Dying for Land – KZN assassinations continue

Greg Nicolson, The Daily Maverick

As the land debate rages and occupations continue across the country, two members of the shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo were shot this week. The group blames the ANC for failing to provide land and targeting those who take it. 

S’fiso Ngcobo was critical of the ANC when he addressed over 1,000 people at a rally on Saturday. Three days later the Abahlali baseMjondolo eKukhanyeni chairperson was shot dead while buying a cold drink metres from his home.

“This is political, we know very well,” said Thapelo Mohapi from the shack-dwellers’ movement. “In Abahlali we have a history of ANC people killing our members.” 

As debate rages across the country over land reform and occupiers target vacant tracts for housing, Ngcobo is the latest Abahlali leader killed in the organisation’s struggle for land in KwaZulu-Natal, where assassinations have proliferated.

In June last year Ngcobo led the land occupation in in eMasenseni, Marianhill, which Abahlali dubbed eKukhanyeni. He successfully interdicted a private security group from evicting the community. He had received death threats and knew not to go out at night. When he stepped out on Tuesday evening, he was shot multiple times by a group of men.

“The ANC in this area has been threatened by Abahlali organising in the area,” said Mohapi over the phone as community members sang in the background.

“The ANC kills because Abahlali is able to organise. The ANC kills because Abahlali is able to challenge them.”

Five Abahlali members have reportedly been killed in the last eight months and Mohapi said there’s proof that the ANC is involved. In 2016, two eThekwini councillors were convicted of murder for arranging the assassination of Abahlali’s Thulisile Ndlovu in 2014.

The organisation has linked an eThekwini councillor, also called Sifiso Ngcobo, to Tuesday’s killing. Mohapi said he had threatened the group, which was challenging the ANC’s dominance in the area, and arranged for taxis to charge a higher fare to anyone in an Abahlali shirt.

“We have no doubt that his killing is political,” said Mohapi. “We have a state that responds to people’s needs with armed forces.”

Councillor Ngcobo denied he was behind the murder. “I don’t know nothing about it,” he said on Friday. “I didn’t even have a problem with him.”

He said he went to the land occupation in February after concerns were raised about illegal electricity connections but the community refused to meet him. “I do not know why they linked me to this thing.”

Last year councillor Ngcobo was charged with attempted murder, assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and negligent discharge of a firearm in an unrelated case. Abahlali said he was related to Mduduzi Ngcobo, convicted of Thulisile Ndlovu’s murder, but the councillor said they only shared the same surname.

Another Abahlali member, Ndumiso Mnguni is still in hospital after being shot on Tuesday at his house in the Foreman Road Settlement in Clare Estate. The organisation said eThekwini’s anti-land invasion unit targeted his shack and shot him in the stomach when he attempted to retrieve his belongings. The bullet was removed from his stomach on Thursday night.

“It’s very brutal what they’re doing,” said Mohapi on the city’s attempts to evict those who occupy land. The anti-land invasion unit has reportedly opened a case against Mnguni for allegedly brandishing a knife when he was trying to recover his possessions. Mohapi called on the police to investigate both versions.

SAPS KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said police were investigating both shootings but no arrests have yet been made. Mbhele would not be drawn on allegations around ANC involvement in the latest shootings.

Reverend Ruben Phillip, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Natal and former dean of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, called on the eThekwini municipality to engage Abahlali on a democratic basis and for the national government to establish an inquiry into the killing of the organisation’s members.

“Abahlali baseMjondolo have endured considerable violence, including a horrifying number of assassinations over the years,” said Phillip before visiting S’fiso Ngcube’s family on Friday.

“I am angry and appalled at the taking of S’fiso’s life. But his memory will never fade and the poor will never relinquish the struggle for justice.”

The Right2Know Campaign also condemned the shootings: “We believe in general, that these tactics of violence are being used to create a climate of fear and intimidation against anyone who ‘speaks out’ for justice in KZN,” said the group’s regional organiser, Lazola Kati.

“It has become true that under ANC rule the price for people’s rights including land and dignity continues to be paid for in blood as stated by Abahlali baseMjondolo.”

ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe condemned the violence this week and called for the police “to leave no stone unturned” and for communities to work with the authorities. Abahlali, however, blames the ANC for the violence and failing to provide land and decent housing.

Speaking to News24, Mthunzi Gumede, spokesperson for eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede, said the comments of ANC involvement were “unfortunate, unfounded, baseless and reckless. Anyone with evidence should immediately go to police. We also call on police to investigate the matter and bring the perpetrators to justice”.

Abahlali supports land expropriation without compensation, but Mohapi said the ANC’s recent pronouncements were aimed only at winning support before the 2019 elections.

“If the ANC was serious about radical land reform in this country they would have introduced it 24 years ago,” said Mohapi.

“This is not the first time that we have repeatedly raised the alarm about violent authoritarianism and intimidation by local structures of the ruling party, only to be met with silence by the ruling party, and then to have one of our comrades assassinated,” said Abahlali this week.