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[PRESS STATEMENT] Durban Magistrate's Court reaches guilty verdict in Ayanda Ngila's murder trial (19 July 2023).

Presser Ngila guilty verdictOn Monday, 17 July 2023, Khayalihle Gwabuzela (known as Khaya Ngubane)  was found guilty of the murder of Ayanda Ngila, deputy chairperson of Abahlali baseMjondolo’s eKhenana branch. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) welcomes the Court’s decision as a significant step towards achieving justice and fostering healing for the family of Ayanda Ngila, as well as for the entire eKhenana Commune and the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement. Khaya Ngubane’s sentencing has been set down for 24 July 2023.

Ayanda Ngila was the first of four Abahlali baseMjondolo members killed in 2022, during a wave of repression targeted at the movement. He was gunned down on 8 March 2022 at the eKhenana Commune in Cato Manor, eThekwini by gunmen led by Khaya Ngubane. Ngila was 30 years old at the time of his death. He played a vital role in eKhenana’s communal projects and served as a respected leader in Abahlali baseMjondolo.

The verdict is an encouraging indication that those who perpetrate violence and attempt to stifle the voices of marginalised communities will be held accountable for their actions. While the pain of losing a loved one can never be fully alleviated, knowing that justice has been served can provide some closure and comfort to those affected by this tragedy.

SERI remains mindful of the deaths of Siyabonga Manqele, who was allegedly shot and killed by masked police officers on 11 March 2022 in eNkanini settlement; Nokuthula Mabaso, who was shot and killed on 5 May 2022 in eKhenana; and Lindokuhle Mnguni, who was also shot and killed in eKhenana on 20 August 2022. While the verdict may be a step towards accountability for these attacks, we call upon the relevant authorities to expedite the prosecution process in the cases of Manqele, Mabaso, and Mnguni to ensure that justice is served in these cases as well.

Abahlali has faced widespread repression and targeted assassinations: since 2009 it has lost 24 members to targeted assassinations and excessive force by the police. As a result, many of its leaders have had to leave their homes and go into hiding for their safety. The finding in Ngila’s murder is the second case of the 24 to have resulted in a successful prosecution. Recently, the South African Human Rights Commission sent a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for high-level intervention to investigate the assassinations of Abahlali members. SERI calls for the protection of movement leaders and individuals associated with Abahlali baseMjondolo facing intimidation, violence, and repression.

SERI continues to stand in solidarity with the family of Ayanda Ngila, the community of eKhenana, and the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement as a whole. We echo their calls for justice for other fallen leaders.

 

  • Download the full statement here.

[SUBMISSION] SERI makes a submission on the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development’s Provincial Strategy on Unlawful Occupation of Land and Buildings (12 July 2023).

On 30 June 2023, SERI made a submission on the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development’s Provincial Strategy on Unlawful Occupation of Land and Buildings. SERI’s submission cautions against the use of pejorative terms in describing unlawful occupiers, draws attention to the need for a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional approach to understanding the problem, an highlights the importance of focusing on the needs of those individuals who are most in need of housing. SERI’s submission further outlines our commitment to engaging with the provincial government about the management of unauthorised land occupations. 

  • Download the full submission here

 

[SUBMISSION] SERI makes a submission to on draft norms and standards for Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) (30 June 2023).

SPLUMA norms and standards

On 19 June 2023, SERI made a submission on the draft norms and standards for the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act (SPLUMA) following a call by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development for all stakeholders and interested persons to submit written inputs on the draft norms and standards in terms of section 8 of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Act. 

The objective of the draft norms and standards are to "promote social inclusion, spatial equity, efficient settlement patterns, rural revitalization, urban regeneration and sustainable development". They have been developed to "promote a normative approach that will ensure wise use of land" and to "enable spatial planning and land use management to be undertaken in a manner that is responsive to the varying landscape of municipal capacities throughout the country."

SERI welcomes the development of the SPLUMA norms and standards and submits comments that suggest ways for the Department to better align them with the provisions of the Constitution. Amongst these, is to include the incorporation of sections 25(5), 25(6), and 26(3) which establish rights to equitable access to land, secure tenure, and guarantee everyone a right against eviction from or to have their homes demolished without a court order and prohibit any legislation that may permit arbitrary eviction. SERI submits these are key to explicitly include as any review of the legal framework would be incomplete without it. 

  • Access the submission here.

 

[PRESS STATEMENT] SERI stands in solidarity with imprisoned Vietnamese lawyer, Mr. Bach and calls for his release (27 June 2023).

Stand with bach

 

Saturday, 24 June 2023 marked two years since Vietnam's leading environmental lawyer, Dang Dinh Bach ("Bach"), was wrongly imprisoned just two weeks after his son was born, due to his leadership in the anti-coal movement. Bach is a highly respected environmental justice lawyer in Vietnam who has dedicated his life to advocating for the health and well-being of marginalised communities throughout the country. He was arrested after leading a campaign to reduce Vietnam’s reliance on coal. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) stands in solidarity with Mr. Bach and joins the international human rights community in calling for his immediate release.

He was imprisoned on charges of "tax evasion" in June 2021 and sentenced to five years in prison on 24 January 2022. Bach did not receive a fair trial, as he was not allowed to meet with his lawyer until seven months after his arrest being permitted to see his lawyers only twice before his trial. Furthermore, the prosecution refused to share the evidence against Bach before the trial making it impossible for him to prepare his defence. Family members, supporters and the public were barred from attending the trial which ended with a disproportionately harsh sentence against Bach which deviated from the usual punishment for individuals accused of tax evasion in Vietnam.

The unjust imprisonment of Mr. Bach is not an isolated incident but rather part of a distressing pattern of targeting environmental leaders in Vietnam. Since June 2021, five prominent environmental defenders have been arrested, detained, and sentenced to up to five years in prison in Vietnam under similar charges of income tax evasion. SERI strongly condemns the misuse of vague tax offenses as a means to silence and imprison individuals who courageously defend the environment and advocate for the rights of local communities.

Members of the UN Human Rights Council have drawn attention to Vietnam's ambiguous tax laws. These laws impose unreasonably burdensome requirements on non-governmental organisations, hindering their reporting, registration of funding, and project operations. The United Nations has called upon the Government of Vietnam to revise these overbroad and vague tax provisions, as they pose a significant threat to civil society and impede the ability of non-governmental organisations to function effectively within the country.

SERI was troubled to learn of Mr. Bach’s intention to go on a hunger strike to the death, which began on June 24, 2023 - the second anniversary of his arrest. We appeal to the Vietnamese government to take immediate action to prevent MR Bach’s death by promptly addressing the injustices faced by Mr. Bach and ensuring his release.

SERI stands resolute in our support of Mr. Bach who courageously advocates for environmental justice, and for others like him who act in support of vulnerable communities. We call on the international human rights community to unite in support of Mr. Bach's release and to exert pressure on the Vietnamese government to uphold the values of justice, human rights, and the rule of law.

Contact details:  

  • Nkosinathi Sithole, SERI senior attorney: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Nomzamo Zondo, SERI executive director: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Muano Nemavhidi, SERI candidate attorney: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Download the full statement here

[PUBLICATION] SERI and ARO launch new publication examining the recycling economy in Johannesburg (15 June 2023).

ARO CPN
Today, SERI and the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) launch the Community Practice Note, "African Reclaimers Organisation: The Struggle for Recognition and Inclusion in Johannesburg's Recycling Industry". 

ARO is an organisation of reclaimers, more commonly known as waste pickers or informal recyclers, who collect recyclables in Johannesburg’s residential, industrial and commercial areas as well as landfill sites. The Community Practice Note follows ARO's initial years and its struggle against the City of Johannesburg’s “Separation@Source” recycling programme which utilises the services of private contractors to the exclusion of reclaimers and threatens the livelihoods of Johannesburg’s reclaimers. African Reclaimers Organisation: The Struggle for Recognition and Inclusion in Johannesburg’s Recycling Industry is the second Community Practice Note in the series, after Abattoir Workers: Unfair Labour Practices and Anti-Union Strategies in Robertson. 

The document examines the recycling economy in Johannesburg, summarises key moments in ARO’s struggle against Separation@Source with private companies, discusses ARO’s strategies and tactics and illustrates the experience of working as a reclaimer on landfill sites and in the city. It concludes with some pointers for the future, regarding recognition and waste picker integration into official waste management systems.  

The launch comes after World Environment Day, 5 June, an annual event which aims to galvanise positive environmental action. Reclaimers in South Africa make a major contribution to environmental conservation, diverting approximately 16 to 24 tonnes of recyclable materials per reclaimer per annum to recycling companies every month, saving municipalities millions of rands in landfill space a year.   

The speakers for the launch were Luyanda Hlatshwayo from the African Reclaimers Organisation, Khuselwa Dyantyi from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, Khumbulani Maphosa from the Matebeleland Institute for Human Rights, and Melanie Samson from the University of Johannesburg. 

  • Download the full CPN here