Joint statement: South Africa: Recent killings raise concerns of increased repression against Abahlali baseMjondolo
We the undersigned organizations strongly condemn the recent killings within the span of three days of Human rights defenders Ayanda Ngila in the eKhenana settlement and Siyabonga Manqele in the eNkanini settlement in Cato Manor, in Durban, South Africa. Both were members of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement, which promotes the rights of shack dwellers in the informal settlements in South Africa.
Ayanda Ngila was shot seven times and killed in broad daylight on 8 March 2022 by four men who, allegedly, are connected to the African National Congress (ANC) party in Durban while he was repairing the irrigation system in the communal garden of the eKhenana settlement.
Siyabonga Manqele was shot and killed on 11 March 2022 when masked police officers raided the nearby eNkanini settlement in Durban around 11 pm. Witnesses claim that the police were kicking down doors in search of unregistered firearms allegedly used in a murder in January 2022. Unable to encounter firearms, the police arrested and assaulted members of the community. Siyabonga Manqele was shot when he ran unarmed to the aid of his wife that was being assaulted by the police. Subsequently, the police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the community. Four community members were taken to the police station including Siyabonga Manqele’s wife, Thandeka Sithunsa. According to Abahlali baseMjondolo, the arrested community members remain in detention being charged with murder. They will appear for a bail hearing on 22 March 2022.
Ayanda Ngila was Deputy Chairperson of Abahlali baseMjondolo’s eKhenana settlement, and Siyabonga Manqele was a human rights defender and member of Abahlali baseMjondolo in the eNkanini settlement. Their killings are not isolated incidents but should be contextualized within a pattern of ongoing attacks on the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement.
The repression of Abahlali baseMjondolo is taking place in the context of their struggle for housing and land rights and basic services. In response to government failure to provide housing and basic social services, the most marginalized and impoverished people are occupying unused land throughout South Africa. The communities organize in order to find ways to sustain themselves and their families and advocate with local authorities to gain access to basic services, including sewage and running water. These land occupations are often met with violence and evictions from State and corporate actors that aim at building for-profit housing where the settlements are located.
In this context, on 6 March 2022, alleged members of the ANC attacked members of Abahlali baseMjondolo after their General Assembly in the eKhenana settlement. The entrance of the settlement was vandalized and two Abahlali members were injured after being hit by axes and had to be hospitalized. The authorities have not opened an investigation into these attacks.
Moreover, throughout 2021, the eKhenana settlement faced several attempts at violent, forced evictions and its leaders faced continuous attacks. On 26 October 2021, two leaders had their homes burnt to the ground and in 2021 alone, 11 leaders were arrested on trumped-up charges. Most of them have since been acquitted of all charges, while others are still facing judicial harassment. Ayanda Ngila was arrested twice during 2021 and spent six months in pre-trial detention on trumped-up murder charges before they were dropped by lack of any credible evidence.
Since the movement was founded in 2005, Abahlali baseMjondolo members have faced severe threats by both State and non-State actors, criminalization, torture and ill-treatment in police custody, slander campaigns and killings. 18 leaders and supporters from the movement were killed between 2005 and 2021. The impunity for these cases is persistent. Over the years, several of the movement's leaders have been forced to go into hiding to protect their life and physical integrity after receiving death threats, including the co-founder and President, Sibusiso (S'bu) Innocent Zikode
We call for an immediate end to the repression and attacks on Abahlali baseMjondolo and its settlements.
We urge the South African authorities to:
- Conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the killing of Ayanda Ngila and Siyabonga Manqele as well as into all allegations of attacks, threats and other acts of harassment on leaders and members of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement as well as residents in the eKhenana Commune, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal and sanction them as provided by the law.
- Put an immediate end to the attacks and all acts of harassment of Abahlali baseMjondolo members and all human rights defenders in South Africa and create an enabling environment so they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance.
- Ensure the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in South Africa, particularly land and housing rights defenders.
- Put an immediate end to illegal forced evictions in South Africa.
- In accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, progressively take ambitious steps, utilizing maximum available resources, to provide adequate housing and access to basic services for all South Africans, including residents of informal settlements and land occupations.
ESCR-Net - International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Front Line Defenders
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Lawyers for Human Rights
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders