by Richard Pithouse, Seminar Paper, School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2006
Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Durban shack dwellers’ movement is, at the time of writing, a year from its founding event. In this year the Abahlali have withstood systematic state repression, including 84 arrests on criminal charges, to grow from a struggle begun by a few hundred people in one settlement to a movement that has mobilised tens of thousands of people in settlements across the city. The Abahlali are committed to the day to day practice of democracy where people live. They have democratised settlements, created and defended political autonomy resolutely independent of political parties and the state, introduced all kinds of innovation into popular political culture, won space for shack dwellers’ voices in elite publics and forced the eThekwini Municipality’s slum clearance policy into a legitimation crisis. However the various levels of government seem determined to limit democracy to the stage managed spectacle of elections and to stigmatise the popular practice of democracy as anti-national. There is a battle on.
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