Shell Gets Served
by Daniel T’seleie
Today as I was on the bus back from the conference centre I saw a small child – a boy four or five years old – begging on the side of the road at a traffic light. It does not seem right, but a lot of things don’t seem right around here.
There is a lot of systemic racism here. This is typical of settler states, I’ve even noticed this in Canada, and I know I should expect it, but it still always shocks me when I witness it first hand.
Let me be very clear; the settler population of European descent dominate positions of power, even management roles in restaurants and gas stations, while the Indigenous African population is much more prevelant on the lower rungs of every hierarchy.
The subtle power dynamics of the settler state seem to pop up every day in the strangest places. I oversaw a bouncer in a club, an African, try to kick out a young drunk who was wrestling with his friend. The young drunkard was of European descent, and simply ignored the bouncer and kept partying.
Try to imagine someone in any bar in Toronto or Vancouver wrestle with his friend, ignore a bouncer who told him to leave, and actually get away with it. It would never happen.
But it happens in South Africa.
Today I visited a neighbourhood near the ocean with four oil refineries in close proximity to each other. One was right beside a high school. Children from the area have elevated rates of asthma and respiratory disease, and you can bet the majority are not of European descent.
This is a classic example of environmental racism; the harsh reality that destructive and polluting industrial activities, whether extraction from the ground or “value adding processes” like refining, happen on or in the lands of less-privileged, usually Indigenous communities.
Where can you find an oil refinery in a rich, white neighbourhood? How many mines, hydraulic fracturing facilities or clear cut areas do you see in Banff, where affluent European tourists – and Canadians of European descent – vacation at their bunaglos with their skis and snowboards?
The degree of systemic racism seen here in Durban may not be easy to spot in Vancouver or Toronto, but it does happen in Canada. The people of Fort Chipewyan and many other Indigenous communities experience it every day.
If the destructive tar sands developments upstream from Fort Chipewyan were located further south, upstream of Calgary for example, would they still be allowed to expand and pollute unchecked? Would the government listen to the pleas of rich, white Calgarians if their water sources were being both diminished and polluted?
Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation made a strong statement about this infringement of their Treaty and human rights. They served Shell, one of the world’s major oil companies, with a legal summons for violating their treaty rights.
This was why we visited the refineries, because one of them is owned by Shell and we needed to support the struggle of Treaty 8 communities while we are in Durban and the eyes of the world are on us.
We had reporters travel with us to the refineries, and then had a press conference at the free-speech zone afterwards. A well-known African human rights activist told an interesting story. A story about Shell instigating the murder of two people in Africa over their oil interests. I don’t have all the details on this, but I am inclined to believe it.
This is the type of company the Canadian government actively supports. Canada’s government has been lobbying against European Union clean energy policy, with the help of Shell, in an effort to peddle more tar sands oil internationally.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; it’s time for Canada’s government to put people before polluters. It is morally untenable for us to tolerate the continual infringement of basic human rights by big oil companies and the governments, like Canada’s, that are complicit in their crimes.