Urgent Action over eKhenana Land Defender Murders
On Tuesday, 8 March 2022, South African land rights defender Ayanda Ngila was shot and killed in broad daylight in the eKhenana Commune, a portion of land that is home to 109 families in the informal settlement of Cato Manor, near Durban. Ngila was a leader of the shack dweller’s movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, and is believed to be the 19th activist murdered since the establishment of the Abahlali in 2005, and the sixth member of eKhenana to be killed since the Commune’s establishment in 2018. On 5 May, a second Abahlali baseMjondolo land defender, Nokuthula Mabaso, was shockingly assassinated by gunshot in front of her children. Members of the local ANC party are alleged to be responsible for both killings.
In response, HIC-HLRN, with its member organizations across the African continent, the Americas, the Middle East, Europe and Asia, issued an Urgent Action calling for an independent investigation of his death and the prosecution of the perpetrators, and denounced the ongoing escalation of violence and arrests perpetrated against residents of informal settlements, including the recent killing by local police of eNkanini Occupation resident Siyabonga Manqele, and urge an immediate halt to police-led violence.
People with alleged links to the ANC and local police have been repeatedly targeting Members of Abahlali, including leaders of eKhenana, for their work in advocating their rights to land and basic services, with attacks in eKhenana increasing after they successfully prevented the municipality from evicting residents in 2021.
Residents have long faced ongoing violence, harassment, arbitrary arrests, evictions and intimidation to vacate the land, including during the pandemic moratorium on eviction, since the Commune’s inception. In March 2021, police arrested three of eKhenana’s leaders (Ngila, Mnguni, and Landu Shazi) and charged them with a murder, only to have the charges withdrawn after being detained in prison for six months. It is widely thought that the arrests were an attempt by authorities to intimidate Abahlali baseMjondolo and silence their work as activists fighting for the human right to adequate housing and basic services in eKhenana. Abahlali reports that more than 40 of their activists have been arrested on bogus charges in recent months.
Through the Urgent Action HIC-HRLN and members specifically call on the South African authorities to:
- Ensure that the murders of Ayanda Ngila and Nokuthula Mabaso immediately and thoroughly intendently investigated and that all those responsible for this crime are held responsible and duly prosecuted. In particular, we call on the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, the Minister of Police and the Head of the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure justice and peace for the people of eKhenana and members of Abahlali baseMjondolo in other settlements.
The appeal specifically calls for the South African Human Rights Commission and the Minister of Police to:
- Urgently investigate allegations of the involvement of police and various officials in intimidation, violence, bias and other forms of misconduct toward members of Abahlali baseMjondolo.
In April 2022 Abahlali baseMjondolo informed HIC-HLRN that one suspect in Ngila’s murder, Khaya Ngubane, has been arrested and refused bail. While this is appreciated, three more suspects have yet to be arrested. It is also disturbing that the Investigating officer for the case is a well-known friend of Mr. N.S. Ngubane, the father of the now-arrested alleged killer. Abahlali wants this investigating officer removed from the investigation due to suspected bias and conflict of interest, otherwise there will be no justice for Ngila.
Abhlali has informed HIC-HLRN laso that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate is reported to have begun its investigation of the murder of Siyabonga Manqele.
According to HLRN’s Violation Database, more than 94,000 people have been forcibly evicted in South Africa since the ANC came to power in 1994.
Join HIC-HLRN’s Urgent Action for land rights defenders in South Africa here.
Read HIC-HLRN’s full statement here.
Illustration by Anastasya Eliseeva