Durban conference hammers racism

September 26, 2001

Over 10,000 protesters marched on the opening sessions of the U.N. meeting demanding an end to globalization and racism. The protest was organized by the South African Non-governmental Organization Coalition and was supported by a broad coalition of organizations.

Two days before, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) organized a two-day general strike against privatization. A day later, the Alliance, as the coalition between the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and COSATU is known, staged another rally of several thousand protesters under the theme of a ‘Global March Against Racism.’

South African President Thabo Mbeki opened the U.N. governmental conference calling for global unity to fight racism. ‘Nobody anywhere should be despised over race,’ he said.

‘Those on our common universe who are defined by the blues singers as Brown and Black expect much of this world conference,’ Mbeki said.

‘They believe that something will come out of here that will signify a united and sustained global drive within their countries and throughout the world to help rid them of the suffering they bear because they are Brown or Black.’

Controversy has surrounded the convening of the conference, with the governments of the United States and Israel first threatening and then withdrawing from the conference. A meeting organized by the Black Leadership Forum and the Congressional Black Caucus a few days before sharply took issue with the divisive policies of the Bush administration.

The meeting was opened by Rev. James Orange and addressed by Dorothy Height, who spoke on the subject of women, race and gender.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) took strong exception to the administration declaring, ‘Bush can’t speak for me and if the votes had been counted’ he wouldn’t have. Several other members of Congress spoke in a similar vein.

There’s a reason behind the U.S.’ position, suggested Rep. Bernice Johnson. ‘Economics has always been basis of racism. They are trying to silence a discussion on reparations’

The official U.S. position has been that withdrawing from the conference is due to language in the documents on Israel. However, there is a broad consensus here that the real reason is the issue of reparations. The Durban Daily News headlined ‘Slavery pay-out key to U.S. walk-out.’

The article said, ‘The United States’ withdrawal from the Durban race conference was prompted by its fear of facing massive reparations claims for slavery from African Americans and not, as it implied, by friction over the Middle East, senior diplomats said last night.’

Cuban President Fidel Castro took the issue head on in several addresses in and around the conference. Castro said that slavery and colonialism was the worst form of genocide. He said that over 70 million indigenous peoples in the Americas were killed because of colonialism.

He singled out sub-Saharan Africa as suffering severely because of the legacy of colonialism, 90 percent of whose children are poor and who comprise 90 percent of the world’s children who die at an early age.

‘Do we have a right to demand reparations? Yes, we have a right to demand reparations for the victims of slavery and colonialism,’ he said.

A press conference called by the African and African Descendants Caucus roundly denounced the Bush action. ‘We the African and African Descendants Caucus in solidarity with U.S. NGOs representing the people of the U.S. condemn the U.S. official delegation’s withdrawal from the deliberations,’ they said. ‘The U.S. government has also shown contempt and disrespect for this U.N. conference.’

While the issues of reparations and Palestine have been highlighted at the conference, many other issues were addressed including the rights of indigenous peoples, immigration, discrimination against Roma and the Dalit minority in India. Organizations are planning a candlelight vigil to voice continued protests over the U.S. decision.

It was reported that U.N. High Commissioner Mary Robinson has rejected the NGO conference’s final declaration because of language on Israel. Some European countries are urging that language pertaining to race and discrimination be removed because there is but one human race and no races.

Should the conference bog down and collapse it will share a similar fate with its two predecessors. However, given the size and scope of the event and its placing of both the economic basis of racism on the table and the issue of the Palestinians, in many ways, it is already much better off than the previous two.


Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer