Civic leader S’bu Zikode is in “exile” in his own country, in hiding for the second time in as many years.
The president of the Durban-based shack-dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, and some of its other leaders live in constant fear as many of them have been gunned down over the years for standing for the rights of shack-dwellers and landless people in eThekwini and the surrounds.
Zikode fears he too may be murdered.
He first received death threats and went into hiding in 2009 when Abahlali members were attacked by ANC members and driven out of Kennedy Road informal settlement. This was after he had been involved in a strange car accident, which the State Security Agency later confirmed was a hit.
Abahlali baseMjondolo, which is unaffiliated to any political party, was founded in 2005 to fight for the rights of the poor, especially those in informal settlements in the eThekwini area. It now has branches in Gauteng, Western Cape, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.
The organisation’s activists have been involved in running battles with the eThekwini metro municipality after they accused it of failing to deliver services to the poor, especially regarding the allocation of houses.
“We have had credible reports from sources, including in the ANC and the police, that S’bu Zikode is in imminent danger of assassination. Once again, he has had to go underground.
“For some time now he has been in a secret location,” said Thapelo Mohapi, Abahlali general secretary.
Mohapi said he did not fear being attacked or killed.
“I don’t mind my name being used in public, they know me and where I am. I am dead anyway. I am always being targeted,” he said.
He said their leaders and activists had been attacked, and some killed, by hitmen allegedly hired by metro police, anti-land invasion unit members attached to the eThekwini municipality and members of the SA Police Service (SAPS) between 2009 and 2014.
Some regional political leaders and local councillors had been implicated in stoking the violence against Abahlali BaseMjondolo, which was confirmed by veteran violence researcher, Mary de Haas, from the Violence Monitor.
De Haas has been involved in violence monitoring in the province for decades.
She also said eThekwini police and the municipality’s anti-land invasion unit were not meant to be involved in public order policing.
“That is the job of trained public order police from the SAPS,” she said.
“This repression has included armed attacks on our leaders’ homes, resulting in their destruction, sometimes while the police looked on, as well as arrests and detention on trumped-up charges, torture, assault, death threats and murders,” Mohapi said.
At least 16 activists aligned to Abahlali BaseMjondolo had been killed since 2013, with seven shot dead between November last year and now.
Among them were Sifiso Ngcobo, who was shot dead in Marianhill, after receiving death threats in May.
Nkululeko Gwala met his demise in June 2013 after collecting information about graft in housing allocations that he planned to expose. He died after being threatened by known ANC members. His killing was not investigated although it was reported to the police.
Thuli Ndlovu was gunned down by hitmen hired by two ward councillors in 2014. The men, Velile Lutyeku and Christian Ngcobo, are serving life jail terms for the murder of the female activist.
Samuel Hloele was shot by the anti-land invasion unit in September 2017 at Ekukhanyeni.
A police officer who shot and killed Nqobile Nzuza is serving 10 years in jail.
Abahlali has now written to President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Police Bheki Cele asking for their intervention.
Mohapi said: “We have not received any response from the office of the president or that of the minister. There is a lot of talk about ANC leaders who are murdered by other ANC leaders, but when it comes to the murder of our members there is silence.”
eThekwini executive mayor Zandile Gumede was implicated by the organisation after she allegedly labelled it a “third force” on June 12. Similar allegations have been made by some ANC leaders since 2005.
“This is not just untrue, and typical of a colonial and apartheid mentality, it also works to justify violence against us, including murder.”
Abahlali also alleged that eThekwini ANC chief whip Nelly Nyanisa accused Zikode of being “hell-bent on making the city ungovernable” and allegedly threatened the ANC would “deal with” Abahlali.
Mohapi believes Nyanisa and Gumede’s statements can be only be interpreted in one way. “Nyanisa’s statement that the ANC will ‘deal with’ Abahlali gives the ward councillors permission to openly threaten and attack our movement. It was an instruction to repress us, an instruction that will cost lives,” he said.
Asked for comment, mayoral spokesperson Mthunzi Gumede said Abahlali should report the issue to law-enforcement agencies.
“We are committed to work and engage with them directly rather than through the media or public statements. There is not much that we differ on with Abahlali baseMjondolo, we just need a platform to engage on.”
However, De Haas said the eThekwini municipality had been avoiding directly engaging with Abahlali baseMjondolo for years, which she cited as strange. “Abahlali is a well organised civil society organisation with structures,” she added.
Gumede did not respond to other allegations made by Abahlali after their full statement was sent to him. Further attempts to get comment from the ANC provincial secretary were fruitless.
Mohapi said the organisation did not want to align with any political party and was not fighting anyone personally: “We want to deepen or radicalise democracy, we don’t want to make the city ungovernable, (but) we want to democratise its governance by progressive organisation and mobilisation from below to enable the oppressed to participate in decision-making, including about land use and urban planning.”
The presidency has not responded to questions e-mailed to them regarding Abahlali’s request for intervention.
- 2009: Abahlali members attacked by ANC members and their houses destroyed at Kennedy Road informal settlement, but 12 Abahlali members were arrested and charged.
- 2013: March 15: Thembinkosi Qumbela, president of Cato Crest Residents Association, shot dead. He was an Abahlali supporter; June 26: Nkululeko Gwala, Abahlali chair at Cato Crest, shot dead; September: Nqobile Nzuza killed by police in protests at Cato Crest. A police officer was convicted.
- 2014: September: Thuli Ndlovu, Abahlali chair at Kwandengezi, gunned down. Two ANC councillors get life for the murder.
- 2017: September: Samuel Hloele shot dead by anti-land invasion unit; November: Sibonelo Mpeku, Abahlali chair in Lamontville, kidnapped and murdered; December 17: Soyiso Nkqayini shot dead in Cato Manor.
- 2018: January: Sandile Biyela shot dead by police in Solomon Mahlangu informal settlement, Chesterville; May 22: S’fiso Ngcobo, chair of Ekukhanyeni, murdered; May 29: S’bu Zikode’s car lost control after tampering.