In a statement headed "Is The ANC As Democratic As It Claims?", a confidential report by the US consulate in Durban dated 8 January 2010 - released publicly by Wikileaks on 24 August this year - stated: "The AbM movement is a test of democratic governance for the ANC..."
In its introduction, this report sent to the US State Department reads: "What began as a Durban road blockade in 2005 has become a shack-dwellers movement in South Africa. Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM, which means `those who live in the shacks' in Zulu) now includes thousands of shack-dwellers from more than 30 informal settlements throughout the country. AbM has garnered international support and has won legal battles against the African National Congress's (ANC) attempts at forced removal. While the ANC claims to be making efforts to clean up slums and provide the poor with adequate housing, AbM leadership claims intimidation and anti-democratic tactics are used against its members by the ruling party. AbM represents a true test of democratic governance for the ANC."
I agree with the sense of this report. It is significant, however, that it has taken the leak of a confidential communication from a US consular official to make plain to South Africa and the world such a major threat to the country's still young and vulnerable democracy. The full report should be read with care by every South African with a concern for the country's present, past and future.
A major question is: Why, in such a highly politicised country, has there been such minimal attention to such a major political issue?
In the exile period through to its formation of the first post-apartheid government of South Africa, the ANC embodied both democratic and anti-democratic qualities.
Its formation in 1912, as the Native National Congress, was a profoundly democratic event. I am not aware of any other political party in Africa which so early and - generally speaking - so successfully sought a political practice that would rise above tribe and clan, and thus provide a genuine route to nationhood. One need only look to Zimbabwe, by comparison, to see how miserably this process has failed there. No other political party in South Africa was so responsible as the ANC for the winning of universal suffrage in 1994.