Abahlali baseMjondolo have reported that their member, Ayanda Ngila, was shot and killed on the afternoon of Tuesday 8 March at the eKhenana settlement. His death is yet another devastating blow to Abahlali and the residents of eKhenana. This comes after a year of intensified harassment: unlawful evictions, arbitrary arrests, unfounded prosecutions, violence and assassinations targeted at the settlement and its residents. Since 2018, Abahlali have lost six members in eKhenana to targeted assassinations. SERI is deeply saddened by this loss and extends its heartfelt condolences to Mr Ngila’s loved ones and to the movement for which he lost his life.
EKhenana is an informal settlement in Cato Manor, Durban, established in 2018. The settlement is organised and managed as a cooperative where residents have established a communal kitchen, a subsistence vegetable garden named after the late Nkululeko Gwala, a poultry farm named after the late S’fiso Ngcobo and a communally run spaza shop. Gwala and Ngcobo were Abahlali leaders who were also assassinated in 2013 and 2018, respectively. Abahlali are targeted for advocating for access to land and basic services in informal settlements and for organising poor people outside formal party politics. EKhenana is the latest site of targeted harassment and intense contestation over access to land.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, the eThekwini municipality carried out evictions at the settlement despite the moratorium on evictions instituted in terms of the State of Disaster regulations. Even after a settlement was reached in April 2020, when the community approached the High Court for an urgent interdict, eThekwini’s Anti‑Land Invasion Unit allegedly fired live ammunition at the settlement leaving eKhenana resident, Yamkela Vezi, injured with a gunshot wound to the hip.
In 2021 alone, a total of eleven Abahlali leaders and eKhenana residents were arrested on various charges ranging from murder, conspiracy to commit murder and assault. None of the prosecutions have resulted in a conviction. Ayanda Ngila, a leader of the eKhenana community, was arrested on two separate occasions. In March 2021, Mr Ngila and two other eKhenana community leaders, Lindokuhle Mnguni and Landu Tshazi, were arrested after being wrongly accused of murder. In September 2021, they were eventually released when the charges against them were dropped, after spending six months in remand detention at the Westville Prison. On 10 January 2022, Mr Ngila, Mr Mnguni and Mr Tshazi were arrested again, along with Maphiwe Gasela, who was also arrested and detained under separate charges in 2021. After numerous denials, the four were granted bail and released on 22 February 2022 from Westville Prison.
Other recent incidents related to eKhenana include an attack on the settlement that took place on 23 October 2021. A group of people allegedly connected to local leadership in the African National Congress (ANC) attacked the settlement, assaulting four women. Police arrived at eKhenana while the attack took place and instead arrested one of the women who was assaulted, Phumelele Mkhize. Police also arrested Maphiwe Gasela and charged her and Ms Mkhize with assault. They were released on bail two days later on condition that they do not return to their homes in eKhenana. The three other women who were assaulted had to be treated for their injuries in hospital. The women experienced difficulty when attempting to open a case with the Cato Manor police station because the police officers allegedly had to seek permission from a local ANC leader to open the women’s case. On the evening of 26 October, the homes of Maphiwe Gasela and Phumelele Mkhize were burnt down in their absence. Cato Manor police allegedly refused to open a case of arson and to investigate the allegations. These incidents were documented in a report submitted to the South African Human Rights Commission in October 2021.
On the evening of Sunday 6 March, residents in eKhenana were attacked again by a group of people allegedly linked to the local ANC following Abahlali’s General Assembly meeting which was held at the settlement. Abahlali members Siniko Miya and Langa Mbunguzana suffered severe injuries and had to be treated in hospital. In 2021, Mr Miya was arrested along with Abahlali’s deputy president Mqapheli Bonono and Maphiwe Gasela, and detained for six months without bail. EKhenana’s communal kitchen was also vandalised in the attack.
The violence and repression that Abahlali have experienced in eKhenana is reminiscent of the 2009 attack on the Kennedy Road settlement which resulted in at least two deaths, numerous injuries and arrests and widespread displacement of Abahlali members. Abahlali’s leadership had to flee from their homes and go into hiding. Since then, Abahlali have continued to face a combination of state-sanctioned and political violence in the form of repeated and often unlawful evictions, heavy-handed policing during protests, arrests and targeted harassment, threats and assassinations. Despite this, Abahlali, and similar-placed grassroots movements, have continued to advocate for their socio-economic rights and assert their civil and political rights at great risk and personal cost.
The abuse of the criminal justice system to repress social movements is an indictment on South Africa’s democracy and how it deals with dissent, particularly from marginalised groups. In any democracy, activists and social movements play a vital role in holding leaders accountable and insisting on the creation of a society that is more just. Criminal justice officials, who play a pivotal role in this context, have an obligation to carry out their duties in a manner that is unbiased and free from external influence, be it political or otherwise.
In 2018, the Moerane Commission of Enquiry report into political killings in KZN found that “acts of omission and commission by the police, through incompetence or political manipulation, has led to a loss of public confidence in the criminal justice system but especially the police services and security agencies in general, including crime intelligence, national intelligence, and the specialised policing and prosecution agencies.” The report recommended, amongst other things, that “the State take immediate measures to ensure that institutions of the entire criminal justice system are immediately depoliticised and the political manipulation of these agencies to meet political ends is immediately brought to an end and public measures be taken to instil confidence in the public that the State is acting vigorously, expeditiously, and without fear or favour.”
SERI strongly condemns the killing of Ayanda Ngila and demands that those responsible be held accountable. SERI calls for an immediate end to the repression in eKhenana and calls on the Provincial Commissioner of Police and Minister of Police to urgently intervene and investigate the conduct of police officials at the Cato Manor police station. We also call on the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Human Rights Commission to urgently investigate the allegations of bias and misconduct by various officials involved in a series of cases brought against Abahlali members of the past year.
Download the full statement here.