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Tema UA: South Africa: eKhenana land defenders murdered

President of South Africa
Cyril Ramaphosa

Union Buildings, Government Avenue, Pretoria

+27 012 300 5271


Your Excellency,

We are writing to you on behalf of the Africa members of Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) with outrage at the killing of South African land rights defenders Ayanda Ngila on March 8th, Nokuthula Mabaso on May 6th and Lindokuhle Mnguni on August 20th. We are calling for urgent action in the independent investigation of their deaths and the prosecution of the perpetrators. We also denounce the ongoing escalation of violence and arrests perpetrated against residents of informal settlements, including the killing by local police of eNkanini Occupation resident Siyabonga Manqele, and urge an immediate halt to police-led violence.

While the suspected killers of Ngila and Mabaso have been apprehended, and in the case of Mabaso’s killers held without bail, no one has been arrested in connection with Mnguni’s murder despite Abahlali’s presentation of clear evidence of the identity of the perpetrators. It is also deeply concerning that Ngila’s alleged murderer continues to communicate with people outside of the prison, putting witnesses – such as Mnguni – at risk of violence.

Ngila, Mabaso and Mnguni were leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo in the eKhenana Commune of Cato Manor, which is home to 109 families. Members of the local ANC party are alleged to be responsible for all three killings. Ngila, Mabaso and Mnguni are believed to be the 19th, 20th and 21st activists murdered since the establishment of the Abahlali baseMjondolo shack dwellers’ movement in 2005, and the sixth and seventh members of eKhenana to be killed since the Commune’s establishment in 2018.

During the attack on Ngila, the perpetrators also attempted to kill Lindokuhle Mnguni, who witnessed Ngila’s murder. Two days prior, on Sunday, 6 March, eKhenana residents were attacked by men wielding axes and sticks. When residents contacted police, they were initially told that no one could assist them, allowing the perpetrators to escape without arrest. At least one of the men from this initial attack was identified as a participant in the murder of Ngila. Abahlali reports that police repeatedly refuse to assist activists who request protection and refuse to press charges against perpetrators of violence.

People with alleged links to the ANC and local police have been repeatedly targeted Members of Abahlali, including leaders of eKhenana, for their work in advocating rights to land and basic services, with attacks in eKhenana increasing after they successfully prevented the municipality from evicting residents in 2021. Residents have long faced ongoing violence, harassment, arbitrary arrests, evictions and intimidation to vacate the land, including during the pandemic moratorium on eviction, since the Commune’s inception.

According to HLRN’s Violation Database, more than 94,000 people have been forcibly evicted in South Africa since the ANC came to power in 1994.

We call on the South African authorities to ensure that the murders of Ayanda Ngila, Nokuthula Mabaso and Lindokuhle Mnguni are immediately and thoroughly independently investigated and that all those responsible for these crimes are held responsible and duly prosecuted. In particular, we call on the President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, the Minister of Police and the Head of the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure justice and peace for the people of eKhenana and members of Abahlali baseMjondolo in other settlements.

We call for an immediate halt to ongoing acts of violence and intimidation toward the community of eKhenana and all informal settlements, and for the broad protection of all land rights defenders in South Africa, in line with the UN General Assembly Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

We call on the South African Human Rights Commission and the Minister of Police to urgently investigate allegations of the involvement of police and various officials in intimidation, violence, bias and other forms of misconduct toward members of Abahlali baseMjondolo.

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