Some notes on Durban and COP17 geography

COP16 visitors who are tired of the long bus commutes in Cancun may be wondering what Durban has in store.

At a briefing with the South African delegation a couple of nights ago, they explained that Durban was chosen because it has South Africa’s largest convention centre, and right across the road is a very large exhibition centre. So it will allow for intergovernmental and civil society spaces in very close proximity. There are a great many hotels within walking distance, and the Durban bus system will be opened up for the COP. So it appears we can rest assured that the COP will be much more compressed and – once you’re flown the considerable distance getting there – rather easier on personal carbon footprints.

At one stage, there were declarations coming from parts of our government that the South African COP would be a “People’s COP”. Already, they’re backtracking on those statements, but are still saying they expect it will be a lot more accessible. The official Durban COP website is

Tragically, despite our 16 years of ostensible liberation, South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal countries, and so we have very high rates of violent crime. But the authorities showed during the World Cup that they’re pretty good at putting the lid on that when international opinion is at stake. It’s still worth being cautious, particularly in the central area of Durban, where I experienced an attempted mugging while attending a conference in 2003. (Happily, the attacker was vanquished by five female colleagues.)

Durban is in KwaZulu-Natal province on the Indian Ocean east coast of South Africa, subtropical, hot and very humid in December in summer.

I live in Cape Town, over two away from Durban by plane. But I’m rather fond of Durban myself. Here’s a travel page about Durban that as a South African I consider to be reasonable and frank about the downsides of our tortured but beautiful country, including violent crime and our world-beating HIV epidemic, which is another consequence of our extremely unequal economy. If you’re interested in local social economy, visit the web page of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, which fights toxic health-threatening refinery emissions, or read the writings of local political economist Patrick Bond.

If you’re planning to add some local travel to your trip, the Drakensberg Mountains, three to four hours drive from Durban, must be amongst the most beautiful in the world. And to the south lies the remote, equally beautiful, under-developed and threatened Transkei region of the Eastern Cape province. But plan well ahead – South African summer school holidays begin in mid-December, and travel accommodation will be under pressure when the COP ends.

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