This rain reminds me that it’s important to remember what climate change means for the 99% here in Durban and in many parts of the global South. Last Sunday, the day before the UN climate conference here began, violent storms caused flooding that killed six people. The photograph of a woman’s body, from an article in a local newspaper about the impact of the floods, dramatizes in the most concrete terms what we mean when we talk about climate change in this part of the world. Her body lies unmourned in the midst of the swirling waters unleashed by the floods. One hopes that her body was recovered and properly buried, but it serves as an apt symbol for how the global poor are being abandoned by the rich, left to be buffeted by the unnatural disasters unleashed on them by the feckless greed and corruption of the elite.
And such disaster isn’t something that comes and goes with the rapidity of a flash flood. As Rob Nixon argues in his recent brilliant book Slow Violence, the forms of environmental violence to which the poor are submitted are usually not spectacular and camera-ready, but build up through gradual repetition and accretion, like the innocent drips of water that can wear away the strongest stone. A concrete example of this is the fact that the storm which hit Durban right before the UNFCCC did not just kill a few people and wreck a few thousand houses, but also endangered drinking water for hundreds of thousands.
With this grim scenario in mind, perhaps it’s most fitting to close my comments for the day by quoting the provocative words of an anonymous author from Zabalaza, the South African anarchist journal that I discovered towards the beginning of the day:
The time, we think, has come to stop lobbying the rich scum and politicians as if they were our friends or as if they cared about us. The state and the rich (including all of them in the COP 17 meeting) are our enemies; not our friends. We need to start treating them as such! It is because of them, and the capitalist and state system that keeps them rich, that we live like dogs. To win the things we want – which includes less pollution – we need to fight them; not lobby them. We need to stop going on our hands and knees and saying “please nkosi or please baas give me just a few more crumbs or please, please stop poisoning me at work or stop polluting so much”. They don’t care, grovelling makes them feel important and makes us feel powerless. So we need to rather stand up and fight, and force them to stop doing what they are doing and give us what we want.
This means we need to begin linking our struggles up, we need to build our class pride and we need to start sticking it to the ruling class scum. Already township protests are happening every day, and we need to start connecting these together so that they can become a massive movement. To do so, means recognising who our enemies are and who our friends are. To start to challenge the ruling class parasites, we need to continue to use direct actions, like protests, strikes and occupations, and build on these by directing them towards the right people – bosses, politicians and the state – and linking them up more and more: until they become a massive force. That also means scoring victories here and now through our own actions to win the things we need today like houses, clean water and better, cleaner working and living environments. We also need to think tactically, which means hitting the bosses and rich where and when they are weakest; and laying low when we have to, to fight another day.