the lawsuit and the destructive practices of Shell throughout the world. Here in Durban, local activists from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance partnered with members of the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition to highlight community concerns and stand in support with the ACFN. Nnimmo Bassey, the chair of Friends of the Earth International and winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize, also spoke to the criminal actions undertaken by Shell in Nigeria, where 50 years of ongoing exploration have left the community damaged, with clean up costs estimated at over $ 1 billion USD.

Today, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and the United Kingdom Youth Climate Coalition have partnered together to push back against the tar sands lobby put forth by their respective governments during the current climate negotiations.  A bake sale is being held to raise funds to buy back our common future – which is jeopardized in the current negotiations by governments acting on behalf of corporate lobbyists and polluting industries.  Evidently money speaks louder than the voices of their electorate and the youth have decided that it is time for us all to start speaking the only language that the governments seem to understand.

This is not an isolated effort. Youth from across Canada are holding their own bake sales, writing letters to the Canadian government as I write this very blog, and sending those letters in to the Prime Minister’s Office in Canada. The letters, accompanied by spare change call on the Canadian government to begin putting the interests of people ahead of polluters.

People are beginning to reclaim their role and their voices. In South Africa, a common rally cry is heard amongst people protesting their grievances.  Dating back to the days of anti-apartheid resistance, this cry has persisted and now can be heard whenever people gather to voice their concerns. A call and response, the leader yells out “Amandla!” (power!) and the crowd replies “Awethu!” (to us!).

As COP17 progresses and the evidence pointing to active resistance on the part of the Canadian government mounts, I would put that same call out to the Canadian people. It is time for us to stop allowing our government to stand for polluters and to compromise the collective future of us all.



Power to the people.

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