September 2, 2001

Mass March in South Africa Against the WCAR

By Lorenzo Komboa Ervin <>

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA (August 31) -- On the opening day of
the United Nations' sponsored World Conference Against
Racism in Durban, South Africa, almost 20,000 persons
marched in an anti-government demonstration to protest the
failure of the South African government's land reform policy
for the poor, and its anticipated sale of the
telecommunications industry, electrical utilities and other
state-owned properties to private entrepreneurs. According
to March organizers they also wanted to let the world know
about "this fraud of a conference for the corporate rich,
while the poor suffer", as one marcher put it on his picket
sign. Myself and a small group of Americans, Asians,
Europeans and others left the Non-Government Organization
portion of the conference to march in solidarity.

This march was organized by the Durban Social Form, an
umbrella group of the Landless People's Movement, the
National Land Committee, COSATU, the largest labor union in
the country and numerous other social and community groups.
The demonstration took place as part of a 2-day general
strike called for by COSATU, which involved millions of
South African workers, and crippled the transport,
construction, and other industries, and snarled traffic all
over the city of Durban and other parts of South Africa.

Protesters carried picket signs calling President Thabo
Mbeki "a liar", "bully", and warning that the government
will face even more disruptions, which would threaten the
power of the African National Congress government and "their
rich friends backing them." Many described the conflict
between COSATU, the DSF, and the ANC government as a "class
war", which they saw as resulting one day into a "coup of
the poor" to throw the rich and their ANC politicians out of
power. All day long, the marchers angrily spoke about the
"treachery" of the ANC, whom they said had "sold out" the
poor of the country. Some even said that President Mbeki
"shamed" his father, Govan Mbeki, who had died earlier that
day, and whom was generally respected as a champion of the
poor. Because of Mbeki and the ANC, they said, millions had
neither land nor jobs, that over 3 million were homeless,
3.5 million unemployed, and millions of others without farms
or land to sustain themselves.

Thousands of us assembled at the Natal Technical College,
and marched all the way through Central Durban, picking up
thousands of people along the way, until finally we came to
the International Convention Center in the business
district, where the main conference was being held. When the
march ended, a rally was held, where speaker after speakers
condemned the United States and Israel as "evil twins"
sanctioning and carrying out genocide in the Middle East.
President George W. Bush ("that racist cowpoke") and the USA
was especially condemned for "arrogantly thumbing their
noses" at the conference and attempting to dominate the
conference agenda, when Bush called for the elimination of
any discussions around reparations for slavery and any
designation of Israel as a "racist Zionist" state.

Because Israel had chosen the week of the conference to
attack a Palestinian city in the West Bank earlier in the
week, there had been serious tensions between the Israeli
"peaceniks" and Palestinian delegates to the NGO conference.
In fact, there were daily militant demonstrations and
counter-demonstrations, which quickly became confrontations
that had to be separated by the United Nations security
police and Metro Durban officers assigned to the NGO
conference (which preceded the meeting of heads of state).
This also inflamed the Arab and Asian communities in Durban
and other cities. Large numbers of muslim pro-Palestinian
demonstrators poured into Durban for the protest on Friday,
and played a major role in the march. In fact, there seemed
to be more support from both the Africans and Asians at this
demonstration than at any other I'd seen since I'd arrived
in South Africa, even more than at the NGO conference

The march included a number of urban homeless, rural
landless (so called "squatters") and other desperately poor
whom the ANC government had recently used police forces to
drive out of shantytowns and settlements in the months
preceding the conference. (In video that was shown all over
the world, the police brutally destroyed hamlets, personal
property, and used excessive force), according to
protesters. At a press conference earlier in the week,
leaders of the landless movement, said that the ANC land
policies were a failure, a "tragedy", and that the poor were
being crushed. They said that landlessness itself was a
symptom of racist and economic domination, a carryover from
the racist apartheid regime, but was not being made a
priority by the ANC ruling party. The demonstration was
called for to unite all their forces, and to show that they
would not passively accept the government's anti-poor
economic policies.

I have never been in a protest march like this one, though I
had been to a lifetime of protests all over the world.
Elders and the youth alike sprang into action, literally
jumping and running many parts of the route, while screaming
slogans. The march itself lased almost 3 1/2 hours, over a
course of about 5 miles. Thousands of ordinary working class
and poor people came out of their houses, churches, stores,
and other places to join in, and thousands of others stood
on the sidewalks to spur us on. It literally stopped all
action in Durban, a city of 3.2 million people. I know I
will never forget this march, and felt that I was part of a
great historical happening. Most felt that this was the
start of a new movement, a poor peoples movement which would
not be denied or ignored, and that the poor population would
begin to speak with a loud voice. They were insistent that
neither ANC government bureaucrats, heads of state, or
anybody else would speak for them anymore. They would not be
victims in a country they had fought to create in the battle
to overturn apartheid, and they forcefully said that they
would take control of their own destiny.

The real story in South Africa is not what is happening at
the World Conference Against Racism, whether with statesmen
mildly "debating" over racism or lawyers at the NGO arguing
over fine details of resolutions and political statements on
reparations or United Nations procedure, the real story is
what is happening in the streets with the poor and working
class people of South African developing a new social
revolutionary movement. That's where I always want to be: on
the streets with the common people while they make

Copyright (c) 2001 Lorenzo Ervin. All Rights Reserved.

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Key address by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz, President of
the Republic of Cuba at the World Conference against
racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and
related intolerance Durban, South Africa. 

September 1, 2001


Delegates and guests:

Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are not
naturally instinctive reactions of the human beings
but rather a social, cultural and political
phenomenon born directly of wars, military
conquests, slavery and the individual or collective
exploitation of the weakest by the most powerful all
along the history of human societies.

No one has the right to boycott this Conference
which tries to bring some sort of relief to the
overwhelming majority of mankind afflicted by
unbearable suffering and enormous injustice. Neither
has anyone the right to set preconditions to this
conference or urge it to avoid the discussion of
historical responsibility, fair compensation or the
way we decide to rate the dreadful genocide
perpetrated, at this very moment, against our
Palestinian brothers by extreme right leaders who,
in alliance with the hegemonic superpower, pretend
to be acting on behalf of another people which
throughout almost two thousand years was the victim
of the most fierce persecution, discrimination and
injustice that history has known.

Cuba speaks of reparations, and supports this idea
as an unavoidable moral duty to the victims of
racism, based on a major precedent, that is, the
indemnification being paid to the descendants of the
Hebrew people which in the very heart of Europe
suffered the brutal and loathsome racist holocaust.
However, it is not with the intent to undertake an
impossible search for the direct descendants or the
specific countries of the victims of actions
occurred throughout centuries. The irrefutable truth
is that tens of millions of Africans were captured,
sold like a commodity and sent beyond the Atlantic
to work in slavery while 70 million indigenous
people in that hemisphere perished as a result of
the European conquest and colonization.

The inhuman exploitation imposed on the peoples of
three continents, including Asia, marked forever the
destiny and lives of over 4.5 billion people living
in the Third World today whose poverty,
unemployment, illiteracy and health rates as well as
their infant mortality, life expectancy and other
calamities --too many, in fact, to enumerate here--
are certainly awesome and harrowing. They are the
current victims of that atrocity which lasted
centuries and the ones who clearly deserve
compensation for the horrendous crimes perpetrated
against their ancestors and peoples.

Actually, such a brutal exploitation did not end
when many countries became independent, not even
after the formal abolition of slavery. Right after
independence, the main ideologists of the American
Union that emerged when the 13 colonies got rid of
the British domination at the end of the 18th
century, advanced ideas and strategies
unquestionably expansionist in nature.

It was based on such ideas that the ancient white
settlers of European descent, in their march to the
West, forcibly occupied the lands in which Native-
Americans had lived for thousands of years thus
exterminating millions of them in the process. But,
they did not stop at the boundaries of the former
Spanish possessions; consequently Mexico, a Latin
American country that had attained its independence
in 1821, was stripped off millions of square
kilometers of territory and invaluable natural

Meanwhile, in the increasingly powerful and
expansionist nation born in North America, the
obnoxious and inhumane slavery system stayed in
place for almost a century after the famous
Declaration of Independence of 1776 was issued, the
same that proclaimed that all men were born free and

After the purely formal slave emancipation, African-
Americans were subjected during one hundred more
years to the harshest racial discrimination, and
many of its features and consequences still persist
after almost four more decades of heroic struggles
and the achievements of the 1960&#8217;s, for which
Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and other
outstanding fighters gave their lives. Based on a
purely racist rationale, the longest and most severe
legal sentences are passed against African-Americans
who in the wealthy American society are bound to
live in dare poverty and with the lowest living

Likewise, what is left of the Native-American
peoples, which were the first to inhabit a large
portion of the current territory of the United
States of America, remain under even worse
conditions of discrimination and neglect.

Needless to mention the data on the social and
economic situation of Africa where entire countries
and even whole regions of Sub-Saharan Africa are in
risk of extinction the result of an extremely
complex combination of economic backwardness,
excruciating poverty and grave diseases, both old
and new, that have become a true scourge. And the
situation is no less dramatic in numerous Asian
countries. On top of all this, there are the huge
and unpayable debts, the disparate terms of trade,
the ruinous prices of basic commodities, the
demographic explosion, the neoliberal globalization
and the climate changes that produce long draughts
alternating with increasingly intensive rains and
floods. It can be mathematically proven that such a
predicament is unsustainable.

The developed countries and their consumer
societies, presently responsible for the accelerated
and almost unstoppable destruction of the
environment, have been the main beneficiaries of the
conquest and colonization, of slavery, of the
ruthless exploitation and the extermination of
hundreds of millions of people born in the countries
that today constitute the Third World. They have
also reaped the benefits of the economic order
imposed on humanity after two atrocious and
devastating wars for a new division of the world and
its markets, of the privileges granted to the United
States and its allies in Bretton-Woods, and of the
IMF and the international financial institutions
exclusively created by them and for them.

That rich and squandering world is in possession of
the technical and financial resources necessary to
pay what is due to mankind. The hegemonic superpower
should also pay back its special debt to African-
Americans, to Native-Americans living in
reservations, and to the tens of millions of Latin
American and Caribbean immigrants as well as others
from poor nations, be they mulatto, yellow or black,
but victims all of vicious discrimination and scorn.

It is high time to put an end to the dramatic
situation of the indigenous communities in our
hemisphere. Their own awakening and struggles, and
the universal admission of the monstrosity of the
crime committed against them make it imperative.

There are enough funds to save the world from the

May the arms race and the weapon commerce that only
bring devastation and death truly end.

Let it be used for development a good part of the
one trillion US dollars annually spent on the
commercial advertising that creates false illusions
and inaccessible consumer habits while releasing the
venom that destroys the national cultures and

May the modest 0.7 percentage point of the Gross
National Product promised as official development
assistance be finally delivered.

May the tax suggested by Nobel Prize Laureate James
Tobin be imposed in a reasonable and effective way
on the current speculative operations accounting for
trillions of US dollars every 24 hours, then the
United Nations, which cannot go on depending on
meager, inadequate, and belated donations and
charities, will have one trillion US dollars
annually to save and develop the world. Given the
seriousness and urgency of the existing problems,
which have become a real hazard for the very
survival of our specie on the planet, that is what
would actually be needed before it is too late.

Put and end to the ongoing genocide against the
Palestinian people that is taking place while the
world stares in amazement. May the basic right to
life of that people, children and youth, be
protected. May their right to peace and independence
be respected; then, there will be nothing to fear
from UN documents.

I am aware that the need for some relief from the
awful situation their countries are facing has led
many friends from Africa and other regions to
suggest the need for such prudence as would allow
something to come out of this conference. I
sympathize with them but I cannot renounce my
convictions, as I feel that the more candid we are
in telling the truth the more possibilities there
will be to be heeded and respected. There have been
enough centuries of deception.

I have only three other short questions based on
realities that cannot be ignored.

The capitalist, developed and wealthy countries
today participate of the imperialist system born of
capitalism itself and the economic order imposed to
the world based on the philosophy of selfishness and
the brutal competition between men, nations and
groups of nations which in completely indifferent to
any feelings of solidarity and honest international
cooperation. They live under the misleading,
irresponsible and hallucinating atmosphere of
consumer societies. Thus, regardless the sincerity
of their blind faith in such a system and the
convictions of their most serious statesmen, I
wonder: Will they be able to understand the grave
problems of today&#8217;s world which in its
incoherent and uneven development is ruled by blind
laws, by the huge power and the interests of the
ever growing and increasingly uncontrollable and
independent transnational corporations?

Will they come to understand the impending universal
chaos and rebellion? And, even if they wanted to,
could they put an end to racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and other related issues,
which are precisely the rest of them all?

>From my viewpoint we are on the verge of a huge
economic, social and political global crisis.
Let&#8217;s try to build an awareness about these
realities and the alternatives will come up. History
has shown that it is only from deep crisis that
great solutions have emerged. The peoples&#8217;
right to life and justice will definitely impose
itself under a thousand different shapes.

I believe in the mobilization and the struggle of
the peoples! I believe in the idea of justice! I
believe in truth! I believe in man!

Thank you.

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