Climate activists demand action at BRICS talks

Hundreds protest in Sandton where summit is underway

By Chris Gilili

23 August 2023

Climate activists protest near the BRICS Summit in Sandton, Johannesburg. They are calling for China to stop its planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline. Photos: Chris Gilili

Hundreds of activists descended on Innesfree Park in Sandton on Tuesday on the periphery of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China South Africa) summit being held at the Sandton Convention Centre. They are calling for China to stop its planned East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

The East African Crude Oil Pipeline is to transport oil extracted from Uganda’s Lake Albert oil fields to the port of Tanga in Tanzania, for sale on the world market. Climate advocacy groups under the #StopEACOP campaign, have condemned the construction of the pipeline.

On Tuesday, protesters chanted slogans and held placards reading: “Protecting the environment is not a crime”, “No new fossil fuels in Africa”, and “Phansi climate terrorist, Phansi”.

Zaki Mamdoo, coordinator and #StopEACOP campaign member, said the BRICS summit offered activists an opportunity to protest against China’s role in financing and facilitating the development of the EACOP.

“The project is surrounded by a lot of controversy, including human rights violations, forced relocations of tens of thousands of families, and environmental destruction. The risks are incredibly dire. The pipeline would cross through Lake Victoria, which is Africa’s largest freshwater source. Any spill or leakage would threaten millions of people. The environmental harm would be devastating, and already the world is heating up,” said Mamdoo.

He said while the project has promised jobs, these are likely to be low paid and short term. “We are calling on China to withdraw from EACOP, and withdraw from the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone. We want them to withdraw from their coal projects in Zimbabwe,” said Mamdoo.

Earthlife Africa’s Makoma Lekalakala said they want to send a strong message to the BRICS countries. “They must know that protecting the environment is not a crime,” he said.

Members of the #StopEACOP campaign say the BRICS summit offers activists an opportunity to protest against China’s role in financing and developing the pipeline.

“They are planning to uproot more than 100,000 protected trees. What they are doing is a crime. They are disrupting the ecosystem there and are denying people their livelihoods.”

“SA has committed itself to transition away from fossil fuels, to a low carbon development. Whatever they discuss, the protection of the environment should be at the forefront,” Lekalakala said.

Musina resident Nemakhavhani Tsumbedzo, who travelled to Sandton to join the protest, said he is worried that the Musina-Makhado project will affect their daily lives.

“I am here to support the people from a village called Mulambwana. We also want BRICS to hear our plight too. This project will take massive land, which means our animals will also suffer. They are going to destroy all the trees and [pollute] water streams,” said Tsumbedzo.

Other organisations who demonstrated in Sandton on Tuesday included: Abahlali BaseMjondolo, Earthlife Africa, Green Connection, Action in Solidarity, Pepper Bark Environmental, Climate justice Coalition, Inner City Federation, Xtinction Rebellion, Ndifuna Ukwazi, African Climate Reality Project and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).