Thuli Ndlovu Lecture for International Women’s Day

8 March 2021


By Nomsa Sizani, General Secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo

Thank you to Pan-Africanism Today for the invitation to speak today. We appreciate all organisations that work to build living solidarity between progressive forces. We also appreciate the opportunity to be part of this discussion on International Women’s Day, which is a day that comes out of women’s struggles and is used to celebrate women in struggle around the world.

Women’s determination and courage are the foundation of our movement, and we are committed to building women’s power in struggle. Thuli Ndlovu was one of the bravest women in our movement. She was born in February 1978, in a semi-rural area called KwaNdengezi. 

Thuli joined Abahlali baseMjondolo in 2012. She was elected as a branch chairperson in her community, and later she was also elected as a National Council Member of the movement. Thuli was an honest, bold, genuine and fearless person. She was a straight forward person. Should understood the necessity and power of inkani. She was committed to ipolitiki ephilayo, to living politics, and to ubuhlali.

She fought for the dignity of the oppressed, and for our right to participate in all decision making that affects us. She fought the struggle for participatory development. She stood up to a gangster councillor and his committee and bodyguards. She stood up to men who were always armed and who were very dangerous.

She was assassinated in her home in KwaNdengezi on 29 September 2014. A man burst into her home and shot her seven times while she was carrying her one-year old son Freedom in her arms. Her son survived but she died on the scene. Sphe Madlala, an 18-year-old neighbour was also in the house. He had come to the house to help Thuli’s 17-year-old daughter, Sli, with her matric studies in maths and science. Sphe was also shot twice in the stomach but he survived. Sli was in a separate room and was unharmed.

An hour before the incident Mduduzi Ngcobo, the local councillor who is known as Nqola, was moving around near Thuli’s home in his car. When she saw Nqola near her house Thuli told her mother that “today we are going to be shot”. She also called one of her comrades in the movement to express her concerns.

Thuli had often been intimidated and threatened by Nqola. The local police always sided with Nqola. This is typical. The police often take orders from councillors instead of following the rule of law. This is one reason why our movement stands for community control of the police.

KwaNdengezi is like a rural area and people live in their own houses and not in shacks. They have an iNkosi and iziNduna. Land is allocated by the iziNduna and is not paid for. The problems in KwaNdengezi started in 2010 when Nqola called a meeting to announce that a housing project would be taking place in the area. Before accepting the project, the community raised concerns about their families’ grave yards. They said that a housing project should not frustrate people but improve people’s lives. It was agreed that before the project starts another community meeting will be called to discuss how it should be structured. It was also agreed that as this is a community project therefore it should be driven by the community.

However, no further meeting was called and the project was imposed on people from above. Many attempts were made to meet with the Councillor but when meetings were scheduled he did not attend them. When this housing project started RDP houses were just built anywhere and without any discussion or consultation. Some people found that two or three houses were suddenly being built in their yards. Fences were just destroyed and houses were built on their gardens and even next to or over their family graves. There was no respect for the dead.

When people complained about these houses being built in their yards and on their gardens and graves they were told that their houses were shacks and that therefore they have no ownership or say – no rights at all. However, their houses are not shacks. They were built on properly allocated land and are solid structures having as many as five rooms in some cases.

Nqola was also having a corrupt relationship with the housing contactors. He suddenly became very rich, and was driving a black Navara SUV car.

In October 2012, the community of KwaNdengezi held a protest blockading the main road going straight to Kwandengezi Police station. The road blockade was organised after they were ignored by the ANC Ward Councillor while demanding answers to their list of grievances. Thuli Ndlovu was the one who was leading that protest. She was deliberately singled out for personal intimidation and assault. Police who were carrying big guns accompanied Nqola to the protest and assaulted protesters. That night Nqola went to Thuli‘s house shouting threats and shooting a gun outside her house.

Thuli was very brave you would hear her saying the chant “Qina Mhlali qina!” meaning be strong Mhlali be strong. This is the chant we say in Abahlali when situations are tough. We say this chant when we are facing the brutality from the police, the brutality from the state, and also when we are facing brutal evictions from private security companies.

Then one night they killed our brave Thuli. Her “crime” was to speak the truth and only the truth. The only problem is that when you speak the truth you become a threat to the gangster politicians who always want to enrich themselves out of the poor. They will always make sure they find a way to remove you when they think that you are disturbing them. Thuli died because of exposing corruption.

On 20 May 2016 ANC Velile Lesheku and Mduduzi Ngcobo – both ANC councillors – and their hitman Mlungisi Ndlovu were all sentenced to life imprisonment.

The movement made sure that Thuli was buried with all the honour of a hero of the oppressed. We made sure that she was laid to rest in a grave that acknowledged her dignity. Along with other fallen comrades she is remembered in our songs. The community hall at the eKhanana land occupation, which is also a commune, is named after her. The eKhenana comrades have also developed a play which tells Thuli’s story. Each year our movement hosts a lecture in her honour. We are also proud that we have manage to support Sli to get a higher education. Now she is a graduate, with a degree in teaching

Thuli’s spirit will live within us as women of Abahlali forever. We will carry on where Thuli Ndlovu left. The struggle for land and dignity continues!!! The struggle against gangster politicians and capitalism continues. The struggle to build women’s power form below continues. The struggle for participatory development continues. The struggle for the dignity of all people to be recognised continues. The struggle for land, wealth, cities and power to be fairly shared continues. The struggle for radical democracy and a living communism built from below continues.

Ababhlali women have never stopped despite this assassination, despite losing husbands, brothers and sons, despite being tortured in police stations and despite facing too many violent evictions for us to be able to keep count. We have continued where Thuli Ndlovu’s life stopped. We are still fighting against all forms of violence against women and other kinds of abuse of women. We are still fighting patriarchy, and all the oppressions forced on women. Abahlali women are still occupying land, building communities and resisting evictions even though the price for land continues to be paid in blood. We will not stop organising and resisting because there is no true revolution without the full liberation of all women.

I am speaking about the Thulis of today. I am speaking about the 29 brave women of the Azania land occupation who were arrested for resisting evictions during the first lockdown. Their ‘crime’ was to sleep outside while their homes were destroyed. I am speaking about Phumelele Mkhize the young and very, very brave woman of the eKhenana occupation who was brutally beaten by armed men hired by the state when she was resisting evictions. I am speaking about Melita Ngcobo who was arrested in Gauteng after her ANC ward councillor accused her of being an ‘anti-developmental’. This was after she fought the reblocking that was imposed on the people of Tembisa.

Though Thuli died a horrible death the women of Abahlali are still standing strong. We have many women branch chairpersons and many women on the national council. These women continue to insist that their dignity is non-negotiable and to organise and struggle. They continue to stand up the councillors, the police and the security companies that are paid to attack us and destroy our homes.

We stand with all women who are organising and struggling to humanise the world where ever they are. We stand in solidary with all women facing repression. We send our love and solidarity to the families, neighbours, friends and comrades of all the women around the world who have been murdered for insisting on their humanity.

We are all Thuli Ndlovu.