Cablegate: Is the Anc As Democratic As It Claims?

Published: Fri 8 Jan 2010 03:48 PM
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY. 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. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) Kennedy Road (KR) is a shack settlement located next
to Durban's largest dumpsite, southwest of central Durban.
Homeless individuals began living in KR in the late 1970s. As
the number of residents grew, local government attempted to
force people out of KR but was unsuccessful. By the late 1980s,
the City of Durban ended its eviction efforts. However, in
1995, a year after the end of apartheid, the local ANC
government began its own eviction campaign. KR now has
approximately 10, 000 residents, who live in squalor. A lack of
electricity, potable water, and toilets has resulted in daily
fires, open sewers, and rat infestations, according to local
Birth of a Movement
3. (SBU) In 1999, residents of KR formed the Kennedy Road
Development Committee (KRDC) as a way to petition local
authorities for basic utilities in their settlement while they
awaited permanent housing. S'busiso Zikode was elected
chairperson, and under his leadership, KR was able to secure
interim services from the city of Durban, said Zikode to
Pol/Econ officer during a two-hour December 3, 2009 meeting.
Encouraged by municipal promises of permanent housing and better
living conditions and hoping to increase his credibility and
influence with city lawmakers, Zikode joined the ANC in 2000.
By 2004, however, KR residents had not yet seen any movement on
their promised housing. Zikode also claims he began to feel
pressure from the Durban municipality to avoid discussing
housing and service delivery issues during KRDC meetings.
Zikode withdrew from the ANC, and he along with other KR
residents declared that 2005 would be a `year of action.'
4. (SBU) On March 19, 2005, KR residents protested the
demolition and sale of a tract of land that had been promised
to the residents of KR by the Durban municipality as a new
housing site, said Zikode. The protest drew over 800
participants, including residents from other informal
settlements, who blockaded a major Durban road for several
hours. The protesters were ultimately dispersed by police dogs,
and 14 people were arrested, according to local media.
Subsequent to the protest, residents from KR and 13 other
informal settlements formed Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM). In
September 2008, AbM joined the Landless People's Movement, the
Rural Network, and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign to
form The Poor People's Alliance, the largest shack-dwellers
organization in South Africa.
AbM Philosophy and Demands
5. (SBU) Zikode emphasizes that AbM is a `radical poor people's
movement that is democratic. Our movement is a homemade
politics that everyone can understand and find a home in.' The
politics of AbM are conducted `by the poor, for the poor, and
where the poor people live,' said Zikode. AbM shuns top-down
`self-enriching,' `professional' politics and refuses
representational roles, personal power, and financial reward.
`Such a top-down system has terrorized our society. In fact, it
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is an insult to assume that poor people cannot think for
themselves, that someone else must talk for them without their
concern. Our demands are simple: land and homes in the cities
where we live,' said Zikode. And while AbM members wait for
the local government to act, they demand water, electricity, and
basic sanitation facilities.
Shack Dwellers Movement Flexes its Muscle
6. (SBU) In 2007, the KZN Legislature passed the KwaZulu-Natal
Elimination & Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act. The act
was controversial because it gave the provincial MEC (Member of
Executive Committee, like a `provincial minister) for Housing
authority to forcibly remove residents from informal
settlements. AbM contested the act in the KZN High Court,
arguing that it was repressive, anti-poor, and unconstitutional.
AbM also argued that rather than evict slum residents, KZN was
mandated to deal with the lack of inadequate housing in the
province. AbM lost in the KZN High Court but on October 14,
2009, the South African Constitutional Court ruled that the act
was unconstitutional. This was a great blow to the ANC and
municipalities in other provinces that had hoped to pass similar
acts, Imraan Buccus - who teaches politics at the University of
KZN - told Pol/Econ Officer on November 22, 2009.
Intimidation and Oppression
7. (SBU) AbM members have endured harassment from the state in
the form of unwarranted arrests, and repeated and severe police
violence in people's homes, in the streets and in detention,
according to Zikode. On a number of occasions the police have
used live ammunition, armored vehicles and helicopters in their
attacks on unarmed shack dwellers, according to local media.
AbM has filed numerous police brutality and wrongful arrest
charges against the police, to no avail. To date, not one of
the AbM members who was arrested has ever been convicted of an
offence, according to Zikode.
The Kennedy Road Attack
8. (SBU) On September 26, 2009, 40 local tavern owners
disrupted a AbM youth camp, demanding that the youth join them
in a protest against AbM, said Secretary of AbM Youth League
Zodwa Nsibande to Pol/Econ officer on December 3. The tavern
owners gathered outside AbM's office and called for Zikode and
Nsibande to come out, accusing them of being Xhosa-speaking
meddlers intent on ruling the lives of Zulus living in KR, said
Zikode. Nsibande and Zikode hid from the tavern owners, but the
mob ransacked and demolished AbM's office, Zikode's home and
those of several other AbM members in the presence of the
police, said Nsibande and Zikode. The attacks continued through
September 28, and five people were killed, reported local media.
Thirteen AbM members were subsequently held without bail or
charges until early December when eight were released. In the
aftermath, ANC Ward Councilor Yakoob Baig reported to local
media that `harmony has been restored now that the Abahlali
criminals are gone.'
9. (SBU) Nsibande and Zikode claim that the September 26 KR
attack was `planned by the ANC at the very highest political
level.' According to Zikode, the ANC retaliated against AbM
because the party was incensed that `a group of dirty shack
dwellers would dare to expose the ANC's corruption' and
challenge them in the highest courts of the land. `Although we
have won some important battles against the ANC, we are now
paying for those victories with our lives. Thousands of us no
longer have homes, and many of us live in fear in our own
country. I am a refugee in my own country, in my own city,'
declared Zikode to Pol/Econ Officer.
10. (SBU) KZN MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison
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Willies Mchunu denied in an October 20 op-ed piece that the ANC
was behind the September 26 KR attack. Mchunu argued that the
attack on AbM members was the result of an illegal curfew
imposed on KR residents by an illegal safety and security forum
formed by AbM. Zikode acknowledges the formation of the forum,
but insists that the curfew was a 12a.m. sales curfew imposed on
illegal taverns selling liquor 24 hours a day. Also, Zikode
points out that the forum was formed with the consent of the
local police commissioner and therefore was empowered to impose
such a curfew. Mchunu has since placed under investigation the
police commissioner who authorized the forum. He declared the
forum a `vigilante group that must be dissolved.' Mchunu also
placed KR under a 24-hour police watch and promised improved
lighting and that a new housing project for 600 households would
begin in January 2010.
Democracy under Attack
11. (SBU) AbM leaders argue that their movement is a threat to
the ANC's authority and to the elites who have enriched
themselves at the expense of the poor. `Democracy itself is
under threat in South Africa. A coup happened on September 26.
The ANC violently replaced a democratically elected community
organization. Who are they to do this!' exclaimed Zikode.
After the politicians and the police departed from KR on
September 26 in KR, the settlement was left in the hands of
armed young ANC men who patrolled the area and made it clear,
via death threats, that AbM was now banned from Kennedy Road,
alleged Zikode. `We always allowed free political activity in
Kennedy and all settlements in which AbM candidates have been
elected to leadership. Now we are banned.'
12. (SBU) ANC leaders, including MEC for Economic Development
and Tourism Mike Mabuyakhulu, Durban City Mayor Obed Mlaba, and
Durban City Manager Mike Sutcliffe, have often accused AbM of
being `manipulated by a third force or a foreign intelligence
agency intent on destabilizing the country,' according to
Zikode. No evidence has ever been presented to substantiate
these claims `because they are patently ludicrous and paranoid
but they have created a climate that justifies violent
repression.' In support of AbM's claim, Anglican Bishop Rubin
Phillip said, `It is essential that the attack on democracy in
KR is widely publicized so that we can all confront what has
happened and ensure that it never happens again.'
Support from Other Political Parties
13. (SBU) `The AbM situation reveals the ANC's inability to
address the serious housing shortage problem in the Durban
area,' contended Democratic Alliance (DA) Representative Dean
McPherson to Pol/Econ Officer during a November 20, 2009
meeting. The DA also supports AbM's efforts to expose the ANC's
`corrupt and unfair system of housing allocation, McPherson
14. (SBU) `COPE is concerned about what is going on in
Kennedy Rd. We are worried about reports of police biasness and
alleged ANC involvement. Our [parliamentary representative]
Lucky Gabela will ask KZN MEC Willies Mchunu to give the
legislature a report on Kennedy Road as soon the legislature
resumes. We believe there is a need for an independent inquiry
into the Kennedy Road situation,' KZN Congress of the People
(COPE) Provincial Secretary Phillip Mhlongo told Pol/Econ
Assistant on January 5.
15. (SBU) `The IFP is monitoring developments in Kennedy Road
and is very concerned about the plight of Abahlali leaders who
have been exiled from their homes. Kennedy Road is part of a
bigger housing problem in eThekwini and needs urgent attention
of the municipality. The ANC is treating Kennedy Road badly
because it is not their stronghold area and they don't enjoy
support there. We will call for an independent inquiry to
determine the cause of violence in the area,' reported Inkatha
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Freedom Party (IFP) eThekwini Spokesperson Joshua Mazibuko to
Pol/Econ Assistant on January 5.
Church Support, International Calls for Action
16. (SBU) The plight of AbM has garnered the attention of
churches and international civil rights organizations. The
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Miloon
Kothari on February 29, 2008 expressed great concern about the
well being of KR residents living under `far short of safe and
sustainable living conditions.' He added, `This situation is
compounded by tenure insecurity and the threat of forced
eviction.' In a speech at the AbM Unfreedom Day event on April
27, 2008 Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip said: `You have faced
fires, sickness, evictions, arrest, beatings, slander, and still
you stand bravely for what is true. Your principle that
everyone matters, that every life is precious, is very simple
but it is also utterly profound. Many of us who hold dear the
most noble traditions of our country take hope from your courage
and your dignity.' (Note. In Germany on October 30, 2009,
Bishop Phillip received the 2009 International Bremen Peace
Award in recognition of his work for justice, peace and
integrity. End Note.)
17. (SBU) The September 26 KR attacks led to a petition in
support of an independent investigation signed by over 1200
academics, NGOs and church leaders. Executive Director of
Children of South Africa (CHOSA) Jared Sacks lambasted the ANC
in a September 30 op-ed piece for its treatment of KR residents
and also called for support of the investigation demanded by
18. (SBU) In response to the arrest and detainment without
charge or bail of the 13 AbM members after the September 26 KR
attack, the Diakonia Council of Churches on November 18 made an
`urgent call to defend our democracy and to support the
voiceless.' On December 16, 2009 Bishop Phillip presented
Zikode with the Order of the Holy Nativity, saying: `We believe
what [AbM] are doing is right. They stand for democracy and
human rights.' On the same day, Amnesty International also
threw its weight behind a call for an investigation. `Amnesty
International deplores the continuing failure of the South
African authorities to investigate impartially and fully human
rights abuses which occurred during and after armed violence at
the Kennedy Road Informal Settlement in Durban last September.'
19. (SBU) On December 24, the KZN Church Leaders' Group
released a joint Advent message regarding the `battles of the
poor.' Regarding AbM, the message stated: `[AbM] has called for
land and housing to be made available within the city. By doing
so it has exposed corruption and mismanagement in the allocation
of houses. Since September 2009, when the KR settlement was
attacked by armed and organized vigilantes, the political elites
have brought a horrifying wave of violence upon the movement,
including forced evictions, targeted destruction of homes and
death threats against its leaders. In all of these instances,
an unholy but by now characteristic, alliance of profit-seeking
economic elites and elements in the governing party are
implicated in a broader project of elite enrichment and
20. (SBU) The parallels between AbM's struggles against the ANC
and the latter's fight against the apartheid regime cannot be
ignored. The accounts of forced removals, violence,
intimidation, and leaders in hiding seem like echoes of a time
supposedly gone forever. Even talk by ANC leaders of a `third
force' at work are eerily reminiscent of a paranoid apartheid
era. Post has found local ANC officials reluctant to discuss
the matter and repeated attempts by Pol/Econ Assistant to secure
a meeting with municipal housing authorities came to naught.
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21. (SBU) The AbM movement is a test of democratic governance
for the ANC, as it decides what to do when its own people do not
support its vision of development (Reftel). The ANC's tolerance
for dissent will be further tested during next year's FIFA World
cup; AbM members plan mass demonstrations for the entire world
to see - even if they do not get a permit to do so.
22. (SBU) Providing free housing for the nearly 800,000
residents living in 500 informal settlements in the Durban area
is a great challenge for the ANC. Apart from the funds required
to build sufficient housing, there simply isn't enough space in
Durban proper for such expansion. City housing may be a central
demand of AbM, but its members must face the reality that
accepting free housing in the rural periphery may be the only
viable option for most.
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