Leanne Jansen

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WITH her eyes closed and palm on her chest, Malawian farmer Agnes Raphael recalled the misery of having to abandon her education while still in primary school.

As evidenced by her swollen ankles, the 40-year-old travelled by bus for seven days to reach Durban in time for the 17th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17), which she hopes will ensure that her daughter does not also leave school early.

Should her yield of Irish potatoes continue to dwindle – owing to what she believes to be climate change-induced drought – she will be unable to pay the 45 000 Malawian kwacha (R2 345) school fees each term.

As part of a Pan African Climate Justice Alliance initiative, Raphael, along with 200 other farmers, pastoralists, artists and activists from nine African countries, has made the trip to publicise the plight (and demands) of the continent to the international community.

Raphael, who also has four boys, said: “I plant crops, but there is no rain. There is not much to sell… If my girl can be educated, I will have been a good mother. I left school in the primary phase. I don’t want any one of my children to leave school.”

Raphael has taken to watering her potatoes from a nearby pond, and the family eats meat one day a week. One kilogram of potato sold earns her 500 kwacha, and one bag – which she indicates is as tall as she is – 5 000 kwacha.

The Trans African Climate Caravan of Hope departed from Burundi on November 9, snaking through Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana; finally reaching Durban early on Saturday.

Though most aboard the buses had to forego decent sleep for up to three days, their chanting during their official welcome at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Howard campus was spirited.

“Why, why, why? Africa is a victim. Now, now, now. Climate justice now,” was the refrain, accompanied by the frenzied waving of national flags.

UKZN is the site of COP17’s “People’s Space”, where national and international civil society groups are gathering.

Nnimmo Bassey, the head of Friends of the Earth International, who addressed Raphael and her fellow travellers, said that drought and flooding were two clear manifestations of climate change in Africa.

“The role of the travellers, he said, was to share their stories, to inform policy makers, and to allow ordinary people to be part of the climate justice movement.

Bassey said an 85 percent reduction in emissions, greater funding from industrialised countries and an international climate tribunal to punish ecocide would be among Africa’s demands at the climate talks.

“Industrialised nations should cut emissions by a minimum of 50 percent to 85 percent. That would make an impact against runaway global warming. Emissions should be cut at source. Some negotiators instead come here and push for funding for adaptation and mitigation,” said Bassey.

“The architecture of the finance process does not need negotiating – a debt is being owed to Africa for something we did not cause. The industrialised world should devote at least one percent of their military budgets or 6 percent of their GDP (to this).

“The other key demand should be an international climate tribunal. A new crime needs to be recognised in the global system, ecocide – the destruction of the environment, so that climate criminals can be held to account.”

Raphael’s message to the heads of state who will convene at the Durban ICC is: “Polluters must pay and they must stick to the Kyoto Protocol policies.”