Raj Patel on participatory democracy in Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, South Africa.
It’s late November 2005 in Durban. It’s hot. There are 40 people cramped into a wooden structure of the type used as a tool shed on the better sort of construction site. But this shed is in the Pemary Ridge shack settlement in the elite Reservoir Hills suburb in Durban. On the wall are posters of birds, and vehicles– ‘the train comes down the hill’, ‘the people are in the bus’, ‘the crates are on the truck’. The most durable building in the settlement, this shed is a multi-purpose space: classroom, crèche, community centre and, this evening, meeting room. The only social purpose it seems not to serve is a place of worship. And yet, with the lights flickering, and amid the intense concentration, we are party to an important moment of political ritual.