I have pleasure in informing the public that, in my capacity as President of the UDM, I was invited by the National Democratic Institute in the United States of America (USA), to attend the Democratic Party Convention and Informational Leaders Forum.  I was one of the 500 delegates representing about 109 countries.

The Conference Convention was held in Los Angeles from 13 to 17 August 2000.  Topics covered in the discussions included; an overview of the Nomination Process in the USA, Democratic Policy, International Forums Conflict in International Politics, Globalisation and Trade, 2000 Presidential Campaign, Crisis of Confidence in Political Parties - a World Wide challenge.  These discussions were led by panellists from both the Democrats and the Republicans. 

Our most striking observation, which also came out clearly in the Panel discussions, was that freedom of the media as the watchdog of democracy is highly esteemed in the USA.  The media enjoys unrestricted latitude to voice the publicís views and concerns about any matters of national interest.  The importance of freedom of the press was highlighted in almost all the panel discussions.

We in South Africa can learn an invaluable lesson from the USA experience.  We have emerged from an authoritarian dispensation, which brooked no criticism from the media, individuals or organisations.  In our efforts to transform our society we have enshrined freedom of speech and the media in our Bill of Rights of our Constitution.  It is disturbing to note that, to-date South Africa enjoys neither freedom of association nor freedom of the media.

All our campaigns during national- and local elections have been marred by violence and political killings, on the eve of our local government elections there are reported incidents of intimidation.  UDM memberís dwellings were recently burnt down in the Western Cape allegedly by political rivals from the ANC.  KwaZulu Natal is sliding back into a bloody political conflict on the grassroots.  Threatening fingers have been pointed at the press by the executive, its ministers and political minions in the ruling party.

The legacy of Apartheid press gagging still haunts us.  The National Broadcaster has been appropriated by the government as its propaganda instrument.  Not even the old National Party used the Broadcaster to cover its party conferences live as the present ruling party does.

These are issues which are a cause for concern in a South Africa that purports to set an example of democracy for the Continent.

The curtailing of political freedom and the right to freedom of association by the ANC is becoming a norm.  When we launched the UDM we were barred from entering tertiary institutions and other ďno-go areasĒ by the ANC and its allies.  We were demonised and harassed, culminating in the murder of our National Secretary, Sifiso Nkabinde, and many others.

I was saddened, on my return from USA to read about President Thabo Mbekiís paranoid castigation of Tony Leon as a racist.  The government has become increasingly irritable and hypersensitive to criticism from the opposition parties.  This is an ill omen for the future of democracy in South Africa.

Bantu Holomisa, MP

21 August 2000