ACROSS the other side of town, and on another planet from the main Earth Summit
of national delegations and corporate lobbyists, is a second, alternative summit.
The Global Forum
is where the United Nations has put all the charities, protest groups and campaigners
who want to have their say. It is a jamboree of workshops, speeches, placards
and dancing. It is also a festival of anger and caring, of outrage and good intentions,
all mixed together with chaotic disorganization.
It was here that an excited crowd of 2,000 yesterday sat waiting and waiting
for a speech by Saint Nelson Mandela, only to be told by the chairman that he
had just learnt that their hero was not going to turn up.
Mr Mandela’s office later explained that the former South African President
was sitting at home writing a book and had no idea the conference organizers had
expected him to speak.
Fortunately the delegates to the Global Forum had plenty of other events to
go to, such as the Pan African Congress meeting on “Landlessness and Food Security
— Privatization of Natural Resources”, or the Youth Channel Group seminar on “Building
Social Movements for Sustainable Development”.
Posters advertise a range of events such as the First Muslim Convention on
Sustainable Development, which asks simply: “What is sustainable development?
Can Muslims play a role?” Others urge: “End Poverty: Land! Food! Jobs! Organize
and Unite!” Whereas the main summit has political indifference, the Global Forum
has passion. Whereas the main summit delegates dine on caviar, the Global Forum
delegates eat hot dogs.
They are a mixture of environment groups, human rights groups, religions and
campaigners against isms. The Environmental Justice Networking Forum protests
against a bewildering number of things while also creating livelihoods for the
unemployed by selling clothes made out of recycled rubbish.
Their energetic chairwoman, Masoso Mosupa, said: “Mining companies leave the
land unrehabilitated. GM crops are coming to South Africa and we plan a campaign
of destruction against them. Our water is being polluted and people are dying.
We must save us and save our minerals. It’s all the fault of the World Trade Organization.”
Among the stands, Solar Cookers International shows people how to cook with
the sun. At the Mvula Trust stand they demonstrate simple ways to improve sanitation,
including the delightfully named Urine Diversion Toilet.
The British charity Pump Aid proudly shows off its Elephant Pump, which can
provide water to a whole village for just £200. Oxfam and the International Fund
for Animal Welfare also have stands, but most of the mainstream charities seem
to have given it a miss, as have most of the public.
“It’s been absolutely disastrous, a complete waste of time,” one disappointed
participant said. “There have been more wheelie bins than people. The Organization.
is so bad that people just aren’t bothering to show up.”
The problem, it seems, is that you have to pay £10 to attend — a vast sum for
South Africans — and you have to be accredited, ensuring that no members of the
public can go. Just a week after the three-week exhibition got under way, a large
number of the stands lie empty.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd