AGE OF THE ASSASSIN
Abahlali BaseMjondolo welcomes call to investigate murders of its activists
Land rights movement Abahlali baseMjondolo has been under siege for years. Twenty-four of its activists have been murdered, and there have been convictions in only two of those cases. The SA Human Rights Commission has called on the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster to act.
Abahlali baseMjondolo has welcomed the South African Human Rights Commission’s call on President Cyril Ramaphosa to prompt an investigation into the assassinations of its members.
The commission has written to Ramaphosa’s office to seek the intervention of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster in the matter.
In a statement on Saturday, 1 July, the commission said it was “in receipt of various complaints about the plight of Abahlali baseMjondolo. The Abahlali baseMjondolo movement advocates for the rights of people living in shacks including access to decent housing, services and education.
“It is reported that over 24 members or supporters of the Abahlali baseMjondolo have been killed over the past 14 years. Only two convictions have been secured by the authorities in connection with the killings; many of these assassinations take place in informal settlements where the movement operates.”
The Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster includes the departments of police, home affairs, justice and correctional services, and defence and military veterans.
“Having assessed the complaints and various recommendations made by civil organisations on behalf of … Abahlali baseMjondolo, the commission is of the view that a high-level strategic intervention is necessary to alleviate the plight of Abahlali baseMjondolo,” said the SA Human Rights Commission.
“It is against this backdrop that the commission has written to the President to seek the intervention of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster to, among others, investigate the assassinations of the members of Abahlali baseMjondolo, failure by the police to apprehend assassins, delay in prosecuting matters that are currently before the criminal courts, [and] the alleged role of politicians,” the statement reads.
Read more in Daily Maverick: The Abahlali baseMjondolo experience exposes South Africa’s shrinking democratic space
Abahlali baseMjondolo deputy president Mqapheli Bonono said the organisation welcomed the commission’s call.
“We have engaged the commission multiple times. Last year we even marched to the offices. We began to wonder if the organisation was captured. You know, out of 24 of our people who have been murdered only two cases have received the justice we can rejoice in.
“I hope the President will receive and respond to the letter. This attention to our struggle has been hard fought for and we hope we can see not only justice for those who have passed on, but proper engagement on our plight and fight for land and dignity,” said Bonono.
In 2021, Bonono was arrested on trumped-up charges which were later dropped, and has stated that Abahlali baseMjondolo members have had to learn digital skills to ward off surveillance. Since the land rights movement was founded more than 17 years ago, members have been arrested on false charges, assaulted by local authorities and faced numerous forms of repression.
Abahlali baseMjondolo has 100,000 members across five provinces and has won awards internationally for its ground-up activism. Organisations including the Socio-Economic Rights Institute have aided Abahlali baseMjondolo in litigation and organisation over the years and have called out the state for being silent on the human rights violations against Abahlali baseMjondolo.
Thulani Ndlazi, the branch leader of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Tembisa, Gauteng, said of the SA Human Rights Commission’s letter to Ramaphosa: “This is a good thing. We are happy to see people helping us in this sorrow we are faced with.
“The first thing we need is for the people who murdered our comrades in eKhenana settlement [to be arrested]. In Gauteng specifically, the police are brutal and our local councillor is threatening to send assassins to us. We need protection, we have to live in a country where we can speak out and be free.”
The commission said it would continue to monitor the plight of Abahlali baseMjondolo. DM