From Assassination with Bullets to Assassination with Words

17 October 2014

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement


From Assassination with Bullets to Assassination with Words

On the 6th of October 2014, exactly one week after Thuli Ndlovu was assassinated, The Mercury published an article by Bongani Hans and Sihle Manda that was nothing but an attempt to assassinate the reputation of S’bu Zikode, of our movement and of the many people who are striving for land and housing in Durban independently of our movement.

The article, ‘Shacks pop up in Durban land grab’ by Bongani Hans and Sihle Manda is online here:

It has since been republished by The Post and the South African Housing Federation which also circulated it via email.

This article includes statements and insinuations from Provincial Human Settlements spokesman, Mbulelo Baloyi, and Skhumbuzo Vilakazi and Harvey Mzimela from the Land Invasion Control Unit that are completely dishonest and nothing but malicious fabrication. It is defamatory and slanderous. It is clear that these statements have been made to encourage and legitimate violence against our movement and its leaders. This article is in clear violation of the press code which is online here:

The article begins by stating that a ‘tsunami’ of people is ‘flooding’ into Durban from rural areas resulting in ‘a proliferation of shacks’. Over the years we have had a number of discussions in our movement on the history of land occupations, shack dwellers’ struggles, evictions and forced removals in Durban drawing on knowledge in our communities and academic knowledge. We know that for more than a hundred years the rulers of this city have been claiming that land occupations and movement into the city by people who are poor and black is a ‘crisis’ that must be stopped by all means. We know that excluding African people from the cities, and tightly and violently controlling African people who were in the cities, was one of the main aims of apartheid. We know also that the grandparents or parents of many of the middle class people living in Durban today once lived in shacks in places like Cato Manor, Inanda or Tin Town and were described by the elites of the time as criminal, violent, dirty, diseased and politically remoted.

We also know that cities are growing around the world and that land occupations are happening around the world. For as long as there is an economic and political system that means that cities are the only places where most people have some chance of finding opportunities this process will continue. The apartheid government could not stop urbanisation with all its repression, its violence and lies, and the ANC government will not be able to stop it with its own repression, its own violence and its own lies.

People are moving to all the cities in South Africa, and in all the cities people who can’t afford formal housing are occupying land and living in shacks. This article makes it seem like this is only happening in Durban and that urbanisation and land occupations in Durban are a result of a criminal conspiracy.

The article does not acknowledge that in some cases, as in the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest, the people that have occupied land in Durban did so after being illegally evicted from their homes in Durban by the Municipality. See – The article fails to acknowledge that one of the man reasons for the ongoing crisis in Cato Crest is that the housing development there mainly benefits members of the ruling party and not ordinary residents. Those who are close to Mzimuni Ngiba, who is the ward councillor, are the ones who benefit. This is one project that does not have an elected Steering Committee but only an ANC committee. It is one project that does not have a list of beneficiaries but only benefits those who are loyal to the party. It is one project that does not have a fair allocation policy but only comradism. It is one project in which the mayor himself and senior party bosses participate in unlawful evictions. It is one project that has led to the assassination of whistle blowers and housing rights activists in which senior politicians in the area are implicated but nobody gets arrested.

This article also fails to acknowledge that in places like Siyanda and Cato Crest there are land occupations that are organised and supported by the local structures of the ANC as part of its attempt to reduce the power of our movement. These land occupations are never treated as criminal and their residents are not subject to violence. The ANC also supports land occupations in Cape Town when they are linked to the ruling party. It is therefore clear that the ANC is not against all land occupations. It is against those land occupations that it does not control.

In this article the ANC are trying to create the impression that movement into Durban from rural areas is the result of a criminal conspiracy. Although they don’t say it in this article on the ground leaders in the ruling party are constantly insisting that people from the Eastern Cape must remain in the Eastern Cape. They are saying that KwaZulu-Natal is for the Zulus only. They are encouraging people who are Zulu to ‘protect the land for your forefathers’. The idea that people from the Eastern Cape must remain in the Eastern Cape is much closer to the logic of apartheid than to the Freedom Charter which clearly states that ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it’ or the Constitution which clearly states that ‘Every citizen has the right to enter, to remain in and to reside anywhere in the Republic’.

The position that the ANC is taking in Durban and in KwaZulu-Natal means that there is no right to the city for people who have been impoverished by oppression. It means that this should be the end of the generations that could move to the cities to improve their lives and that those who live in deep poverty in rural areas should starve and die there. Mayor James Nxumalo left Ntshanga and came to Durban. It seems that the right to the city must now be limited to the politicians and the rich.

The article also states that this ‘frenzy’ of land occupations is being organised by ‘shack lords’ who charge up to R20 000 for a site to build a shack, who go to rural areas to recruit people to occupy land and who have become so rich from this that they live in uMhlanga and Durban North. This is complete fiction. Durban is not like Nairobi where very rich people, like cabinet ministers, own and rent out hundreds of shacks. In Durban when shacks are rented the price is usually between R80 and R300 a month. It is unusual for one person or one family to have more than a few shacks to rent. We know of two cases in KwaZulu-Natal where one person has claimed to own a whole shack settlement and then demanded that everyone pay rent to them. One is the Jika Joe settlement in Pietermaritzburg. In this settlement the person who is claiming to own the settlement works for the ANC. Neither she nor the ANC try to hide this. It is therefore clear that the ANC have no problem with shacklordism when the shack lord is loyal to the party. The other case that we know of where one person has claimed to own a whole settlement is in Shallcross in Durban. In this case the person who claims to own the whole settlement is not working for the ANC. Our movement marched against her. That struggle was successful and people in that settlement are no longer paying rent. Some years ago residents in Jika Joe joined our movement and tried to organise in the settlement but they were not successful due to serious intimidation.

Our record of organising against shack lords is clear. Furthermore when a settlement affiliates to our movement it has to elect its leaders and to continue to do so if it is to remain a branch in good standing. If the members in a settlement feel that it is necessary to recall elected leaders this can be done. Even senior leaders have been recalled in our movement. Democracy and shacklordism are obviously incompatible. Therefore it is clear that although shacklordism is not a big problem in Durban our movement is against shacklordism.

We have never heard of someone who has become so rich from selling land or renting shacks that they can live in uMhlanga or Durban North. What we do know is that the ANC has often lied and said that our leaders live in these elite suburbs when in fact they were living in shacks or, if they were living under death threats, in modest safe houses which have been temporary accommodation arranged with Church support. We do not have a single member of our movement living in these elite suburbs.

If the ANC has evidence of anyone who is making enough money from selling land or renting shacks to be able to live in uMhlanga or Durban North let them bring it. Our movement is under constant and close surveillance from intelligence. We are constantly arrested on charges that are later dropped or thrown out of court. It is clear that the ANC is desperate to get convictions against us yet they cannot succeed in doing so despite having us under constant surveillance of various kinds including everything from aerial photographs of land occupations to monitoring our phones. If there was any evidence of any of our members or leaders having committed any crime the ANC would know about it and those people would have been arrested and convicted.

Because the ANC cannot find anything to use against us in court, despite all these years of close surveillance, they rely on two strategies to undermine us. One strategy is assassination, wrongful arrest, assault, torture and eviction. Another strategy is rumours and lies which are circulated to the media, via local party structures and even via regular anonymous phone calls to our members. When tensions emerge between comrades, often due to the intense personal pressures that come with repression, these are sometimes exploited too.

The article also says that these shack lords that are supposed to be making all this money are being supported by taxi bosses and drug dealers. It is the politicians, not us, who are close to the taxi bosses. Many people in local ANC structures own taxis, like in Cato Crest. They get their assassins from the taxi industry. The person who made a clear threat of violence against Ndabo Mzimela at the recent meeting called by provincial MEC Ravi Pillay is a taxi boss. Baloyi choose to be silent about this even though this threat was made in from of his boss, Ravi Pillay.

In recent years whooga has done serious damage to some of our young people. We spend a huge amount of time trying to support young people to create positive spaces. Our movement has put a lot of energy into all kinds of youth projects. We have also offered real support to people who are addicted. In fact S’bu Zikode and his family have taken a young comrade struggling with addiction into their home. We know how deep the damage of whooga goes to people, their families and communities. People who profit from selling whoonga are our enemies. Saying that land occupations are being organised by shack lords who are being supported by taxi bosses and drug dealers is complete fabrication. It is just a way to try and criminalise impoverished people, and our attempts to access urban land and to organise. And anyway we all know that the big drug dealers are protected by the police, the same police that protect the politicians against the people.

We all know that once people have been criminalised it becomes easy to perpetrate violence against them. It becomes easy to treat people who have been criminalised as if they are beneath the law. We are already evicted unlawfully on a regular basis and face serious and regular violence from the police, the Land Invasions Unit, Municipal Security guards and local structures of the ANC. Not once in this article is any concern expressed about the violence that is regularly perpetrated against impoverished people in Durban, and especially those who are organised outside of the ANC, by the state and the ruling party. In fact the statements in this article are clearly aimed at making us even more vulnerable to state criminality and to violence from the state and the ruling party. They are aimed at creating a climate of impunity for the violence from the state and the ruling party.

The article then goes on to quote Provincial Human Settlements spokesperson Mbulelo Baloyi saying that ‘invaders’ are threatening the ‘rightful low-cost house beneficiaries’. We all know that there is no such thing as a neutral and fair housing list in Durban and that housing goes to people who are connected to the local ANC structures. Houses are sometimes allocated on the bonnets of cars and money is sometimes openly exchange. When houses are being allocated the local ANC leaders often bring their families from rural areas. If you are not connected to the local ANC structures, or if you are not Zulu, or if you are renting rather than owning, you are likely to be left homeless when development comes.

Baloyi makes specific reference to Cato Crest. He does not acknowledge that the land occupation happened there after local residents were illegally evicted from their homes in the same area. Baloyi must know this. He is being deliberately dishonest. The language that calls some impoverished people ‘invaders’ and others, usually those who are linked to the ruling party (and who are often also Zulu and shack owners), as ‘rightful beneficiaries’ is an attempt to weaken the power of the impoverished by dividing us. It is an attempt to try and encourage some impoverished people to blame other impoverished people, rather than the government and the rich, for their continued suffering under this so called democracy. It is an attempt to encourage violence against our movement from local ANC structures.

After land occupations and movement into the city has been shown as if it is a criminal conspiracy the article then says that: “The municipality’s Land Invasion Control Unit, which falls under the metro police, has placed the shack dwellers’ lobby group Abahlali baseMjondolo and its leader, S’bu Zikode, at the top of its list of perpetrators of this “orchestrated land invasion”. No evidence is provided to support this statement which is a clear attempt to criminalise our movement and to show S’bu Zikode as a ‘perpetrator’, as criminal and as a man who is exploiting impoverished people for his own financial interest. This is nothing but slander and defamation.

Since 2005 we have been used to being slandered by politicians calling us the ‘third force’ and ‘criminals’. Since 2006 we have been used to being slandered on emails by the notorious individual who saw no embarrassment in claiming to be the biggest leftist in Durban while working as a consultant to the police, the same police that were arresting us and assaulting us. After the repression in 2009 he supported the lies that the police were telling about us, lies that were later thrown out of court. Recently he has been joined by a former member of our movement who was expelled after being found guilty by a disciplinary hearing of charging an inflated price for membership and then failing to hand this money taken from new members to the movement.

Our response to the slander from the politicians has been to hold open meetings in which anyone can come and see that there is free discussion in our movement and that our resistance to the government comes from below, from the crisis of people’s lives, and not from some international conspiracy from above. We have just ignored this slander from the regressive left because no one with any credibility takes it seriously. Their spaces, their email lists and their NGOs, have no relevance to our struggle. But we are not used to being slandered in The Mercury and we will not ignore slander in this space. As Malcom X warned the media “have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent”.

Baloyi is then quoted in the article as saying that “communities” need to “protect their areas”. Our members are already being freely attacked and evicted by the local ANC structures in Sisonke Village in Lamontville and the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest. Since 2009 death threats have been openly made against our leaders, including S’bu Zikode, by ANC members. Two of our well known members have been assassinated and in 2009 many of our members were driven from their homes by armed men who described themselves as ANC. The ANC has never condemned them or acted against them. Baloyi’s call, like that of other senior ANC leaders that are calling on communities to ‘protect’ their areas, will be clearly understood by local party structures as a call for violence against our movement and other occupiers, especially those that are not members of the ruling party and are not Zulu.

The article then quotes Vilakazi stating that “municipal staff were being attacked by well-armed crowds when they tried to stop invasions”. We know of no case where members of the Land Invasions Unit have been attacked and injured by armed residents during an eviction. Our members have often tried to resist evictions but they have never done so with arms. If they had they would certainly have been arrested, tried and convicted. When the Land Invasions Unit come to evict us they come with the police and other security and everything is recorded on video.

However our members have often been injured by violence from the Land Invasions Unit during armed evictions and disconnections. People have been beaten and shot. In October last year two unarmed people were killed and another seven unarmed people were injured during an armed electricity disconnection in a settlement (not affiliated to our movement) in Reservoir Hills. It is the land invasions unit, the municipal security guards and the police that are an armed and serious danger to society, not us. By presenting people that resist the always illegal and usually violent evictions from the Municipality as an armed threat Vilakazi is preparing the way for more violence to be used by the state during evictions.

Vilakazi is quoted saying that the ‘hotspots’ for these ‘land invasions’ are ‘Marikana in Cato Crest, Mini Town in Hammarsdale, part of Mount Edgecombe, Lamontville and Matikwe in Inanda’. We have vibrant branches in Cato Crest and Lamontville but we do not have branches or even any existence at all in Hammarsdale, Mount Edgecome or Matikwe.  But the way that the article is written creates the impression that S’bu Zikode and our movement are responsible for all these land occupations. In fact even in Cato Crest and Lamontville people made the first decision to occupy on their own and only approached our movement, and then decided to join our movement, after they had occupied.

Vilakazi also claims that ‘shack lords’ sell land to people when they learn that there will be development in the area and people then move in aiming to ‘stall development until they are prioritised for low-cost housing allocations’. It is not true that people only occupy land in areas where development is planned. People occupy land in many places where there is no development coming. Occupying land is a way for people to access accommodation in the city and to be near to opportunities for livelihoods and education. Many people are trying to make their own future and are not waiting for the government. Those of us who are known to be strong in the struggle know that we will never get a government house.

Mzimela even claims that our movement goes to rural areas to ‘recruit’ people to move to the city. We have never done this. In fact we don’t even recruit new members in the city. We want members that are seriously committed to our movement and we therefore work on a system whereby people approach us, not the other way around, and joining is a long process that requires new members to learn about our movement and to seriously think about what it means to join.

It is also wrong to think that all people living in shacks come from rural areas. It is true that many people are leaving rural areas for towns and cities. Some of these people plan to remain in the cities. Others do not intend to live their whole lives in the cities and are sending money back to their rural homes and will retire back to these rural homes when they have finished working. It is also true that many people who live in shacks grew up in the city but can’t afford to rent or buy housing. Some people who live in shacks are there because they are escaping abusive relationships and have nowhere else to go.

Mzimela also states that “Abahlali has a website which connects them with the world and they raise funds with sympathetic international organisations. Access to funds makes it easy for them to challenge any court application for eviction, which prevents us from evicting people.” We do have a website. It is often hacked and it doesn’t always work and doesn’t always work well but we have comrades that try to keep it online and working for us. Our website has always angered those who want to keep us in the dark corners and who want to be the only ones able to access the internet. Glen Nayager, Mike Sutcliffe, Heinrich Bohmke, Ricky Govender and all those who wish to silence us and force us back into the dark corners have always seen our website as a big problem. The Municipality, all government departments, the police, NGOs and all kinds of other organisations have websites. We have the same right as anyone else in this society to communicate our struggles and ideas on the internet. We will continue to occupy our own space on the internet.

When we began our movement we had no donor funding at all. For a few years now we have had some donor funding but not all of our money comes from donors. We also charge an annual membership of R20. Unlike the ANC, which also has donors, we have always been completely open about which organisations have offered financial support to our movement. From the first time that we ever received donor money the details of who has given us money have been published on our website. We get some money from church organisations. We also get some support from two non-church organisations. The first is the South African Development Fund which is based in the United States. This is a progressive organisation that was formed in 1985 by Themba Vilakazi with a group of South Africans living in exile in the United States who were joined by Americans active in the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements. It was formed with the view to supporting the struggle against apartheid. Today it continues to support the struggle for justice in South Africa. Bishop Tutu is chair of their advisory board. They have a website at: The other non-church organisation that offers financial support to our movement is War on Want. This organisation is based in London. It is a progressive organisation that supports worker and community struggles around the world, as well as the struggle of the Palestinian people. It has a website at:

We do not accept any money from any organisation that wants to use its money to give it the power to give direction to our movement, or to compromise our organisational or political autonomy in any way. The money that we do accept is in a long progressive tradition of international solidarity. The ANC gladly accepted international solidarity when it was in struggle. We do not only receive solidarity. We also act in solidarity with comrades in other countries like Haiti, Palestine, Austria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Turkey. We have the same right as any other organisation or group of people in this society to work with and to be in solidarity with whomever we choose in South Africa and internationally.

The financial support that we do receive from other organisations is not used to cover legal costs. We use it to run an office, to hire halls for meetings and so on. When we require legal support we work with pro bono legal organisations like the Socio-Economic Rights Institute in Johannesburg (SERI). We have also worked with the Legal Resources Centre and ProBono.Org. We do not pay these organisations for their legal support. We only work with legal organisations that are willing to respect our autonomy and to take instructions from impoverished people. The patron of SERI is former Constitutional Court Judge Zak Yacoob and Bishop Rubin Philip and Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza are on the SERI board. SERI has a website at

We have every right to seek to support to go to court when we are confronted by illegal and often violent actions against us by the Municipality. We are constantly forced into the courts by the government by being arrested on bogus criminal charges that are later dropped or thrown out. Yet when we take the government to court we almost always win our cases. It seems that Mzimela and others who think that it is unacceptable that a poor people’s movement can access the courts want to evict us from access to the courts, and the internet, and the right to be in solidarity with others, as well as from the city. They want us to disappear from this so-called democracy. They want us to have no voice and no power. We must remain, silent, invisible and hopeless, in rural areas. Those of us who are already in the cities and cannot be forced out must remain silent, invisible and hopeless in transit camps. They want to deny us any right to meaningful citizenship. They want to evict us from this democracy.

In this article 737 words are given to government officials to lie. But only 128 words are given for a response to these lies. In this space the account given by the journalists of S’bu Zikode’s position on land occupations is not accurate. In fact S’bu makes a clear distinction between land invasions and land occupations and S’bu, and our movement, give clear support to land occupations, which are land reform from below, and will continue to do so as long as the commercial value of land is put before its social value. In this article no opportunity is given to us to respond to the wild lies about drug dealers, houses in uMhlanga and Durban North, land being sold for R20 000 etc. These lies are left to stand as if they are true.

Once again we say that we are all S’bu Zikode. We reject this attempt to individualise a struggle that is being fought by thousands of people today in all the cities in South Africa, and which has been fought in Durban for more than a hundred years.

Mbulelo Baloyi, Skhumbuzo Vilakazi and Harvey Mzimela cannot continue in their jobs with any credibility after making these kinds of statements. They must be immediately removed from their posts. They are supposed to be civil servants, not propagandists for the ruling party. They are supposed to be committed to the laws of the country, not propagandists for state criminality and repression.

The editor of The Mercury needs to investigate how an article like this was published. It is propaganda and not journalism. The Mercury also needs to make an apology to us and to its readers for the lies published in this article.

We urge the Department of Human Settlement in the province and eThekwini municipality to support a fair and impartial investigation into all housing corruption in Durban, its links to the assassination of housing activists and whistle blowers and the role of politicians in these assassinations. We insist that Nigel Gumede cannot continue to be a referee and a player at the same time. We urge the Department to come up with a clear and fair Housing Allocation Policy that includes a fair and transparent Housing list. We urge the Department to set up a very clear, clean and democratic elected Housing Allocation Committee.

We urge the government at all levels, as well as the media, to resist any attempts to present the crisis in our cities, and the crises in our rural areas which is directly linked to the urban crisis, in terms of a criminal conspiracy on the part of one organisation or individual. We all need to face up to the reality that millions of people in South Africa live in a daily state of emergency and that for many of us access to the cities provides the only real hope to improve our lives and the lives of our children.

For more information and comment please contact:


T.J. Ngongoma (Abahlali baseMjondolo Spokesperson) – 084 613 9772

Ndabo Mzimela (Abahlali baseMjondolo Secretary General) – 079 355 6758

Zandile Nsibande (Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League) – 074 767 5706

S’bu Zikode (Abahlali baseMjondolo President) – 083 547 0474