Nokuthula Mabaso, 40, a leader of the eKhenana land occupation in Cato Manor, Durban, was murdered outside her home at around 7.30pm on Thursday 5 May. Her killers are allegedly known to the community.
Mabaso’s death is the latest incident in the continuing violent repression of eKhenana’s leaders, which has escalated since March 2021. In that month, in the first round of many arrests, eKhenana leaders Ayanda Ngila, Lindokuhle Mnguni and Landu Shazi were charged with murder. They were held at Westville prison without bail for six months. The charges were later withdrawn and they were released on 1 October.
Two months later, Maphiwe Gasela, Siniko Miya and Abahlali baseMjondolo deputy president Mqapheli Bonono were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. They were also denied bail and detained at Westville prison for two weeks before bail was granted. The charges against the trio were withdrawn on 4 October.
The shack dwellers’ movement joined the commune to celebrate their return. On the day of the event, Mabaso shared how the children of the commune were struggling with the trauma of witnessing the violence and arrests of its leaders. The commune’s food projects, including a vegetable garden and tuck shop, had taken a blow and she described her concern for the survival of these projects.
Mabaso, Thozama Mazwi and Sindiswa Ngcobo were arrested on 8 October and charged with assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm related to an incident that took place more than a year earlier. They were initially refused bail in the Durban magistrate’s court, but later were granted bail of R500 each with strict conditions that included prohibiting them from returning to eKhenana. All charges against them were withdrawn on 4 February.
Mabaso, her husband and four children made eKhenana their home when it was established in 2017. She was instrumental in developing the commune’s food sovereignty projects, which included a poultry farm. This allowed the residents to generate enough revenue to sustain their community. But the court cases depleted their savings, and with so many leaders detained or living outside the area owing to bail conditions the vegetable garden and poultry farm fell apart.
Mabaso was with the late activist Ayanda Ngila, 29, when he was shot and killed on the afternoon of Tuesday 8 March. His case is still unsolved, though residents claim to know who the assailants are.
Abahlali says that as many as 21 of its members have been murdered in politically motivated attacks over the past five years and that little has been done to stop the killings or bring those responsible to book.
Bonono says he arrived at the scene of Mabaso’s murder at around 8pm and saw her body. She had been shot six times next to her home while her children were present.
“We know that there is a strong campaign to dismantle the eKhenana commune and Abahlali as a movement,” said Bonono. “The pain we are living with currently is the looming threat of death for the rest of us. There are threats that we are next on the list.
“They have tried to charge us with heinous crimes to harm our reputation. They failed. Now they have resorted to killing us one by one. The police know this, but we are not being protected.
“Ayanda Ngila’s murderers are known to the community members. They saw them shoot Ngila but [the killers] are still walking around free,” he said.