eKhenana land occupation leader Nokuthula Mabaso was with Abahlali baseMjondolo activist Ayanda Ngila, 29, when known attackers shot and killed him on the afternoon of Tuesday 8 March. They opened fire on residents who were on their way to fix a disconnected water pipe and Mabaso says the long-term damage of his murder on the children of their community cannot be undone.
The residents had been without water since the previous night. Some had gone to inspect the connection while others went to the hardware store to buy pipe fittings. “Our usual coordination was us as women in front and the men at the back. As we were walking back to the other side of the settlement, suddenly a group of armed men passed us and went towards where the men were.
“They started shooting at Ayanda Ngila and Lindokuhle Mnguni, 27. Mnguni was able to escape by escaping through the garden. But they never stopped shooting at him, they just kept missing.
“We went to hide in one of the houses and peeped through the window. Ngila was shot in the legs and fell, and that’s when the rain of bullets hit him.
“I can still hear his voice as he cried for help. He kept screaming, ‘Call the police, call the police.’ But we know the police have let us down. We have reported numerous cases, including a recent case of assault, but they never headed to the call,” says Mabaso.
When the police arrived, Ngila’s bullet-riddled body lay on the ground wrapped in a white duvet. Shocked residents stood nearby, expressing their outrage and fear.
The rainy afternoon was cold and dark and his blood was congealing in the sand where he lay, next to the corner house where he took his final breath. The wailing of the grief-stricken community reverberated through eKhenana. Some children gazed bravely at the scene, others were unable to and clung to their mothers as they stood near Ngila’s body.
The police and forensic pathologists assessed and documented the scene, with the pathologist logging 10 bullets next to Ngila’s body. As they put him into a black body bag, the residents prayed. And as the pathologist drove away, the scene became emotional. “Even if they shoot us, we will die for this land,” one woman shouted.
The ongoing violent repression of eKhenana’s leaders escalated in March last year, when Ngila, Mnguni and Landu Shazi, 33, were arrested and charged with murder. They were held at Westville Prison without bail for six months before the charges were withdrawn. When they were released on 1 October, they received a warm welcome from the more than 300 supporters who celebrated their return to the settlement.
Witnesses to Ngila’s murder described it as a planned attack on the current leaders of the commune: Ngila and Mnguni. Ngila, who is originally from the Eastern Cape, had not been able to go back to living in eKhenana but was still active in the community.
“We feel that we don’t count in this country,” said Abahlali deputy president Mqapheli Bonono. “No one is protecting these children who are trying to survive. We have to continue because we have nowhere else to go. People in eKhenana are merely trying to sustain themselves while we are facing these attacks from the local ANC, KwaKito police station and even the municipality.” KwaKito is the Cato Manor police station.
“This attack is not a surprise. These commune projects are a threat to the state. It is hard for them to imagine that people can sustain themselves,” he added. “We are calling on all the progressive forces to come and be in solidarity during this difficult time. Let us stand up and fight for ourselves, and be stronger. He was in prison for six months and never had justice. Now he is dead without justice.”
Mabaso says that although many of the residents can identify the killers as the same group who attacked the community on Sunday 6 March, no arrests have been made. She says the men were provoked by the recent charges after the attack.
“If the police came and arrested them yesterday, Ngila would be alive,” said Bonono.
Long list of victims
Ngila is the 19th activist to be murdered since the inception of the shack dwellers’ movement, according to Bonono. He said the police and the justice system in Durban should account for his death. “KwaKito police station is being misused to repress eKhanana’s efforts and terrorise the community, including children.”
Abahlali believe that most of these murders of their members have been carried out by ANC members, professional assassins, the police and the municipality’s armed forces.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute will push the National Prosecuting Authority to prosecute or fight for a private prosecution to ensure there is justice for Ngila, said executive director Nomzamo Zondo.
“This will be the litmus test for the justice system. We will all be watching what the police and the courts do after Ngila’s death. This happened in broad daylight. The community has been tainted, attacked and now a young child, activist and father has been killed. This will permanently scar the community. The police and the police minister need to reassure the community that they are valued and protected. A lot of work will have to be done to convince Abahlali that justice will be done,” said Zondo.