We are Dying for Food

6 August 2021
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement

We are Dying for Food

On Thursday last week (29 July), Zamekile Shangase, a 33-year-old woman from Asiyindawo in Lamontville, was shot and killed outside her home by the police. Zamekile was the mother of two children aged 6 and 11. She was elected to a position on the local Abahlali council in 2018 and served on the council for a year.

Zamekile was shot while the police were raiding the settlement as part of Operation Show Your Receipt.

Another life has been lost. Another family is in mourning. Two young children must now live without a mother. If you are poor and black your humanity is not recognised. You are shown to the world as a person who can’t think, and as a criminal. You do not count to society. People will speak about you without seeing any reason to speak to you. You can be brutalised and your dignity can be vandalised without any consequences. You can be killed by the state and if there is no movement (imbutho yabampofu) to insist that your life must be counted as a human life your death will count for nothing. In this system we are left to die like dogs.

This is the second time that the police had come to raid the settlements in this area, and take people’s food. On Thursday they were going door to door, breaking locks, threatening and abusing people, and taking food from people. People got angry and started shouting. Some people started throwing stones at the police and banging on the police van. The police then got angry and started shooting.

A police officer was standing on the road and shooting up the hill into Asiyindawo
at random. After Zamekile was shot the police carried on with their operation of seizing people’s food at gunpoint while her body was still lying on the ground.

Colonel Khumalo was at the scene after the murder but refused to engage the leaders in discussion.

We were very concerned to read an article in a major news publication in which it was
reported that the police were fired on from all directions by criminals armed with bullets stolen in the riots, that they were forced to return fire and that “a 33-year-old woman was killed”. Another article by the same journalist reported that Zamekile was “caught in the crossfire”. This article saw no need to even mention Zamekile’s name.

The police lied to try and cover up the fact that they killed an unarmed person for no reason. There is no doubt that no one fired on the police. If the journalist had not just taken what the police said as the truth and had spoken to the residents of Asiyindawo, residents elsewhere in the nearby Sisonke settlement (formerly Madlala), and residents in the township (Lamontville) who live near the Asiyindawo he would have found that they all agree that only the police were shooting.

As usual we are spoken about and not spoken too. As usual we are criminalised. As usual our lives count for nothing.

There is a long history of the police lying to cover up their actions, and the media taking their lies as if they were facts without bothering to talk to eyewitnesses.

In the early years of our movement (around 2005 to 2007), when Mike Sutcliffe was the city manager and Obed Mlaba was the mayor, the City always tried to prevent us from marching. When we would march, peacefully and unarmed, in defiance of their illegal bans we would be attacked with rubber bullets, stun grenades, dogs and sometimes water cannons and live ammunition. The police would always tell the media that they had attacked us because they had come under fire. Every time that was a complete lie but the media would report it as if it was the truth and not see any need to ask any of the people who had been on the march what they had seen. It was like they thought that we are just born liars and the police always tell the truth.

Even when someone has been killed the police have often been allowed to lie with impunity. In 30 September 2013 Nqobile Nzuza, a 17-year-old, was killed by the police during a protest in Cato Crest. The police said that they had come under attack from an armed mob and that they would have been killed if they had not fired live ammunition. This was a complete lie but most of the media reported the police statement as if it was true. They saw no need to speak to eye witnesses. When the autopsy was done it showed that Nqobile had been shot in the back of the head. In 2018 a police officer was convicted for the murder of Nqobile and sent to prison. In the trial it became clear that the whole story told by the police, and often repeated as fact by the media, was untrue.

As Operation Show Your Receipt continues, and people continue to be abused, insulted, threatened and have their food stolen by the police, more people will get hurt.
Why is there so much hatred for the poor? When will the time come for our dignity to be recognised?

We have been asking these questions for more than fifteen years. We have not received any answers to these questions, instead we are receiving bullets from the state.

Our humanity is denied. Our dignity is vandalised. Our lives are criminalised. Our existence is criminalised.

When the leadership of Abahlali arrived in Asiyindawo shortly after the shooting, while Zamekile’s body was still lying on the ground, one of the residents asked a very important question to the heavily armed police: “Why must we be killed for food, why must we die for food?”

They did not answer. Others said “Yes, why must we die for a tin of fish?”

In this press statement we are taking this question and putting it to the whole of society.

Why must we be killed for food?


Thapelo Mohapi 074 774 4219
Mqapheli Bonono 073 067 3274
Nomsa Sizani 081 005 3686
Zanele Mtshali 062 437 9077
Alice Caleni 073 071 9696