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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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NGO Forum for Johannesburg Back on Track, Say Organizers

Johannesburg, 11 April– Organizers of the NGO Forum for the World Summit on Sustainable Development say the disagreements between competing factions of South African civil society that were widely reported are behind them and they are now completing plans for the gathering, which will be one of the largest meetings ever of civil society.

Bheki Ntshalintshali, Deputy General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, one of the main organizers, confirmed that there had been some disagreements among groups. But, he said, "I can now confirm that there is one civil society of South Africa that comprises all the major groups."

"There are quarrels in any family. There will always be disagreements," Ntshalintshali said, adding that there are no guarantees that the future of the Forum will be quarrel-free. But he emphasized that the in-fighting will not detract from the event, and that all South Africans are now "on board." He commented, "People will be asking whether Africa can host a Summit of this nature," and said everyone had to rise to the occasion. "We have to manage it successfully. We do not want South Africa to be a bad example."

The Forum, organized entirely by South African civil society, will take place at the Expo Centre (formerly known as NASREC) from 19 August to 4 September. Organizers say the site is a ten-minute drive from the official Summit, which will be held at the Sandton Convention Centre. While the Forum is completely independent of the UN event, and accreditation to the Forum will be separate, organizers say the Forum will allow citizens groups to let the world leaders who will be attending the Johannesburg Summit know what people want the Summit to achieve.

Forum officials say they do not know how many people will attend, and called for groups to register early, either on printed forms or electronically, on a web site that will be up in mid-April at the address http://www.worldsummit.org.za.

The Forum organizers said the decision to hold the event the week before the Summit will allow civil society to adopt a declaration that can influence the decisions made at the official meeting. Ntshalintshali said the idea to have a separate process will help build solidarity within civil society. "We will be able to speak with one voice and we will be able to influence the process."

Speaking to a gathering of NGOs and delegates, Ntshalintshali said that other allegations that the Forum would be government-led were unfounded. "It will be an independent Forum," he insisted. The Forum was working with the South African government on logistics, and the government is providing resources for the Forum.

Organizers say that all groups will be welcome at the Forum, except for groups that have "a blatant disregard" for the principles of sustainable development. There will be a registration fee of $165, but Forum officials say they are willing to work with NGOs that cannot afford the registration fee. There are also plans to provide day passes so that local residents from nearby Oswego can participate.

Crispian Olver of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism reiterated that the government was not involved in the organization or the operations of the Forum, but had covered the cost of hiring the site, and offered to share logistical support, such as for transportation.

"For us, the Summit is not just the formal Summit, but a multiplicity of events," Olver said, referring to the Forum and the cultural exhibition at the Ubuntu village. "We need a meaningful dialogue to communicate to the entire world that we need a strong vision of where we are going."

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24 August 2006