On May 22, S’fiso Ngcobo, an activist and chairperson of Abahlali Basemjondolo (shack dwellers’ movement) in eKukhanyeni, in Marianhill, Durban, was assassinated by unknown hit-men at his house. According to Sbu Zikode, National President of Abahlali, three unknown men shot him seven times. He was rushed to Marianhill Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Ngcobo joins a long list of young activists of the movement who have been assassinated while fighting for land and dignity in the province of KwaZulu Natal (KZN) in South Africa. Since 2005, when Abahlali Basemjondolo was founded, the state has consistently unleashed repression and violence in response to their demands.
On the same day that Ngcobo was assassinated, another activist of Abahlali Basemjondolo, Ndumiso Mnguni, was shot at by the Anti-Land Invasion Unit of eThekwini Municipality in Foreman Road Settlement. According to a press statement of Abahlali Basemjondolo, the unit demolished Mnguni’s only shack. While he was attempting to salvage his possessions, the armed security of unit shot him in the stomach.
Mnguni is “fighting for his life in hospital as a result of the everyday violence of a government that has no regard for the poor”, said the Abahlali Basemjondolo statement.
The assassination of Ngcobo and the attempted murder of Mnguni are taking place at a time where Abahlali Basemjondolo has embarked on protests in different parts of the country. In KZN, Cator Crest settlement, Abahlali Basemjondolo has blocked the road, protesting against poor ‘service delivery’.
The people of the locality say the government has deliberately ignored their demands. The community is without adequate running water, electricity and toilets, because the government “don’t regard the people of Cato Crest as human,” according to Abahlali Basemjondolo. The Mayor of EThekwini Municipality, according to the organization, promised to deliver these basic services, but has failed.
Meanwhile, over the past two weeks, the people of Good Hope Informal Settlement, in Germiston, Gauteng, have endured relentless violence at the hands of the Ekurhuleni Metro Police Department (EMPD) and the South Africa Police Service (SAPS) in their attempt to obtain unused land next to their dilapidated shacks This is despite earlier government promises to help them obtain the land. Angry at the state’s refusal to honor its promises, the people recently established the Zikode Extension, but were met with police violence,
An emblematic case of the repression was of Siyambusa Mpolase, who was arrested on May 17 after the police launched an unprovoked attack on people at the Zikode Extension. Mpolase said the police exhibited brutality while arresting him as evidence by the fact that he was limping. On May 18, Siyambusa Mpolase appeared before the Germiston Magistrate Court on charges of public violence, malicious damage to property and incitement of violence. He was released on a bail of Rand 500 on the condition that he does not interfere with the ongoing investigations, does not flee Germiston and that he returns to court on June 20.
The police attack on Germiston also saw young children inhale tear gas. In the past, young children have died because of tear gas inhalations in such instances. For instance, in a police attacks on the Foreman Road settlement, a two-weeks-old child, Jayden Khoza, died after inhaling tear gas.
This sort of criminalization of the ‘bottom-up’ approach to land redistribution – which the state tends to call known as ‘land grabs -’ has led people to wonder if really is committed to the process or is merely making claims to expropriation without compensation. However, the landless people are equally determined to assert their rights, even in the face of brutal violence by the instruments of the State.