Cape Town — As South Africa prepares for elections next year, a group of civil society and religious leaders in Cape Town have accused some of the country's political forces - including elements of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) - of launching "a growing assault on democracy".
In a declaration issued in Cape Town on Tuesday, the group focuses particular attention on the Western Cape - the only province not governed by the ANC - and charge ANC leaders with failing to discipline members, including its youth wing and local leaders in communities, for violent protests and disrupting meetings.
Signatories to the declaration include Nobel laureate and retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, current Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, former Irish anti-apartheid leader Louise Asmal (who is also the widow of Kader Asmal, a member of Nelson Mandela's cabinet), and George Ellis, an internationally renowned physicist.
As evidence for its concern, the group cites attacks on public transport in which civilians have died; violent protests in Cape Town in which the stalls of informal traders were looted; the dumping of human waste at government buildings; the violent breaking up of meetings; and an incident in which the province's premier was denied the right to speak at a state occasion attended by President Jacob Zuma.
"This attack on democracy is a denial of everything the freedom struggle was about, and is being carried out in a dangerous spirit of hate," the declaration says. "This is not a statement in support of any political party... We believe there are democrats in all political parties who share our view."
The group also suggests that the intolerance "has manifested itself in other parts of the country where new parties have been formed and experience extreme difficulty in promoting their political manifestos ....
"The lack of serious leadership and authority in disciplining this form of anti-democratic behaviour carries serious risks and encourages a spirit of hate which, once unleashed, may take many years to overcome with drastic consequences for our economy."