On Friday, September 30, South Africa’s militant shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), in a speech addressed to the United Nations, demanded justice for the lethal repression unleashed on its members
Speaking at an event on the sidelines of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, AbM’s national vice president George Mqapheli Bonono stated, “Our movement was formed in 2005 to struggle for a just and equal society based on respect and dignity for all people. Most of our members live in appalling conditions in shacks”
With over 115,000 members across South Africa today, AbM has been occupying lands to build housing for the urban poor for nearly two decades. Bonono added, “We organize for access to land and decent housing, to build women’s power from below, and against xenophobia— objectives that strongly align with key commitments set out in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.”
The shacks built by AbM members are self-connected to water and electricity supply systems, without any assistance or permission from the government. In its eKhenana occupation, comprising 3,000 shacks, AbM has been working towards sustainability, setting up communal projects — including a vegetable garden, a poultry farm, and a tuck shop — as well as the Frantz Fanon school for political education.
In its struggle to secure dignity and basic rights for its members, the AbM has faced “severe repression, including slander, assault, arrest, violent and unlawful evictions, false imprisonment, torture, and killings,” Bonono stated. He added that the situation had been particularly severe in the city of Durban.
The eKhenana occupation in particular has also faced several illegal demolition drives by the local African National Congress-led municipal authorities, even though an eviction moratorium was put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since 2009, 24 of our leaders have been killed; some by police, others by armed state forces, and some by assassins linked to local politicians. So far this year, we have lost four comrades. One was murdered by masked police officers and three were murdered by assassins,” Bonono stated.
On August 20, the chairperson of the eKhenana commune, 28-year-old Lindokuhle Mnguni, was assassinated by two gunmen in his home in Cato Crest, Durban. Eyewitnesses stated that the killers were part of the same hit squad that killed eKhenana’s deputy chairperson Ayanda Ngila on March 8. Both leaders were out on bail after being arrested on a murder charge at the time of their assassination. Just months after Ngila was killed, another AbM leader in eKhenana, Nokuthula Mabaso, was assassinated on May 5. Both Mabaso and Mnguni had been witnesses to the murder of Ngila.
“There are only two cases in which the perpetrators of these killings have been brought to justice. A police officer was imprisoned for twelve years for the murder of Nqobile Nzuza in 2013,” Bonono said on Friday. 17-year-old Nzuza was shot from behind by the police during a peaceful road blockade organized by AbM in Cato Crest to demand an end to illegal evictions, corruption, and police repression.
In 2016, two local ANC ward councillors were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of prominent AbM leader Thuli Ndlovu. She was killed in September 2014 after a gunman entered her home in KwaNdengezi and proceeded to shoot her seven times.
“There has been no justice for the 22 comrades that we have lost to the politics of blood,” Bonono decried in his statement.
“We call on the UN to take a stand against the ongoing murder of our leaders and we call on our own government to urgently establish a national commission of inquiry into these murders and to ensure justice for all victims of political killiings in South Africa.
On September 9, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) had also called for an “urgent national intervention” to protect AbM activists against ongoing attacks. Endorsed by over 140 civil society organizations, the letter said, “As members of civil society, in support of Abahlali, we condemn these attacks and further condemn the apparent silence on these events from the state…Such violence against movements and organizations like Abahlali is an indication that South Africa’s constitutional democracy and the freedoms for which we fought so hard are under attack.”